Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. November 9th 2014
Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12; 1Cor 3:9-11,16-17; Jn 2:13-22
The Motherhood of the Church
Why are we celebrating the anniversary of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica? Is it because of its rich history as home for the Popes, one of the four major basilicas or the privileged venue of some defining Church Councils? We get an idea of the relevance of today’s feast by reflecting on the inscription found at this Basilica that reads, “Holy Lateran Church, mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world.” This inscription reminds us that the Church is not just an institution, another government or society but it is first and foremost our Mother. Like all mothers, the Church also expects from us trust, respect, and love.
My mother incessantly invited me from my teenage years to learn from her how to cook because she believed that it would be useful for me in the future but I refused to learn. I would always reply jokingly to her, “Mom, when I get to that bridge, I will cross it.” I did get to that bridge one day and I discovered that I did not have what it takes to cross it. I had migrated to the United States from Nigeria and was living with some friends who loved to cook and did a great job cooking. But one day they compelled me to cook a meal for them. I did, or at least I tried to cook a meal. It looked, smelled, and tasted horrible and I was the only one daring enough to taste that meal. Probably out of disgust, my friends all went out for dinner that night! I recalled all the years that my mother pleaded with me in vain to learn how to cook and how I thought she was somehow out of touch and offering me something that I did not really need. I grasped then that there was a reason why she never ceased inviting me to learn how to cook. I swallowed my pride, called her on phone and begged her to teach me how to cook. Without saying anything like, “I told you,” she thought me how to cook the only dish I know how to cook till date. Most importantly, she showed me that I could still grow in love, trust and respect for her as my mother.
The Church is our Mother indeed and like all mothers, she never gives us anything that is not useful for us. We may not understand completely what the Church offers us in her teachings, sacramental life, organizational structures or policies. Today’s feast day reminds us that our response is to grow in our love, trust and respect for Holy Mother Church who never ceases to be our Mother and to act as such.
Jesus’ attitude to the Temple in His time was one of respect and love. He was presented there as an infant by His Mother Mary and St. Joseph. He went there at the age of 12 for the Passover and declared to His mother that He had to be in His Father’s house. He paid the temple taxes even when He did not have to do so. (Cf Mt 17:24-27) He expressed His love for the temple in zealous action as we see in today’s Gospel. Seeing how the worship of God had been sacrificed for financial gain, Jesus did not leave the Temple in disgust and frustration. But He cleansed the Temple because He was “consumed with zeal for His Father’s house.” This action in John’s Gospel begins His confrontation with the Jewish authority that will end with His death on the Cross.
If Jesus Christ is the one foundation of the Church as St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading, and if the foundation and the building are inseparably united and of the same material, shouldn’t Christ’s attitude towards the Temple in His time be our own attitude towards the Church today. As the foundation of the Church, Jesus Christ is one with the Church and we cannot separate Him from the Church: “I am with you always until the end of the age.”(Mt 28:20) In the beautiful words of the Catechism, “Seated at the right hand of the Father and pouring out the Holy Spirit on His Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments that He instituted to communicate His grace.” (CCC #1084) The Church is indeed forever our Mother only because Christ is forever the foundation of the Church to make us “temples of God,” and “dwelling places of the Spirit of God.”
By possessing this grace of God, St. Paul does not rest in idleness but “like a wise master builder,” he does his own part of “laying a foundation” while others “built on it.” We see here a love that is shown in personal action with a sense of trust in what God is mysteriously doing and respect for what others have done and are dong in the service of God. In all this, he still acknowledges that “no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.” We children of the Church cannot remain idle having Christ as our foundation but we must respond with similar trust, respect and love for the Church where He has chosen to gather us into.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in an age where Church bashing is in vogue from within and outside the Church. It is so easy for us to look at the Church today with suspicion and criticism. I accept that there have been reasons for this scepticism about the Church based on the past failures of a few bishops, priests, religious and laity. There are those of us who think of the Church as being out of touch with the contemporary times and should begin to adapt to make herself more acceptable to the times. Obviously, this is because we have a purely institutional view of the Church. If we saw her as a Mother instead we will have a more humble attitude towards her as we grapple with her mysteries while striving to respond with respect and trusting fidelity.
Today’s Feast day is necessary to remind us that, despite human sinfulness and need for constant conversion among her members, the Church remains our Mother who gave us birth into the life of grace at baptism, who nourishes this life in us by the sacraments of the Eucharist, heals us from our sins in the Sacrament of Confession, guides us in infallible teachings about Christ and the moral life and who prays for us and with us till the end of our lives. Even our hope for forgiveness is rooted in the faith of the Church as seen in the Eucharist’s Communion Rite: “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church.” This Church will be around like a faithful mother when we draw our last breath to usher us into the next life. The Church plays this role only because Jesus Christ remains her one foundation.
We are challenged in today’s feast to know the Church better so that we can love her more like Christ who “loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word.” (Eph 5:25-26) We can no longer be satisfied with knowledge of the Church from hearsay. Do we know our mothers from rumours and hearsays? We must strive to know the Church through study and reflection on the scriptures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and magisterial documents. This will instil in us a loving respect for the Church and her teaching. This love will bear fruit in zealous action that, like Jesus in today’s Gospel, moves us to confront evil in ourselves, the world and in the Church and refuse to quit from the Church out of frustration or discouragement. We will choose to witness to the holiness of God who dwells in us and who abides in the Church. Rather than get discouraged by the moral failures we see or experience, we will take refuge in the Church’s maternal embrace and defend her honour in all that we say and do.
Pope Francis beautifully describes the Church’s motherly teaching role and how her children should receive it with trust and fidelity. “The Church is a mother, and she preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child, knowing that the child trusts that what she is teaching is for his or her benefit, for children know that they are loved…A good mother can recognize everything that God is bringing about in her children, she listens to their concerns and learns from them.”(Evangelii Gaudium #139)
The Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of water flowing out from the threshold of the temple is an apt image of the Church. We see a building, made with human hands, and peopled by sinful humanity. But we also see a mysterious water flowing from this temple bringing life and freshness everywhere that this water flows, making the trees grow and “their leaves shall not fade nor do their fruit fail.” This mysterious water is the symbol of Jesus Christ, “the source of living water”(Jn 7:38) as well as the foundation of the temple.
This same Christ continues to communicate life to us through His weak and sinful Church today. His truth and grace is what makes us children of Holy Mother Church and temples of His Spirit. We may never understand the mystery of a Church of sinners in unending fruitful relationship with Jesus Christ as her foundation. Let us take solace in the fact that Holy Mother Church never gives us what is not useful to us. What does she expect from us her children? What every mother expects from her children – trust, respect, and love that is shown in action.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honour to Mary!!!