Last Sunday the feast of All Souls outranked, and thus displaced, the usual Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Sunday the same will occur due to the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran. What is so important about the dedication of St. John Lateran?
Actually this feast is “Mother’s Day” in the Catholic Church. In each diocese, we have a cathedral; ours is St. Francis Xavier in Green Bay. The cathedral is the “mother” of all churches in the diocese. St. John Lateran is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. We know that Vatican City is the mother of all dioceses, which in turn makes St. John Lateran the mother church of all Roman Catholic churches.
Why do we place so much emphasis on a church building? Look around your own parish church. Consider how much it must have cost to build it. If we say that people are the church, would it not make better sense then to dispense with church buildings and give that money to the poor?
We live in a secular world, where things of beauty are often displaced by that which is profane, angry or cruel. The church building is a haven, a quiet refuge, a holy place to encounter God, one another and oneself. Here we drink deeply of the life-giving waters of word and sacrament that revive our drooping spirits (Psalm 23).
The buildings of the world tell us that we are consumers, in constant need of “something,” and they provide us with a constant stream of advertising, lest we forget our need. The church building reminds us of our deepest identity. As we gather for Sunday worship, we who were scattered by diverse loyalties, professions and lifestyles, come together in a building that offers us a dwelling place for all that is holy.
As you sit within your church this Sunday, consider what it took to bring that building into being. If you are in an older building, immigrants most likely built it. Many church histories record how the local people not only constructed their church, but also gave their very last cent so a beautiful building would be erected to the honor and glory of God. If you worship in a more recently constructed church, perhaps you are one of the people who gave financial support. One hundred years from now someone will be telling the story of the sacrifices you made so that their church could be built.
Take time this weekend to also consider how you are tending to your church building. Do you respond as you are able to financial drives that occur to maintain, renovate, repair or update your parish church? Have you considered offering your time to assist in cleaning the church, helping with repairs or tending to the grounds? Are you as careful in your church home as you are in your own home? Do you avoid using the kneelers as a place to rest your feet?
Today’s celebration of the dedication of St. John Lateran invites us to renew our faith in the church as a house of prayer. This feast reminds each of us that our own parish is connected to our mother church in Green Bay, which in turn is joined to the mother church of St. John Lateran. In that connection the body of Christ is united worldwide to the past and the present.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.