November 9, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause
November 9, 2014
1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17
Fr. George Smiga
It may seem today that we are celebrating a church building in the city of Rome, but we are not. There is, of course, a church building in view. It is the basilica of St. John Lateran, the oldest basilica in the city of Rome, the cathedral of the pope, and often called the mother of all Christian churches. But this basilica is not our main concern. St. Paul makes this clear in the second reading where he tells the Corinthians and us that we are the building of God. We are God’s holy temple. So the church is not a building of wood and stone, but an assembly of believers in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. So to the extent we remember this basilica in Rome, we do so that it might help us to be buildings of God ourselves, better holy temples. How can the Basilica of St. John Lateran help us to live the Christian life? It points to change and continuity.
The history of St. John Lateran is a history of change and continuity. The land upon which the church stands was given to Pope Melchiades by the emperor, Constantine, in 314. That’s 3-1-4, very long ago. The Pope built a church on it. In 443 an earthquake destroyed the church, and it was rebuilt. In 455 the Vandals sacked the city of Rome and destroyed the church again, and it had to be rebuilt. Around the year 900 another earthquake leveled the church and it was built yet again. It was destroyed twice by fire in 1308 and 1360. And it was extensively expanded and remodeled in the fifteenth century and in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The history of St. John Lateran is a history of change. Yet it is the same church.
This history invites us to accept the changes that come about in our lives and to celebrate the good things that continue. We tend to fear change and to resist it, but change is a part of God’s plan for us. A healthy life can only be lived as we learn how to negotiate transitions. We have to be willing to leave behind some of the good relationships that we made in high school or college, to adjust from one job to another, to cope as our children leave home or as we leave home ourselves for retirement living. We have to re-focus when our health fails, when our marriage ends, or when we lose someone we love in death. In any of these transitions we are tempted to say, “My life is ended. The beautiful edifice in which I have been living is destroyed.” But life can continue, and we believe that God moves with us into the future. We cannot anticipate all the changes and transitions of life, but God knows all of them. God is already working to give us the strength to face them. God is already acting to place new people and new places into our life that will allow us to grow.
Even as these changes take place, God makes sure that there are some good things in our life that continue. There are some friends from high school and college who remain friends with us throughout their entire lives. There are some things that we learned in our first job that we still use today. There are customs and memories that connect us to our adult children and to those we have lost in death. Even as change pushes us forward, there is the continuity of who we are and how we love. Even as life shifts in a new direction, we are still the same person that God cares for and that God has saved.
Change and continuity is the pattern of life. This should give us hope. Like the Basilica of St. John Lateran, we will change over and over again. But this does not need to be harmful. In fact, it is something holy—not a holy church building in Rome, but a holy people who understand that our God is always building and rebuilding us, always making us new.