For the first 300 years of the Church Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire.
Sometimes things weren’t that bad sometimes they were horrific.
Sometimes whole generations never knew any suffering. Sometimes there were incredible persecutions and entire families were called to die for their faith.
Tertullian one of the Fathers of the Church said “The Blood of Martyrs is truly the seeds of the Church.”
Throughout this period Christians were never really able to pray together publicly. Even when there was little or no persecution they still had to meet and prayed in secret. Their faith was forced to be a private matter a hidden matter.
When Christianity was finally accepted by the Roman Empire in 313 the first place Christians gathered to pray publicly was the Lateran Hill in Rome.
They met in the wing of a Roman Villa given to them by the Emperor Constantine. It was an incredible blessing to be able to worship openly publicly for all to see.
Finally Christians had the chance to celebrate the Lord’s supper together without fear.
What a witness it must have been for the Romans to see people from all over the city gathering in that sacred space.
Today it is important to remember that moment 1700 years ago. It is important that we reflect on its meaning in our lives.
The Hebrews could easily understand the significance of having a public place to worship For them God was most especially present in the Temple.
It was in the temple that sacrifices and prayers were offered. It was in the temple that the law was discussed and debated. It was in the Holy of Holies that the Presence of God was manifest.
And in the first reading Ezekiel speaks about how it became clear to him in a vision that life itself flowed from this public place of worship.
Wherever the waters of faith flowed life became present and life became present abundantly
In the Gospel…. Jesus sought to purify the Temple. He sought to purify the public witness of the temple and those who prayed there.
He drove out the money changers and the people where were selling animals for sacrifice.
He wanted the temple to be a house of prayer He wanted people to be edified by what happened in the temple not scandalized
Churches and temples are incredible blessings. And the chance to pray publicly The chance to live our faith in a public manner is a huge blessing which we take for granted.
We should not forget that there are still places many places where to walk into a church or to pray with others in the Church is a great risk.
The Feast of Dedication St. John Lateran should cause us all to reflect on how we publicly live our faith.
Yes the first public place to worship was so very important and an incredible witness to our faith. however the second reading from St. Paul reminds us that the church is not just a building….
We are Church He tells the Christians in Corinth so clearly You are God’s building.
Yes our faith can and must be shared in our worship and in our churches But our faith also has to be shared publicly in our lives.
Our parishes should be vibrant centers of prayer and good works filled with holy people and its not just the Priest’s job to make it happen
Our faith must be lived at our places of work The example of our lives should build other people up and encourage them
Our faith must be lived in our families. Our families should be like little churches were people are inspired to find hope in God and believe.
A while ago a young man hit bottom. His life was falling apart. He went out drinking trying numb himself so he wouldn’t have to face his problems and failures.
Then he got angry with someone and they threw him out of the happy hour. Around 10:00 after stumbling around downtown Washington for a while at his rock bottom he hailed a cab
When asked where he wanted to go he remembers saying in desperation to the cabby I need God take me to God..
The cabby didn’t know what to do so he drove him to the shrine and left him on the steps
As the man looked up at the Shrine bathed in light he felt the presence of God and he began to cry
One of our students saw him and went up to him.
Are you alright.. he asked. I need God I need a priest the man said I need a priest and the student picked him up and brought him to Campus Ministry
There aren’t usually priests at 10:30 in the Campus Ministry office but in his providence God made sure one was there
And he spoke to the priest and began to face his challenges And then the students who found him walked him to the Metro and rode with him back to his stop
They listened to him and cared for him They protected him because he was still a little intoxicated and vulnerable.
They put him in a cab and gave the cabby the fare. They did their best to make sure he got home..
Yes That man experience the presence of God when he looked up at the Shrine
But he also experience the presence of God in the students who reached out to this broken soul picked him up and took care of him.
On this feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran let us be grateful for blessing to be able to live our faith publicly in holy places like this beautiful Church
On this feast on of the Dedication of St. John Lateran let us remind ourselves that we are too are called to be living witnesses of Christ’s presence in the world.
For as St. Paul reminds us “we are the building of God.”