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Dedication of St. John Lateran

The word “zeal” doesn’t come up very often in conversation.

Perhaps that’s because “zeal” refers to a level of passion that itself is unusual—the level of passion Jesus demonstrated in the incident described in the passage from St. John’s Gospel.

The Gospel tells us that when Jesus drove the merchants and money changers from the temple area his followers recalled a verse in Psalm 69, but the author of the Gospel did not quote the whole verse: “Because zeal for your house consumes me, I am scorned by those who scorn you” (Psalm 69:10).

The zeal that prompted Jesus to make such a bold gesture was not for the building itself—an elaborate structure that had enveloped the Second Temple built about 500 years before he was born. The temple of Jesus’ time had been built by Herod the Great as part of a larger scheme to assure the king’s lasting fame. But Jesus’ zeal was for the temple as a sign of God’s presence among his people and as a focal point for the people’s worship of God and faithfulness to God’s commandments.

As we hear already in this gospel passage, that zeal, far from being appreciated and respected, would be misinterpreted, distorted, and held against Jesus.

The Church brings this subject to our attention each year on November 9, on a feast day devoted not to the Lord or one of the saints, as most solemnities and feast days are, but to the dedication in 324 AD of what is now the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.

The full name of this glorious structure, which has been ruined and rebuilt over the ages, is “Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Ss. John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran.” An inscription between the main doors calls it “of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.’’

Those titles refer to the fact that St. John Lateran, although it is outside the Vatican, is the cathedral church of the bishop of Rome—the pope—and, in that sense, the cathedral church for Catholics everywhere.

It is important not only as an historic artifact but as the prototype of every church where people gather because they share in what we celebrate during this Year of Faith, they believe that Jesus Christ—raised from the dead in the temple of his body— is actually present among them, as he promised he would be; where God is actually present as his word is proclaimed; where Jesus Christ is present in flesh and blood in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise—“there am I in the midst of them”—that should fill us with zeal, with passion, for our encounter with the Lord, whether in St. John Lateran in Rome or in any church, grand or humble, anywhere in the world.

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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