Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Ez 47: 1-2, 8-9, 12 / PS 46: 2-3, 5-6, 8-9 / 1 Cor 3: 9C-11, 16-17 / Jn 2: 13 – 22

     Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. This ancient building was originally a Roman fortress turned into a palace of the Roman emperor Constantine, who gave it to Pope Miltiades and was consecrated by Pope Sylvester I in the year 324. It is this church, not St. Peter’s Basilica like many believe, that is the Pope’s Cathedral, in fact the popes lived there until 1308. Being the first of the Churches in Rome, and the Pope’s Basilica, it is also our mother church. Like all churches it had ups and downs, it experienced fires, wars, earthquakes and many bad popes. It has been rebuilt, renovated and restored countless times, and today it stands as beautiful as ever, as a great witness of our faith. As our mother church we celebrate her dedication with love and reverence for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, but what else does today’s feast have to teach us? In today’s Gospel Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and speaks of His body as the true temple. St. Paul building on the teaching of Christ illustrates that we are temples of God because the Holy Spirit dwells in us.

     Our bodies are not simply collections of molecules which entrap our souls, no our bodies are sacred; they are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in our bodies and so when we treat our bodies without proper reverence and respect we defame God, in whose image we are made. Sadly today the goodness and sacredness of the body is under constant attack. Recently their has been a renewed push to convince us that we need to take control of our lives by giving ourselves the right to end our life if we so desire through physician assisted suicide. If we believe with Saint Paul that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, how can we support the killing of a terminally ill person; the destruction of a temple of the Holy Spirit? In short mercy killing is selfish, and any kind of selfishness extinguishes the flame of God in our hearts. Today God invites us to overturn the money tables of selfishness in our own hearts and turn back to His love which is present even amidst great suffering.

     Yes death is inevitable; it is an inevitable part of every single one of our lives, but God who dwells in my body is the author of life, not me and to deface God’s temple by claiming to be its author is gravely wrong. Like the Lateran Basilica our bodies can be beaten and bruised but they still stand. Even amidst great suffering our bodies have infinite value because God has deigned them to be His temples.

     At the core of any argument for physician assisted suicide is the belief that no good can come from suffering but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Christ came into this world to suffer and die. He took the means of our suffering and death and made it the means of our redemption. Our God knows suffering; Christ lived suffering and died for our salvation. God’s allowance of His son to suffer and die very clearly shows us two truths. “The first is that suffering and even total ruin do not signify a lack of love on the part of the Father. The second is that suffering is not in vain; it bears fruit and has redeeming power.”[1]God does not abandon those who suffer rather He enters into the suffering with us. “Ultimately, far from ruining Christian hope, suffering is advantageous; for it is even necessary. Without it, hope would be vague, an ill defined yearning for happiness.”[2]

     Central to the arguments of those who believe in physician assisted suicide is a false belief that individuals have a right to live and so by extension die completely as they wish. Sadly our culture tries to tell us that we can control everything in our lives to make them as comfortable as possible, yet all of us who live in reality know this is simply not true. Our culture is building a world that is concerned with taking the easy way out of suffering and death, but this way is completely against the example set for us by Jesus. If God desires to dwell within each and every person, who are we to say any life is not worth living? If our life, with all its ugliness and suffering, is good enough for God shouldn’t it also be good enough for us? Since life, as a gift from God, is a worth in and of itself, we cannot have a right to die on our own terms. Our bodies are not simple pieces of property that we can buy, sell, discard or do whatever we want with because we have been purchased at a price, the immeasurable price of Christ’s blood. “The gift of life, God’s special gift, is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger or poverty, mental or physical handicaps, loneliness or old age. Indeed, at these times, human life gains extra splendor as it requires our special care, concern and reverence. It is in and through the weakest of human vessels that the Lord continues to reveal the power of His love.”[3]

     It is precisely when life becomes afflicted by weakness and sickness that it is all the more deserving of humane care. When we support physician assisted suicide we destroy the boundary between healing and killing and we begin to walk down a very dangerous path. When we begin to diminish the value of human life we take away the meaning of all of our rights, and take away from God and ourselves our true identity as sons and daughters of God.

     Our Lord has deigned to create our bodies in His own image and to dwell within each and everyone of us. We must work to respect our bodies and the life of every human person, especially the sick and the suffering. While our bodies, like the Lateran Basilica can at times be battered and bruised our Lord will purify our them at the end of time to be more beautiful than the Lateran Basilica. Our Lord will use our suffering to build up His eternal basilica in heaven, if only we let Him.,

[1] Wilfrid Stinssen, Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2011.) pg. 15.

[2] Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, Our Priest is Christ. pg 57

[3] Terence Cardinal Cooke, Letter on the Sanctity of Life. 9 October 1983.

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