What Is a Church?

What Is a Church?

November 9, 2014 | HNMWebmaster | Commitment, Deacon Eddie, Discipleship, Evangelization, Homilies, Mission, Service, St. John

Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran in Rome
November 9, 2014 – Year A

Readings:  Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; Psalm 46; 1 Cor 3:9C-11, 16-17; Jn 2:13-22
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon

In 2011, my family and I were fortunate enough to be able to go on a trip with my in-laws to Europe. During this trip we spent several days in Rome. One of the many places that we visited is the subject of today’s feast – the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

Some of you may have assumed, like I once did, that St. Peter’s is the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, but it is not. That title belongs to St. John Lateran. It is located about an hour and ten minute walk from the Vatican and it is absolutely beautiful. Consecrated in the year 324 by Pope Sylvester I, it was the first papal cathedral and residence.

This is all fascinating stuff, but what does it have to do with us? Why has the church included a day in calendar for a building and why has it been deemed important enough that it supersedes a Sunday in Ordinary Time? As I have reflected on this question and the readings, I have come to the conclusion that today is an opportunity for us to reflect on the question: “What is a church?”

Like so many words in the English language, “church” can have different meanings and each can have different significance for us as Catholic Christians. To start, church is a type of building, a place of worship. It can be very large or very small. It can have many rooms or only one. They can vary in shape and style and but even if one looks the same as another type of building, it is fundamentally different. Churches are consecrated to the glory of God so we should treat them with respect. They are places of quiet reflection and prayer, but also of joyful praise and exaltation. A church is also a place of fellowship where we support each other in our joys and sorrows.

This brings us to another meaning. Church can refer to a group of people. St. Paul tells us in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians that we are the Body of Christ. We are his church. A church building without people to worship in it – while still special – is dead. We are the hands of Christ and, without us, the work of his church doesn’t get done. St. Paul reminds us today that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Like God is present in the tabernacle, he is also present in each and every Christian.

In the gospel today, Jesus is upset by what people are doing in the Temple. They were misusing that most sacred place. They did not respect the sanctity of the space and we still do the same thing today. Whether a church building, or other people, or ourselves, we often fail to show the respect and reverence that is due.

      When we say to ourselves, “I don’t need to go to Mass on Sunday. I can pray anywhere.”
      When we neglect the needy, the poor, the immigrant, or the sick.
      When we gossip or spread rumors.
      When we indulge in behaviors the are not good for us.
    When we do any of these things, are we any better than the money changers?

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel describes a vision of life-giving water flowing from the Temple. This water renews places that were long dead. Well, we know that water is not literally running out of our doors. If it is, we need to call a plumber. I hope, however, that the living water of Christ will pour forth from our threshold. And it is the job of each one of us to make it so. We are called to carry the good news, the Gospel, into the world. We are called to be a church and to fill the churches.