Homily — Dedication of St. John Lateran Nov. 9, 2008

Homily — Dedication of St. John Lateran        Nov. 9, 2008

Today, we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of a Church in Rome with a very long name, officially called the “Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour, St. John Baptist and St. John the Evangelist at the Lateran” (the Lateran is a district in the city of Rome).  Since that is a mouthful, the Church is usually called St. John Lateran.

And today’s Feast is in a way the 3rd and final feast in a Trilogy of November Feast days.

A week ago (yesterday), on November 1, we celebrated All Saints Day.  On that day we focused on the Saints, those Christians who have fought the good fight and now live happily forever in Heaven.

A week ago today, on November 2, we celebrated All Souls Day.  On that day we focused on and prayed for the Holy Souls, those Christians who have died in Christ and have been found worthy of eternal salvation, but must first be purified and cleansed further of their sins in Purgatory before they can enter Heaven.
And today, exactly one week after All Souls Day, on this Feast of  the dedication of St. John Lateran, we focus not on the Saints in Heaven, not on the Holy Souls in Purgatory, but on the Christians left — namely us, the Church on earth.

Because St. John Lateran isn’t just one of thousands of other Churches in the world.

The inscription above the entrance to this Basilica tells us how important this Church is.  It reads:

SACROS LATERAN ECCLES
OMNIUM URBIS ET ORBIS
ECCLESIARUM MATER ET CAPUT.

It translates to “Sacred Lateran Church, Mother and Head of All Churches, of the City (of Rome) and the World.”  Even St. Peter’s in Rome is second in importance to this Church.  The official Pastor of St. John’s is Pope Benedict XVI.  In a way, we are all members of that parish of St. John’s in Rome.

And this day is to remind us of what the Church on earth is all about.
The whole Church as we see is presently in three parts — in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on Earth.  We traditionally have called the Church in Heaven the Church Triumphant, the Church in Purgatory the Church Suffering, and the Church on Earth the Church Militant.  While the Church is in Three places, it is one mystical body united by Christ the Head.

And as we journey through this earthly life toward Heaven, we are reminded that we must be Militant, that we must engage in Spiritual Warfare and do battle with our three fold enemy, the world the flesh and the devil.

Now, some armies at times will wage offensive wars of aggression, while other armies will only fight defensive wars of protection.

The Church and it’s members on earth fight both offensive and defensive spiritual wars.

We go on the Offense only when it comes to our own personal sins.

In the Old Testament book of Joshua, God tells the Israelites to go into the Promised land and to drive out the 7 nations of people living there, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, etc.

And all of the early Christian Fathers of the Church saw that to be a symbol of how the Christian must root out the 7 deadly sins in his own soul.

Tradition teaches us that the three weapons at our disposal in our personal fight against sin are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, which is why we focus on them during the Season of Lent.

While members of the Church need to wage an offensive war within themselves to conquer their sinfulness, they at the same time need to wage a defensive war without — they must defend their Catholic Faith when the Faith is attacked or misunderstood.

If someone speaks untruthfully about what the Church believes, we must defend the Faith by speaking up for it.

If someone is trying to force us to act against our Faith or Catholic Morality, we must defend our Faith by refusing in conscience to do so.

And St. Paul in the famous passage in Ephesians tells us that in this Defensive War we’re in, we need to be wearing the Armor of God:  having among other things the Shield of Faith, the Belt of Truth, the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

So on this Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, we remember that we are members of a Church which must be Militant as it makes it’s Pilgrim journey through this life.

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