GRACE FLOWING LIKE A RIVER
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
FEAST OF THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA
November 9, 2008
People value water everywhere. All over the world, the availability of precious life-giving water is among the top in the list of items that would spell the birth or demise of new or old communities. Some say wars in the future will be waged on account of water, now fast becoming a scarce commodity in many places. Still, water is seen to stand for so much more than life itself. Water is taken to symbolize peace, purity, cleanness, to name just a few.
No wonder that in almost every country in the world, small, fancy, table-top gurgling fountains have become a regular feature in homes, offices, restaurants and bedrooms. Water features are an integral part of commercial buildings, parks, schools and malls, both indoors and outdoors.
Ezekiel today paints a picture of the temple from whose altar flows water … “water trickling from the southern side.” The trickle, we are told, does wonders, for it brings life to a basically lifeless world – including the Arabah desert, the “salt waters.” “Wherever the water flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, … for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.”
The second and third readings connect wonderfully with this vision of Ezekiel. St. Paul speaks also of a temple, this time, the temple of our bodies, and the Lord speaks of the temple of his body. Speaking of this body, he tells the indignant Jews who sought a sign from him: “Destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up.”
This is the same “temple” that was destroyed in ignominious death, was buried, and on the third day, rose from the dead, as Jesus had prophesied. This is the same temple, “from whose side, blood and WATER flowed out.”
This is the supreme temple that overflowed with life-giving grace, with salvation, with redemptive love for all peoples. Even as the water from Ezekiel’s temple brought about life wherever it flowed, Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection brought about life and salvation for all peoples everywhere. The love of God has no bounds. The love and mercy of God excludes no one. It is as universal as air, water, and sunlight. From the side of Christ, blood and water flowed out. “It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”
For the uninitiated, today’s feast seems rather strange. Why hold a universal feast for an insignificant church in Rome? Why celebrate the dedication of a basilica over the Lateran hill that, for all intents and purposes, is not anymore frequented by worshipers as much as by mostly ignorant tourists who only come to have rolls and rolls of film exposed for posterity?
We need to pay attention to the readings of today. We need to look back at Ezekiel’s vision of the water flowing from the altar, giving life wherever it goes. We need to understand what St. Paul was referring to. We need to take a close look at what Christ was pointing to.
They were all talking about origins. They were all referring to the source, the font, the spring from which grace, life-giving grace flows in abundance. They were all talking about universality of source and origin of grace. They were all referring to the bosom of a great and loving God, who has raised the prophets, the saints, including St. Paul, and who has sent his only begotten Son, so that the world might live!
This universality is concretely represented by the Lateran Basilica, dedicated to Jesus, the Most Holy Savior and to St. John the Baptist built over the Lateran hill, the original cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father.
Symbols are always representative of a deeper reality. A concrete sign of universality as this Basilica, known as “omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput,” the mother and head of all the churches of the city and of the world, points to one such set of deeper realities. First, there is only one ultimate source of grace, of life and of salvation and that is God who wrought redemption in Christ, the one mediator. Second, this oneness of source assures oneness of faith, oneness in communion, oneness in belief and oneness in tradition. The Lateran Basilica stands for this catholicity (that is, universality) of our faith, worship and life. And so we look up to the Lateran Basilica as the concrete sign of our faithful allegiance to the one faith, one baptism, one Lord, one God and Savior of all, who is Father.
Let me illustrate with one current reality that has been in the news over the past weeks. This oneness in source means to say that the Catholic Church is not a conglomeration of loosely federated denominations who each follows its own theological tradition and teaching. No. Coming as we are from the one who alone founded the true Church, the teaching we receive, the tradition we are handed down, are all safeguarded by the promised gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Our faith and life is very much like that water that trickles from the same altar which flows and gives life wherever it goes. This is a far cry from the unfortunate reality of some Christian denominations who are beset by so much disagreements on basic issues on faith and morals. Since 1565, the Protestant group has branched out to thousands of different denominations and have since grown far different from their original source.
But of course, this homily is not for them but for us, who are struggling against our own little versions of protest against what we wrongly think is the Roman Catholic Church. We all run the risk of being torn apart ourselves. We are torn apart by so much hatred and indifference. We are already torn apart by so much differences in wealth and standards of living. 25 % of the world’s population use up 75% of the world’s resources, while 75% of the world’s population make do with the remaining 25% of the same world’s resources. We are torn apart also by envy and by selfishness. Even covenanted communities are not immune to so much petty squabbles and intrigues, and once flourishing communities are suddenly divided bitterly over misunderstandings, hurt feelings, a lot of unforgiveness, and so much pride. Even families are broken by the same reality and manifestation of the mystery of iniquity, lying like the proverbial snake hidden in the grass, ready to pounce at the next opportunity.
The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica is a call to oneness. This feast is also a clear reminder that grace flows out from the bosom of God for all women and men all over the world, regardless of race, color, faith and political allegiances.
Grace is flowing like a river, today and everyday. The question for us now is whether we are willing to allow this “water” to quench us and cleanse us. If we do, then let us proclaim with the psalmist: “The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High.”