Constantine, the first Christian emperor, built a church on land that once belonged to the Laterani family. This church was the forerunner of the present-day Basilica, which dates back to the 4th century. Emperor Constantine was baptized in the Baptistery attached to the Basilica.
The Basilica is the first church of Christianity given by the Roman Emperor, dedicated to Our Savior ... the Cathedral Church of the Pope, the bishop of Rome. A building set apart for worship. On the front façade of the Basilica, the words "Mother and head of all churches of Rome and the world" are prominently displayed.
More importantly than the historical event and its value, the Basilica, along with all parish churches, shrines, chapels, and oratories are God’s special dwelling places. A church is the spiritual home of God's people. It represents the community spiritually bound together by their faith.
Respect must be accorded to all sacred places. During this time when people are losing the sense of the sacred, Jesus' acts in the temple of His day, as well as the feast of the dedication of the Mother Church of all Churches, invite us to restore the sense of the sacred and not to turn our churches into marketplaces.
When I was a young person, I felt a sense of awe when I entered a church. There was a solemn silence, the common attentiveness to an unseen spiritual presence, the deep sense for the holy. I remember people sitting still prior to the beginning of Mass, with rosaries in their hands, praying their personal devotions, and meditating on the Mass readings. God, and the things of God, had their full attention. Times have changed.
According to the Gospel, Jesus overturned the tables and merchandise of the money changers, angry that they had turned the temple into a marketplace. Money and commerce had become their new god.
As one of the priests I know remarked, "If Jesus visits our churches today, He will not be turning tables; He will be breaking tablets." In most of the churches today the very first words you will hear before the start of the celebration will be something like this: “To preserve the solemnity of our celebration, please turn off your cell phones or switch them to silent mode.” Believe me, even while the entrance procession is already moving, I see people sending “one last message” or maybe finishing one last level of their favorite game on their gadgets.
This just validates the saying: “Modern believers still struggle with the worship of idols, the difference is, ours just have screens.” Many churches have installed a frequency jammer that blocks Internet and phone signals inside the church.
Come to think of it, God has to beg for our attention now.
Though we celebrate today the feast of a basilica, what we really need to do is evaluate the basilica of our hearts: who rules there, who is worshipped there, and what is enshrined in them.
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About Father Boby John, C.S.C.
Father Boby John, C.S.C., ordained a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross in 2008, worked as a pastor and as an educator with tribal populations in Northeast India for thirteen years. Originally from Kerala, India, Father Boby grew up with three siblings. He is a dedicated and detailed educationist with experience in educational leadership. He is currently working as an executive assistant at the world headquarters of Holy Cross Family Ministries, North Easton, Massachusetts.