Today is the feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran in Rome. The Lateran Basilica is called “mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world.” In fact, this basilica was the first to be built after Emperor Constantine’s edict, in 313, which granted Christians freedom to practice their religion. It is the oldest church in the West and was the church where everyone was baptized in ancient Rome.
I’ve been in Rome a couple of times for congregational meetings. The last time one of the sisters from the US currently working in the Vatican took us on a special “insiders” tour of Rome. She knew just the right place to stand to see the perfect view of buildings and Churches and statues and monuments that had stood the test of history for a couple thousand years. Her stories unfolded the magic and the faith of Christians as the streets came alive with their names and faces, their sufferings and triumphs…and their utter and complete belief in Jesus Christ.
As we made our way through the streets of the city, I was in awe that I was walking where two thousand years of saints had walked before me. Popes. Priests. Martyrs. Parents. Children. And I had the privilege of walking the same old roads as they did that day. I wondered if my poor heart would ever measure up to their courage and love and faith. The churches, certainly, we can still visit. They stood on every corner inviting us into the specific part of the story that had been played out within their walls. But equally present to me were the people, the living stones of God’s building, still there in Rome and throughout the world. A river of Christians stretching from the apostles Peter and Paul to that very moment when I was walking where they had once trod.
The Second Reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians reminds us that it is not only the stones of marble that build up the Temple of God. Benedict XVI stated that “the temple of stones is a symbol of the living Church, the Christian community, which in their letters the Apostles Peter and Paul already understood as a ‘spiritual edifice,’ built by God with ‘living stones,’ namely, Christians themselves, upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ, who is called the ‘cornerstone’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17; 1 Peter 2:4-8; Ephesians 2:20-22). ‘Brothers, you are God’s building,’ St. Paul wrote, and added: ‘holy is God’s temple, which you are’ (1 Corinthians 3:9c, 17)” (Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, November 9, 2008).
The last afternoon of our tour, we approached Chiesa Nuova along Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II. Chiesa Nuova is the Church where St. Philip Neri founded the Oratory in 1575. As I listened to my Sister and tour guide share interesting information about the history connected to the Corso, all I could wonder was how many times St. Philip Neri must have walked on this street. In fact, how every street in Rome had logged countless footsteps of numberless holy women and men throughout the centuries. I reflected on how each of us in our own way contributes to building up this living Church. Certainly I could not measure up to St. Philip Neri, neither in humor nor holiness! But yet, there I was, equally a part of God’s Temple, called, chosen, loved, kept by God’s tender power, the only thing that I can rely on. Both St. Philip and I–and you–are led by the same love and the same grace.
Paul in this reading talks about himself as a master builder of God’s community. He calls himself an architect who worked with skills that were not developed through study and practice and talent, but rather received as a gift, as a blessing. He carried out the mission he was charged with through the grace of God that had been given to him.
Any of us, all of us, can say nothing greater of ourselves than that we have lived and worked and loved “according to the grace of God given to me.” You have a mission. You are a builder of the temple of God, of the Christian community, the living Church. What is the grace given to you? Perhaps today you might take a moment to ask God to help you see what that gift is and what he has intended you to do with it, because we have each been given a charge in building upon the one foundation that is Jesus Christ.
Kathryn James Hermes, FSP, is the author of the newly released title: Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments, by Pauline Books and Media. An author and spiritual mentor, she offers spiritual accompaniment for the contemporary Christian’s journey towards spiritual growth and inner healing. She is the director of My Sisters, where people can find spiritual accompaniment from the Daughters of St. Paul on their journey. Website: www.touchingthesunrise.com Public Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/srkathrynhermes/ For monthly spiritual journaling guides, weekly podcasts and over 50 conferences and retreat programs join my Patreon community: https://www.patreon.com/srkathryn.