A Homily for The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – 9th November 2008
‘Yes we can’ was the mantra that developed during Barack Obama’s acceptance speech after he was elected the next President of the United States early on Wednesday morning. Yes we can. He said it and then the people repeated it and then the people started to say it naturally. Yes we can. It was a night of tremendous optimism. People saw a change that many never thought was possible. A black man has become the President of America. It is only a couple of years ago that Rosa Parkes died. She was the woman who sat at the front of the bus and started so much of the civil rights campaign in America. Yes we can. Self belief and optimism overcame all obstacles and now the holder of the highest office in the land is a descendant of people who were denied basic right not fifty years ago. Yes we can.
Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. This is the Pope’s Cathedral in Rome. This Cathedral was built in the fourth century. It was built in a time when the Christian people’s mantra was – Yes we can. It was a time of great optimism and confidence in the Church. No obstacle was too high. No problem was unsolvable. Yes we can. It was that optimism and confidence in the Church and in Jesus that enabled the Christian faith to spread to the ends of the earth. It is that optimism and confidence in our own country that enabled some of our most beautiful Cathedrals and Churches to be built during and immediately after the famine. Their mantra must also have been – Yes we can. They believed that they could do it and they did it.
In our own day we need to think what our mantra is. What is our attitude? We are a Church that is blessed now with many beautiful places for worship and prayer. However when we talk about these beautiful places most often today we talk about the number of empty seats in them. Often our talk is not positive but at best nostalgic. So what is our mantra? What is our attitude? Is it yes we can or maybe we wish we could. You see we live in a society where too often the mantra is no you won’t or even worse yes you won’t. Too often there is a negative air where optimism is seen at best as naivety.
In the Church we can have a defeatist attitude too. Perhaps we have lost sight of the life giving power the presence of the Church can have in our lives and on our society. That life giving power is so beautifully described in the first reading today from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. He describes the presence of the temple as like a river flowing – a river that gives abundant life and growth. Can we believe that the Church can be like this in society? I think yes we can.
Maybe the gospel reveals to us why and how we can. Jesus was angry in the gospel. The purpose of the temple – the focus of the temple – was being abused. It was turned into a market. Maybe we need to think about our focus again too. When we do that our mantra might change. Perhaps our primary focus should not be trying to fill beautiful buildings or indeed depression because our beautiful places of worship are not being filled. Perhaps our focus needs to be more on the foundation of all our buildings and indeed the foundation of all our lives. That foundation St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians declares very clearly is Jesus Christ.
It is when Jesus and his Good News and his radical message of life becomes our primary and sole focus that our mantra naturally will change from we wish we could to yes we can. Yes we can announce Jesus in the world today. Yes we can witness to his life. Yes we can be his presence in our society. Yes we can be his voice. Then our places of worship will begin to fill again because then it will not be people coming to the Church building but the Church coming together in the building. When we focus on the foundation which is Jesus then in our day too we can be optimistic people, not naïve people, who can confidently declare, yes we can!
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10th November 2008 A Homily for The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – 9th November 2008
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