|Today is the feast day recognizing the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. This church, whose roots date back to 324, has been dedicated to Christ the Savior, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.
I see today’s readings as focusing on institutional structures. The passage from Ezekiel describes the revitalizing water that flows from the temple. This theme continues in the Psalm. In his letter Paul uses the representation of a building to describe the structure of the Church. The Gospel Acclamation recognizes the temple as a place where God is specially present. In the Gospel Jesus rails against those using the temple for personal gain and goes on to give a new metaphorical meaning to what is called the temple.
I can imagine myself in the crowd as Jesus interacts with those at the temple in Jerusalem. My first thought is what is this man trying to do by questioning the way that structures support temple worship and threatening the temple itself. I found it interesting that my initial reaction was not in embracing Jesus’ actions; in many ways, I am attached to the constancy of the way that things are done. (Today I am with my grandchildren – twin toddlers. I notice how they appreciate their daily rituals. Perhaps there is an innate desire to keep things as they are.) On further reflection, I start to take in my own experience. I think of the times that I have visited pilgrimage sites. I recall the market stalls of religious goods leading up to a site. I am reminded of my disappointment because of the distraction that they create and the sense of the abuse of a holy place for profit-making. I am able to gain a better feeling for Jesus’ response to the commercialization of the temple grounds.
I should add that I am not a person who buys souvenirs, even at secular monuments. I value experiences more than objects. I am not drawn to the dome of a cathedral; I am drawn to the side altars that are set aside for prayer. I will still admit that I enjoy looking at and discovering the background of religious art and that I appreciate the photos that my wife takes as reminder of our experiences.
Institutions provide a structure for preservation. They are not necessarily the agents of change. I especially appreciated Paul’s comment, “… like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there …” Institutions are meant to provide a groundwork and also to be dynamic. As human beings we get things wrong, not everyone is a person in touch with the foundation that has been laid. Paul advises caution; people make errors both out of self-interest and well-intentioned missteps.
My prayer today considers my response to the current state of institutions including those founded by Christ the Savior, and augmented by John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and Paul of Tarsus.