Today's feast marks the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, the Pope's Cathedral. It was built in the time of Constantine and was consecrated in 324 by Pope Sylvester. As the first basilica to be built, it has been called "the mother and head of all the churches of the city and of the world." The feast was originally celebrated only in Rome; after 1565, all the churches in the Roman Rite began to observe this celebration.
At one time I lived in a second floor apartment and a newly widowed woman lived in the first floor apartment. In conversation she spoke about her husband and about his last days of life. She never once used the language of death, never said "he died," but only said "he closed his eyes." I never asked her about that phrase but recognized what some, like author Ernest Becker, have come to call the denial of death. In such denial, life is perceived as a separate reality from death, and death is treated in just that way - completely separate from life.
"If we only have love." Every once in a while, the world of popular music brings forth a song that can captivate our minds with its beautiful simplicity and lift our yearning souls heavenward. Jacques Brel's "If we only have love" is such a song. The melody is simple enough to grasp after singing only a few bars, but it is the lyrics of the twelve short stanzas that touch us deeply. According to the song, it is love that will open our arms wide to embrace all; it is love that will melt guns so that all the children of the world will be able to live in peace. As seemingly insignificant as human beings might be, with love in our hearts we will be able to accomplish what time, or space, or stars alone cannot accomplish. Some critics might think that the words of this ballad are trite and the melody monotonous. But no one can question the profundity and challenge of the sentiments expressed, sentiments that reflect the message of today's readings.
In one of his famous interviews with a journalist, Pope Francis noted that "God is not a Catholic" - a comment that startled many! The Pope, of course, is an exemplary Catholic and has nothing but love for his Catholic faith. The truth he was expressing is that all people belong to God, no matter what their religious, or for that matter, non-religious persuasion may be. This was also the strong conviction of Paul the Apostle - he was convinced that God was not a Jew either. The God of Israel was also the God of the Nations.
There is a real and important code of hospitality in the Middle East: people are generous in their invitations, and invited guests are expected to accept.
Each of us experiences disappointment in some of our relationships with others. Sometimes we even come to know the pain of rejection. That experience can leave an indelible mark on our hearts and minds. Such moments can run the gamut from the ordinary to the traumatic: not getting chosen for the team when we were young; the gossip of friends who talk behind our back; the refusal of people with whom we live or work to take our needs and insights seriously; alienation in a marriage or other family relationship.
Walking the Walk
We've all heard the line that it's not enough to "talk the talk." To be authentic human beings, and authentic Christians, we also - and more importantly - need to "walk the walk." It's not hard to see that this is the principle message of today's readings: "walk the walk," or as Eliza Doolittle sang famously in My Fair Lady, "don't talk of love - show me!"
Are you envious because I am generous?
I grew up in southwestern Minnesota - in a small town surrounded by vast fields of the world's richest loam soil - agricultural areas that stretched from horizon to horizon and that provided food for the world. We always planted a huge garden yielding every kind of vegetable and fruit imaginable. My most treasured "gardening memory" is this:
The cross is a symbol that Christians often take for granted. This is probably because it is omnipresent in Christian art and architecture. It appears crowning steeples, inscribed on foundation stones, grave markers, and carried in liturgical processions. But the cross as a symbol was not always so popular. In fact, the symbol of the cross was used sparingly if at all during the first four centuries of the Church's existence.
Our lectionary places three slices of Scripture before us every Sunday. The first reading has been selected because it has some relationship to the Gospel. Either it is the scriptural foundation, which Jesus references, or it may contain the stories, which are alluded to in the Gospel passage. But the second reading is often a selection from an epistle, which is read continuously. Last Sunday, the second reading was from Paul's Letter to the Romans Chapter 12. This Sunday we hear from the next chapter, Romans 13.