(Scriptures for today's Mass)
Audio for homily
Every year, in every Catholic parish in the United States,
on four consecutive weekends in the fall,
a headcount is taken of people at all Masses.
Last Sunday was the fourth week of counting here at Holy Family
and so the numbers are in.
And the numbers aren’t what we might have hoped they’d be.
Like most parishes in the archdiocese, indeed, in the United States,
we continue to experience a slow but steady decline in attendance.
You’ll find the actual weekly counts, by Mass, in my bulletin letter.
But by way of example consider that in 2005
our average weekend attendance was 1303 people
while in 2014 it is 932.
In 2005 the average attendance per Mass on the weekend was 326
while in 2014 it is 233.
We have 1400 households registered in our parish
and we estimate that this number represents about 4200 people.
Does that mean that, on average, only about 930 out of 4200 people
come to worship on the weekend? No.
We know that many, perhaps even most of our parishioners
come to Mass on what I call a “regularly occasional” basis
– but not every week.
So, a fair number of people at a given Mass
may not have been with us the weekend before
and may or may not be with us the following weekend.
In other words,
while the tally from weekend to weekend may be fairly constant,
the faces change from Sunday to Sunday.
In the second scripture today, St. Paul speaks to us, point-blank:
Brothers and sisters: YOU are God’s building.
Do you not know that YOU are the temple of God
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
And the temple of God which you are – is holy!
Let me venture a response to St. Paul:
No. I don’t think we “get” that we’re the temple of God.
No. I’m not sure that we believe that God’s Spirit dwells in us.
No. I don’t think we appreciate that we,
not this structure in which we pray – are God’s building.
We are temple of God, we are the church,
and the numbers I just shared tell us that the temple of God,
that is, God’s people,
is in disrepair and in need of serious attention.
My preaching is prompted today by the feast on the liturgical calendar,
The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.
In the early 4th century the Roman emperor Constantine
was given the palace of the wealthy Laterani family
as a dowry with his second wife.
In turn, the emperor gave the palace to Pope Melchiade
to be used as the very first papal cathedral and residence.
The palace was dedicated as a basilica in the year 324
and there followed a tumultuous history of disasters and revivals.
• It was sacked by Alaric the Barbarian in 408
and by Genseric the Vandal in 455.
• It was rebuilt by Pope Leo in the 5th century
and again by Pope Hadrian in the 8th century.
• It was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in the 9th century
but restored by Pope Sergius in the 10th century.
• It was heavily damaged by fires twice in the 14th century.
• Due to conflict between the Church and the King of France,
7 popes lived in France over 7 decades.
The papacy finally returned to Rome in 1377.
• But the Lateran Basilica was in such disrepair at that point
that the pope took up residence in the Vatican, near St. Peter’s,
another basilica built by Constantine.
• Popes have lived in the Vatican palace since then -
until a year and a half ago - when Pope Francis decided
to take a room in the Domus Sanctae Marthae,
“St. Martha’s House” which is the Vatican’s guest house, a hotel,
where he stays each night in Room 201.
Why do I recount all this history?
We celebrate the dedication of this ancient church building in Rome
because it stands as an historical, physical monument
to the longevity and perseverance
of the Church as God’s people.
Our church building, the one in which we gather for prayer every week,
is in good condition.
We’ve been spared invading barbarians and earth quakes!
And we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 5 years,
here in the sanctuary and downstairs on the lower level,
to make this a place to gather for prayer, for fellowship and for learning.
But this building is not the living temple of God.
WE are that temple, you and I –
and all our brothers and sisters who have gone missing.
And like all those through history
who repaired and rebuilt the Lateran Basilica
it falls to us to build up again the Body of Christ,
the living temple which we are as the people of the church.
Our circumstances are not peculiar to our parish.
To this same situation is the whole archdiocese addressing itself
and calling on every parish to work to welcome home
to our prayer and the life of our community
those who, for so many reasons, are absent from our company.
I’ll be getting back to you in the months ahead
on how we will work to do that.
For today, I ask you to reflectively consider St. Paul’s words
as though he wrote them to each of you in a personal note:
You are God’s building. You are the temple of God.
The Spirit of God dwells in you and makes you holy.
If you still doubt that, then consider what we’re about to do.
We’re about to sit down at the table of Jesus,
the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer.
And we do so because he has invited us to be here,
has asked us to take a seat at his table.
Here he will feed us with the life he offered for us on the Cross,
now in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist.
And he will do this precisely because
we are the temple of God,
we are his Body, the Church
and because there dwells in us, in each of us,
the Spirit of all that is holy.
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