We celebrate today a building. Not just any building, of course, but the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Rome: St. John Lateran. This building is the mother church and the head church of Rome, and since Rome is the foremost city of the Christian Church, it is the mother church of the whole world too.
Now, there is the Church and then there is a church. We come into a church to pray, but we are the Church. The word Church means two things, depending on which way you trace its meaning. It means that which belongs to God or the gathering of the people. The building belongs to God; it is set aside for worshipping him, but how much more do the people who worship him belong to God! This building is where we gather together to praise the Lord, but the people are the actual gathering, whether it takes place in a nice building or outside or in someone’s home.
However, we call this building a church, and rightly so, because it is a symbol of the Church: the gathering of the people who belong to God. Throughout these readings we have symbols layered on top of symbols, the Temple of Jerusalem stands as a symbol of the church building we celebrate and therefore as a symbol of the entire Church.
St. Paul says that we are the Temple of God. Each one of us individually is a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and together we are like the stones out of which the building is formed: Jesus is the foundation, and we are supported not only by this foundation, but also by 2000 years of people building up the Church, brick by brick. We take our place in the wall, bearing the load that is given to us, and supporting the Church for years to come.
As in the first reading, the life of the world, the fresh water that purifies the acrid waters of the sea, flows through the Temple, so too the grace of God flows from God, through the Church, into the whole world. As Jesus cleansed the temple, so we pray to him to cleanse the Church. We must be clean within if we are going to cleanse the culture outside. We should not be afraid that the Church is too filthy to give life to the world; we are simultaneously being cleansed and cleansing the world.