Sunday, November 9, 2014

Places of Prayer

Reflections on the Readings
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

November 9, 2014 - Year A

Places of Prayer

He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." ~ Jesus

On November 9th, 324 AD, Pope St. Sylvester dedicated the Lateran Basilica. This Basilica of St. Johns Lateran is the official Church of every Pope since, made possible by the donation of the Laterani Palace by Constantine, remembered as the first Christian Emperor. This place of prayer, first called the Basilica of the Savior at its erection, is considered the 'mother of all the churches in the city and in the world.' As such it is a sign, a symbol of the unity of prayer in the Church.

Of course one can pray anywhere and anytime. But a house of worship particularly is a sign that there is a people there who are one in Christ and with each other and who pray together. As Jesus said, "Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, I am in the midst of them." 

Christians in the earliest days of the Church sometimes gathered at the site of a martyr of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist, the source and summit of prayer as Pope St. John Paul II taught us. To this day embedded in the altar in a Catholic parish is a relic of a saint. This is a powerful reminder to us that those saints known and unknown, marked with the sign of faith, remain in prayer with us. And if the truth be understood properly, they not only continue to pray with us, but pray for us. "Any scripture for that Dennis?" you might ask. I think so. In Hebrews 12:22 we read: 

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. 

In our Eucharistic prayer life we come to the Body and Blood of Christ which speaks of forgiveness. The blood of Abel was spilled by his brother, Cain. Abel's blood, spilled in spiteful violence, marked Cain forever. Unlike Abel whose prayerful offering was accepted, Cain's was not. And God said, "Make things right and reject the sin that is 'couching at your door,' and I will receive you." Instead Cain chose envy and jealousy and killed his brother. The gracious message of the sprinkled blood of Christ is a message of forgiveness for all us who in some way bear the mark of Cain.

The message of the first reading is the hope that is restored when the place of prayer is rebuilt. As I said earlier, one can pray anywhere and anytime. But the picture of a restored Temple in Ezekiel's prophetic heart is one of the life and rhythm of prayer bringing newness of life. This is uniquely fulfilled in Jesus who declared that his Father's house is a house of prayer for all nations. The prayer life and outreach of the family of God is one of touching the world - its wounded, its sick, its hungry, its naked, blind and dying. The mission of every community of prayer is to bring the healing streams of the city of God into all the world. 

Paul's insight into the life of the believer is that we also are a temple of the Holy Spirit; another place of prayer. The Holy Spirit indwells us and inspires us to pray and makes our prayers effective. May we never cease to place ourselves in God's presence and invite the Holy Spirit to lead us and to guide us into all the ways of prayer. As St. Paul said elsewhere, to "Pray without ceasing."

When Jesus comes to our hearts will he find a place of prayer? Or will he find a 'marketplace?' A place where stuff and things occupy our attention and distract us from being aware of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If there is confusion in our inner most place of holiness about what is treasure and what is not, let us begin this day praying, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner." And thereby will our hearts be restored as a place of prayer and where prayer in the Spirit flows freely again. May the Spirit rise up in us as a spring of living water, bringing the joy of the Lord, making glad our hearts, and creating a dwelling place of the Most High; our heart once again a place of prayer. Amen.

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:

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