Speak Lord: Of the new life you gift to us

 

Lateran basilica interior

The readings of yesterday’s feast, the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, had much to say of washing, renewal, purification, re-generation. That work of God to make us new is our confidence as we do our best to live life well, by his grace and strength. Our efforts are sustained in a particular way by the grace received in Holy Baptism.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is for us a refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand, in time of distress,
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within, it cannot be shaken;
God will help it at the dawning of the day.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

The Lord of hosts is with us:
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Psalm 45:2-3,5-6,8-9

In the baptistery of St John Lateran there is a famous and ancient text written high above the font.

Lateran basilica detail

Composed in the 430s in Latin couplets by Pope Sixtus III in the 430s, in English translation it reads:

Here is born in Spirit-soaked fertility
a brood destined for another City,
begotten by God’s blowing
and borne upon this torrent
by the Church their virgin mother.
Reborn in these depths they reach for
heaven’s realm,
the born-but-once unknown by felicity.
This spring is life that floods the world,
the wounds of Christ its awesome source,
Sinner sink beneath this sacred surf
that swallows age and spits out youth.
Sinner here scour away down to innocence,
for they know no enmity who are by
one font, one Spirit, one faith made one.
Sinner, shudder not at sin’s kind and number,
for those born here are holy.

Translation by Aidan Kavanagh, OSB in The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation, p49f).

  • From what do you still need to be set free? Bring that needs to the Lord in prayer?
  • For what has he given you the new life of baptism? How will you live that today?

Photographs of the baptistery of the Lateran Basilica  (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of newness and life

Lateran baptistry

The psalm for  Sunday’s feast, the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica returns us to the theme of water, especially to the purifying waters of baptism.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is for us a refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand, in time of distress,
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within, it cannot be shaken;
God will help it at the dawning of the day.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

The Lord of hosts is with us:
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Psalm 45:2-3,5-6,8-9

The fundamental identity of Christians, baptised by Christ (through the agency of the baptising minister) and baptised into Christ, is Christ. Apart from each other we are members of his body, but together we are his body, the Church.

In this month of November we remember, of course, that the we who are Church are not only the ‘we’ who read this blog, or form a particular congregation. Far too small a ‘we’ are those groups to claim to be Christ’s Body. The ‘we’ that is his body is the community that extends across the ages, and includes the communion of saints. The Church, in heaven and on earth, of all ages, we in our present particularities, we are privileged to be members of that far greater whole.

The psalm encourages us to great confidence.

  • For what do you need courage today?

Pray to the Lord that you may be mindful of his love and strength and protection as you proceed through this new day.

One of the most notable features of the Lateran complex in Rome is its baptistry. Built at the same time as the original basilica in the time of Constantine, it was refashioned as an octagonal -shaped brick building in the 430s and stood pretty much unchanged since then, apart from a few chapels added to its exterior : a remarkable survival.

Why octagonal? A sign of the Resurrection – which took place on the first day of a new week. 7 + 1= 8. The 8th Day – the first day of the new Creation.

Beyond their symbolising the number ‘8’, the plain exterior walls of the building give little  hint of the beauty and the power of the mysteries enacted therein. The interior decoration is something else though. Look out for more pictures over the coming days.

Photograph (c) 2014, Allen Morris.