Readings for Today
Every time this feast takes the place of a Sunday Mass I find myself wondering why the dedication of a basilica, which up until recently I had never visited, should be so important. Because when it falls on a Sunday, the Dedication of Saint John Lateran Basilica is celebrated.
I understand that this is the pope’s church, though many may think of Saint Peter’s Basilica as the pope’s church, since the earliest days that Christianity was legal in Rome, the Lateran Basilica has been the pope’s church. Named both for Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist, it is usually just called Saint John Lateran.
So why the big deal? Primarily it is because this basilica reminds us that the Catholic Church is a worldwide, universal Church. When we celebrate the dedication of this church, we are recalling the long and deep history of our Church and all that it has endured.
In that sense, it serve’s as a reminder that while we celebrate Saint John Lateran, our faith is about so much more than a building, or even a lot of buildings. We are the Church because of the promise of Christ, and the action of the Holy Spirit. The gates of Hell are not enough to prevail against this Church because of the constant companionship of Christ.
This universal sense of the Church becomes very apparent in visiting Rome and the Vatican. The Vatican (and the surrounding churches and basilicas in Rome) are flooded with visitors from all over the world. One cannot help but be caught up in the immensity of the Church. It is something that I knew intellectually but did not fully appreciate until I was there.