At Home in Rome

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Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Ps 45: 2-3, 5-6, 8-9
1 Corinthians 3: 9c-11, 16-17
John 2:13-22

God Is In Her Midst

“I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). One cannot go out the front door of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme without seeing the Lateran Basilica. One never tires of the sight. The cathedral of Rome has a quiet pearly radiance in the morning light. Today’s responsorial psalm expresses it perfectly: “God is in her midst; she shall not be disturbed; God will help her at the break of dawn” (Ps 45: 6).

The Bride Made Lovely

In the evening the cathedral of Rome turns to gold in the fires of the setting sun. “I have chosen and consecrated this house, says the Lord, that my name may be there forever” (2 Chr 7:16). Saint John Lateran looks very much like a great vessel come down from heaven, like the bride made lovely for her spouse.

The Emperor Become the Doorkeeper

The Lateran was the palace of the Emperor Constantine; Santa Croce was the palace of his mother, Saint Helena. They would have been able to give each other an imperial wave from their windows. Under the great portico of the Lateran, to the left, is an immense statue of Constantine — “Saint Constantine” as he is often called — regal, self-confident, strong. Constantine guards the entrance of the basilica. The mighty Emperor has become the doorkeeper of the cathedral. It is all in the logic of the Gospel.

The Church Is Alive

Visiting Saint John Lateran one sees the living, breathing Catholic Church in all her diversity. Confessionals line the left side of the basilica; each one bears a sign indicating the languages spoken by the confessor on duty: Italian, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Portuguese, Tagalog, and even English. The confessors themselves come from a variety of nations and belong to diverse religious Orders. Even more impressive is the great numbers of penitents, even on a weekday morning. At several confessionals stand lines of people waiting to be shriven: young people, elderly men and women, people in business suits, university students, bishops, priests, seminarians, and religious in all sorts of habits. Some are pilgrims in the Eternal City; others are true Romans completely at home in their cathedral church. Where mercy flows, where sin is confessed and forgiven, where broken hearts are healed, the Church is alive!

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Adoring Silence at the Heart of the Church

To the left of the great nave is the chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a place of silence and adoration. There the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the monstrance all day long. People come and go continuously. Young people stop in to adore, some laden with backpacks of books, others in T-shirts and jeans, still others in Armani suits. There are, of course, the little old ladies like sparrows whose secret prayers spread a balm over the wounds of many. Priests, religious, seminarians, pilgrims from north and south, east and west: all are magnetized by the presence of the Eucharistic Christ. And there is such a silence: an adoring silence, a silence that remains inviolate at the heart of the city and of the Church. The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is a hearth of Eucharistic adoration, a model for every other cathedral in the world.

Mother and Head of All Churches of the City and the World

For Catholics who have not had the opportunity to go to Rome, today’s festival may seem remote and almost unreal. Saint Peter’s Basilica holds a more prominent place in the Catholic imagination. News commentators often mistake Saint Peter’s for the cathedral of the bishop of the Rome. Saint Peter’s gets all the media coverage. The dome of Saint Peter’s is, for many, the icon of Catholicism; to the eyes of the world Bernini’s colonnade is the embrace of the Church, great arms flung open in an embrace that defies the ages.

For all of this, Saint John Lateran remains the Mother Church of the Eternal City and of the world, the church wherein every Catholic can be at home. The inscription on the façade of the Lateran reads: Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarium mater et caput, mother and head of all churches of the city and of world. One cannot visit the Lateran Basilica without coming away with a clearer impression of what it means to be a Roman Catholic.

A Pilgrimage of the Heart

The liturgy summons us today us to make a pilgrimage of the heart. Today’s Mass and Divine Office are full of mysterious archetypes: thresholds and doors, stones and ladders, pillars and gates, fires and storms, trumpet blasts and mountains, water and blood. All of these resonate to the great central affirmation of the liturgy of the Dedication of a Church: “God is in his holy place” (Ps 67:6).

Rome is Home

The distance separating Rome and every other place is swallowed up in the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice. Our mystical pilgrimage to the heart of the Church leads us always to the altar. In a very real sense, for all of us, Rome is home. Transposed into the realm of the faith, the ancient adages hold true: to be Roman is be to be free, to be Roman is to be a citizen of the world.

In the Sweet Obedience of Communion With Peter

Being Roman Catholic means being Catholic at the crossroads of the world, Catholic in the sweet obedience of communion with Peter, Catholic in adhering to the truth taught from Peter’s Chair, a truth resplendent with the blood of the Church’s martyrs and all ablaze with the fire of her mystics. The festival of the Dedication of the Lateran says to those who have ears to hear, “Come to the heart of the Church, live in the heart of the Church. Let zeal for the house of God consume you.”

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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