Saint John Who ? Well, the official title gives it away, but in the past I remember hearing today’s feast referred to as “The Feast of St. John Lateran.” Period. A little confusing for a youngster who wondered who that Lateran guy might be !
But as we can now see, this feast is about a particular church in a particular city — Rome. The Lateran Basilica of Saint John is the oldest church in Rome and it’s also the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, that is, the Pope. So, it’s Pope Francis’s parish in some very particular way. Those friends of Saint Marie Eugenie who were fortunate enough to be at her canonization in June 2007 will remember the first liturgy of that powerful weekend, which was held there in that enormous ancient place. (It was awe-inspiring, but even that wasn’t enough to reduce her friends to silence either before or after the liturgy ! We are who we are ! ) :-)
But seriously – why celebrate the dedication of a church dedicated long, long ago ? Perhaps it has to do with that sense of the particular mentioned above. Our faith is not based on nice thoughts or abstract knowledge, but on events based in a particular time, in a particular place : Jesus lived, died and was raised from the dead in real time, in a real place, just as the church building of the Lateran exists in real time and place. It’s good to keep your feet on real ground.
At the same time, we’re not limited to the literal ! Paul, for example, uses figurative language when he reminds the Corinthians that “You are God’s building” and, then, a little further along, he says again : “the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”
Being Paul, he’s not shy about taking some credit for that :
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it.”
But he finishes this piece of his letter by insisting that “no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.”
So maybe as we celebrate the dedication of this big old particular church in Rome we are really being invited to celebrate our own particular dedication, meaning to say, our baptism into Christ. That dedication might have happened “long, long ago,” to a baby dressed in a long white gown and squalling over the font, or it might have happened last Easter to an adult ready and eager to receive the sacrament, but either way, it changed us forever. Why ? Because it set us on a foundation, a stone that has its own name, which is Christ Jesus. As Paul says, he “is there.” Talk about feet on solid ground !
One other Assumption fact that’s good to remember : November 9, 1839 marked the first Eucharist celebrated in the Assumption, at what is now #106 rue Vaugirard, in Paris. Particular place and time again ! Let’s celebrate it all !
PS – If you’d like to take a virtual tour of the Lateran Basilica of Saint John, here’s a nice link to try
Sr Nuala Cotter, ra
Worcester - USA