My dear parishioners and friends of our parish community: Praised be Jesus Christ!
Today, November 9th, we celebrate what, to some Catholics, seems like an obscure feast. One is tempted to wonder, “Why would we jettison the prayers and readings for an Ordinary Time Sunday to honor a church building in Rome?” the reason, of course, has everything to do with that particular Roman Basilica Church. The Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome is the Cathedral Church of the Bishop of Rome. It is the Pope’s Diocesan Cathedral and it contains the Papal Throne.
Many Catholics mistakenly think that St. Peter’s Basilica is the Cathedral of Rome, yet it is not. St. John Lateran is called “The Mother of All Churches in the City of Rome and the World!” It is dedicated to both St. John the Baptists and St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, but primarily, to Jesus Christ the Savior. Its titular feastday is the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6th). The Basilica’s relics include the skulls of both St. Peter and St. Paul, apostles. It is as if these Twelve Holy Apostles are literally holding this magnificent church together!
Another striking feature of the Lateran Basilica is its baptistery, a separate octagonal building of soaring beauty. Therein is inscribed what has become a famous text of Pope Sixtus III describing Holy Baptism. It’s worth citing a brief portion of the inscription on this day we celebrate this central church for all Catholics: “Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font. Eternal life does not await those who are only born once. This is the spring of life that waters the whole world, taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ. Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water of baptism.”
Directly across the street from the Lateran Basilica are what the Italians call the “Scala Sancta” (Holy Stairs), wooden steps that incase white marble steps. According to tradition, the staircase was sanctified by the footsteps of Jesus Christ during His Passion. It was St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine I, who brought the Scala Sancta from Jerusalem to Rome. The main altar in the Lateran Basilica is said to have been used by St. Peter, our first Pope, for the celebration of Holy Mass.
I encourage every Catholic person to visit the city of Rome at least once in their lifetime and to be sure to tour the Basilica of St. John Lateran. It also gets its name from the Laterani family, who donated the land on which this magnificent church is built.
Today’s feast is all about the buildings that house God’s holy people. Our St. John Church, Middletown, is proudly called the “Mother Church” of the Diocese of Norwich and the city of Middletown. The first Catholic Church in our city dedicated to God under the protection of St. John, Evangelist and Apostle. Can you name another Church building that has played an important role in the faith journey of so many? Perhaps an important role in your own journey of faith?
We are indeed privileged to worship almighty God in this beautiful parish church, and it is up to us to work together diligently to restore our St. John Church to the glories of old. I follow in a long line of outstanding holy priests and monsignori who labored so long to make St. John’s a faith-filled people of God. This is the House of God! This is the Gate to Heaven! We thank God for all his blessings in Rome and Middletown!
St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, pray for us!