In college, I spent a semester living in the heart of Rome. The Cathedral of John Lateran was a short walk away and I visited it a number of times. Many may wonder, why do we have a feast that celebrates a building? I would like to reflect on that question today because this feast can unite, ground, and inspire us.
One of my favorite parts of being Catholic is being able to find a home no matter where I am in the world. Christ is our shepherd and said he would never abandon us. There is a bishop who overlooks every square foot of land in the world. Though some of the most rural dioceses may stretch with many miles between churches, we belong to a local flock. We are not alone. When I travel, I can find a Catholic Church and feel at home even if I do not speak the same language!
Rome feels like home because it is where the Holy Father resides, the representative of the head of the Body of Christ. Though the pope lives in Vatican City, he is the Bishop of Rome. The seat of the bishop is at the Cathedral. In this case, the Church of St. John Lateran. So, no matter where we live in the world, we all call the Pope, “Papa.” The Seat of Peter then can be a sign of unity of the one Church.
We are human and God meets us in a time and place. Though we never want to grow too attached to things of the world, the world is where we encounter Our Lord through our senses. When people mention grounding techniques, it usually means to stop and notice where you are, what you are sitting or standing on, what you hear, what you see, and what you taste. This exercise is a go-to for returning to the here-and-now. God meets us right now. We do not want to miss out on today by worrying about tomorrow.
Though God can meet us anywhere, we can notice the difference when we gather together in a space dedicated to worship. As a marriage counselor, I often encounter the objection to getting married in the church due to other aesthetic locations being preferred for wedding venues. Fr. Mike Schmitz does a beautiful job explaining this by pointing out the reality of laying down our lives in front of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. He humbled himself to become bread for us and we can humble ourselves to be in His Real Presence. Yes, the Franciscan in me loves nature, but sacraments such as marriage belong in the sacred space of churches. Our vocations are not about us, but about following Christ in the Church and being a gift to the Kingdom of God.
I have heard the argument that parishes spend too much money on architecture and design of church buildings and instead should give that money to the poor. Though I am an advocate for caring for the poor, it is not an “either-or” dilemma, but rather a “both-and” situation. Throughout Scripture, we read about the materials, time, and attention that went into building the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. The space in which God dwells is sacred. He is the King of the Universe and gives us the gifts and talents we return to him through our jobs. When we consecrate our work to God, it is an act of praise. In Rome, there are incredible, awe-inspiring churches on every street corner. I hope that each one of you gets to visit Rome Sweet Home someday or at the very least visit a local cathedral or church that is known for its beauty.
As the media makes it seem as if we are divided, this feast reminds us that we are united. We all share a home where Christ built His Church. Let us take care of our spiritual homes in our neighborhoods. After working on a parish staff, I am aware of all the work that goes into keeping a parish functioning and open to everyone. As members of this one family, we can all chip in to do our part. Let us pray this week about what our Father may be asking us to do in our local and universal Church.