Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John Lateran, which serves as the Cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome, and thus holds the cathedra (pictured right) for the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father. For this reason, it is a focal point of the unity of the Church universal.
The name (St. John Lateran) is a bit misleading. Lateran is simply the family name of those who once occupied the location. The Church is actually dedicated to our LORD, and the two Saints, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.
Because St. John Lateran is the cathedral Church for Rome, and thus, the Holy Father as the Bishop of Rome, it reminds us of the unity which the entire Church shares in faith in Jesus Christ and keeping communion with the Successor of Peter.
This is no small thing – keeping communion with the Successor of Peter.
The bishops of the United States are already gathering in Baltimore for our November Plenary Assembly. A handful are here for meetings this weekend, before the full assembly begins on Monday. It seems fitting to me that our time together begins on the Feast of St. John Lateran – a celebration of Unity in the Church. Of the many duties of a bishop, maintaining unity with the Holy Father – Pope Francis – and thus with the universal Church is one of our gravest.
This was the primary ‘gift’ Pope Francis encouraged us (USCCB) to pray for as he sent us all on retreat last January – unity.
St. Paul uses a great image of a foundation to reflect upon the unity that is found in the Church. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says this:
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 each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. (3:10-11)
Jesus Christ is our foundation; our unity. When we lose our ‘orientation’ in the Church, by narrowly focusing on personal agendas, rather than Christ, we fracture the community that is the Church. Despite many good intentions, we can get wrong-headed ideas which become ideologies, which are then no longer rooted in reality; no longer truly founded upon Jesus Christ. It is in those moments we are called to humbly return to the Lord, who alone is our rock and security.
Dear friends, as the Bishops gather this week, please keep us in prayer. At the same time, please know of our prayers for all of you, because YOU are the Body of Christ, and with you we are Church. St. Paul goes on to say in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? … for the temple of God is holy.” (3:16-17)
In the great diversity of gifts and cultures within the Church, is a beauty that reflects the infinite nature of God. Let not this great diversity be a source of division. On this day, let us recall that our lives are built upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ. He alone created and redeemed us. In him we have our faith. As each bishop is in communion with the Holy Father, and each local church is in communion with their bishop, we extend that same unity to each other.
As we find Christ in the midst of the Church so, too, may we find him, love him and serve him in one another. Perhaps we can spend less time in side-bar conversations that serve to separate, and more time in search of a proper orientation to our foundation and cornerstone of the Church, Jesus Christ.