This feast – which occurs on a Sunday
only about every five or six years – may seem odd to us.
It celebrates a building. Why would we do that?
Well, if you go to Philadelphia, you can visit Independence Hall,
where our founding fathers adopted the Declaration of Independence.
We commemorate a building where something important happens.
A Catholic church is where the most important thing ever, happens:
where heaven and earth meet in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
What Jesus did for us on the cross, 2,000 years ago,
is made present to us at this and every altar in the world.
This raises a point. A lot of folks wonder
why the Church teaches that it’s a mortal sin
to miss Mass on Sundays or holy days, without a good reason.
(And a mortal sin means, you have to go to confession.)
People wonder, what’s the big deal?
Well, suppose one of the Apostles didn’t show up for the Last Supper?
Or Pentecost. Or the Sermon on the Mount.
Is that a big deal?
Not showing up for Sunday Mass
means we don’t think anything really special happens here.
In fact, Jesus is on the cross – not “again,” but the one and only time.
God brings that here. For us. That’s what the Mass is.
This is the heart of the heart of the Faith.
This is why the priesthood matters.
This is why we pray for more priests;
and why, during this Vocations Awareness Week,
we have two seminarians for the Archdiocese,
visiting with us, and they will greet you at the end of Mass.
And, this is why we treat our churches with reverence,
not only when we’re praying, but at all times.
I’ve been in a lot of parishes where, sadly,
people seem to forget the sacredness of the place.
I’ve seen people talk on cell phones in church,
eat snacks, drink coffee, and carry on conversations
as if they were, well, anywhere but on holy ground.
I’m very glad we don’t do that here,
and I hope we all try to keep it that way.
Because this is holy ground.
We might say, because God lives here—and that’s true.
But that’s not actually the primary reason.
Rather, it’s because this is where we meet God.
We need reverence and silence here. We need it.
God doesn’t need anything.
Reverence and sacredness are critical needs that we have.
Back to today’s feast. We’re celebrating a church in Rome,
Saint John Lateran. Why that church?
That is the cathedral of Rome.
A cathedral, by definition,
is the “headquarters” or “mother” church of a diocese.
It’s sort of like the “state capital.” It’s “home base.”
The word “cathedral” comes cathedra, which simply means chair.
In this case, the chair of the bishop, who is the leader of the diocese;
but much more important, is – with the other bishops –
a successor to the Apostles themselves.
So this occasion links us to the bishop of Rome—
that is, Pope Francis, the successor to Peter,
who Jesus himself appointed head of his Church.
Where Saint Peter in Chains is the “mother church” for our diocese,
Saint John Lateran is the “mother church” for the whole Church.
Why should this matter to us?
Well, for one, it’s important to remember
we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.
None of us arrives in this world alone, and we don’t live on our own.
We belong to a family, our family shapes who we are,
and we owe something in return.
The same is true of our community, our nation—and our Church.
Second, if we can grasp that a building can be a sacred place,
where God dwells, then we can begin to realize
what it means to say human beings are sacred places—
again, where God dwells.
This is something I always explain at baptisms.
While only some buildings – this church,
or Saint John Lateran in Rome—are consecrated,
every single human life is consecrated. Every single one.
Every person you ever meet, without exception, is a cathedral.
Why? Because when God came to earth, he entered buildings,
and he used many things for his purpose—
but he became a human being.
You want a practical application of this?
Think of all the conversations you had during the last 24 hours.
All the interactions online. How you behaved while driving.
Were all those people truly sacred to you?
If a place can be sacred, so much more a human being.
Every single one, no exceptions.
Or as Jesus said:
whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.