St John Lateran

Today we visited the Basilica of St John Lateran. Although there are four papal basilicas in Rome, this is the Holy See, the Cathedral Church (from cathedra for the chair of a bishop) of Rome. Unlike the other basilicas, much of the decor is relatively modern, from the baroque and beyond. This really just indicates its many trials over centuries of history: earthquakes, fires, and other destructive forces required both renovation and comple rebuilding.

The baptistery of this basilica is separate from the church, with a great round (signifying the divine perfection) shallow marble pool. The catechumens would be brought down a few steps into the water in the midst of the Easter Vigil, then brought into the Church for the Mass. The older parts of this baptistery are visible as well.

If all of this gilded glorious structure were to celebrate the deeds of men, it would seem a great waste. Instead, its paintings and statues carry the message of “Look what great things God has done through the Saints and those who follow Him with sincere hearts.

I am glad to see so many pilgrims and tourists here. In these dark days for the Church, the everyday Catholic, in particular, needs to be reminded that, collectively as well as individually, we are better than the worst things we have ever done. A visit to St John Lateran does just that.

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