The Basilica of St. John Lateran and the Synod
Today we celebrate the dedication of the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, the cathedral of Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome – the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
Each of us may have had an experience of feeling we were close to what is holy. It may have been emotional, perhaps unexplainable. With that memory, we may desire to step back into a church, shrine or place that provided such an awesome experience.
We can add the Basilica of St. John Lateran as one of our potential holy places. We have a welcome there as the Bishop of Rome is our Pope. Mi casa es su casa, we have a foot in the door already! Its baptismal font testifies that it is a holy place. Inscribed with swimming fish, the ancient font witnesses to the many people over so many years who were born in its waters.
But now we have a new bond with the Basilica. Pope Francis has called the parishes of his diocese as well as each of our parishes to ‘gather for a period of mutual listening in order to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us’. In less than two years the Synod of Bishops will meet with the theme, “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”. What we say in our parish will be written alongside what the people in the parishes of Rome record.
We hear of gatherings called synods, also the often-discussed question of the balance between the Synod of Bishops and the Primacy of the Pope. This is different, more radical. Pope Francis is speaking of episcopal collegiality within an entirely synodal church. Francis, who was not at the Vatican Council, is calling us to be taken up by the same spirit that was embraced by the bishops at Vatican II, to face the challenges to the church today with fidelity and creativity. Pope Francis has said that at Jesus’ death God did not leave behind a ‘vacuum’ to be filled by people insisting on taking his place. The church is not to be like a country with ‘armed borders, guilt-mongering customs houses with a spirituality that blasphemes the gratuity of God’s engaging action’. Instead, Jesus sent the HS who enables us to witness in words and deeds to God’s unconditional love and his immense hospitality that knows no bounds or borders. We want to hear and listen to the Spirit who speaks through everyone: those content, angry, questioning and fearful.
In a village, the rich people hired watchmen to protect their property. One evening the rabbi was walking at the edge of someone’s property and ran into one of the watchmen making his rounds. The rabbi asked, “For whom are you walking, young man?” The watchman told the name of the owner, and asked, “And you Rabbi, for whom are you walking?” The word hit the rabbi like an arrow. After a period of silence, the Rabbi answered, ‘At the moment I am not walking for anyone.” The Rabbi asked, “Are you willing to become my servant?” “Of course, with pleasure, but what will you have me do?” The Rabbi answered, “You will have to remind me for whom I am supposed to walk”.
Francis tells us that in our mutual exchanges will be reminded for whom we walk.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.