I always thought that today's feast, The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, was a strange one, why such a big deal about a single solitary church?
I felt that way, that is, until I enrolled just next door at the Pontifical Lateran University, one of my almae matres. It was then that I was able, every day, to spend a little time praying in this magnificent church. First of all, it is not simply called "The Lateran", instead the official title is " Major Papal, Patriarchal and Roman Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in Lateran, Mother and Head of All Churches in Rome and in the World "...quite a mouthful. The Lateran, not St. Peter's, serves as the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome and the Pope's church and it is alive with the history of western civilization. As you enter the Lateran you walk through a set of massive bronze doors, the original doors of the Roman Senate, and once through the doors you will notice ancient columns that were once located in Trajan's Forum. As you gaze on the work of some of the greatest architects and artists in history, men like Borromini and Galilei your eyes are immediately drawn to the massive statues of the twelves apostles that flank the nave of the basilica, each holding the instrument of their martyrdom (definitely notable is St. Bartholomew--holding his own skin!). Throughout the church you'll find countless religious and historical relics from the bones of Ss. Peter and Paul to the bronze that once adorned the Temple of Jupiter and before that Cleopatra's fleet decorating the tabernacle. When you reach the apse of the cathedral you find the chair. When the pope teaches something infallibly we say that he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair)...this is that chair. A remarkable testament to the centrality of this cathedral from the very earliest days of Christianity.
What can you learn from the Cathedral Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Ss. John the Baptist and Evangelist in Lateran? You learn that the church is universal, both in terms of geography and in terms of history. The Church exists on every continent, where billions of Catholics pray the same prayers and make up the same Body of Christ. The Church has also existed for 2,000 years (and in a certain sense, longer) and has been the home to countless sinners and saints, artists, scientists, and leaders. It is on this feast that we celebrate the universality of our church that is so beautifully expressed in the mother and head of all churches, the Pope's cathedral.