Nov. 9 is the day we remember the Dedication of the Lateran Bascilica. To be specific, the Lateran Bascilica is the Basicilica of St. John Lateran, in Rome. Why would this dedication make it into the liturgical calendar, and why is it important?
First of all, we have to realize that church buildings, simply in and of themselves, are signs of hope. There's a story told of an atheist person who would drive by a large church each day. Even though she herself did not believe, she said, she was glad to see that building every day because it meant that there were people in this world who did believe. She didn't feel that she could pray, but she did have confidence in the prayers of others. That understanding is the most basic understanding of what "church" is - a community of believers who gather to have an encounter with the living God.
Sometimes just the act of gathering together is enough of a witness. There's another story we know of personally, where an 80 year old man spent years driving by a large suburban Catholic church. One day, he just pulled in. He said he did it because every time he drove by, there were cars in the parking lot - night and day. He decided that if that many people thought this church was worth showing up to, maybe there was something worthwhile going on here. He eventually came in to see for himself.
These are a couple of the reasons why we remember and celebrate the dedication of the Lateran Basicila. This church is actually the seat of the Bishop of Rome, who also happens to be the Pope. It features large sculptures of the 12 apostles, who are shown holding symbols of their martyrdom. This church is a reminder of the call of every baptized person to spread the Good News. Being designated a basilica means it holds a special place in the heirarchy of churches, so to speak. Bascilicas can be fitting destinations for a pilgrimage, and are usually of larger proportions and have more ability and tendency to adapt to the needs of pilgrims. So, for example, many bascilias have programs or festivals that encourage religious visits and retreats. A visit to a bascilica is an event, a celebration. It is a special thing to do within the spiritual life. Basilicas encourage and invite us to step out of ordinary life, and focus more fully on the transcendent, at least for a little while.
It's interesting that we Catholics will even designate buildings as holy places, isn't it? This, too, is a sign of the ultimate temple, the new Jerusalem that will be made up of living stones. So for this gracious reminder, let us give thanks.
Lord, we thank you for the skills and abilities you gave us, so that we can imagine and build such wonderful places of prayer and encounter. Help us to carry this gratitude in our hearts. Amen.
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.
-Pope St. John Paul II