I made my first visit to the Lateran Basilica two months ago (I'm sorry to say it didn't make the itinerary for my very first trip to Rome, but I made sure to get there the second time around!). With this relatively fresh in my memory, I am able to picture what today's feast celebrates more concretely than I have been in the past. If you take the Metro to the "San Giovanni" stop, as we did, you surface in the middle of a busy intersection, on the other side of the sturdy Roman wall that runs alongside the Basilica. We -- my husband, my parents and I -- couldn't see any sign of the church when we emerged, and for the first few minutes we were mainly concerned with avoiding the traffic. Finally, we spotted a few of the Santi Apostoli who line the facade of the Lateran, facing the east, peeking over the Aurelian Wall at us. We passed through a gate in the wall and saw the Basilica looming ahead, looking like an echo of St. Peter's (where we had just been). I didn't know what the Lateran looked like, but once I saw it, I seemed to recognize it. And why not? After all, it's my parish church. Yours, too.
Okay, that's not the best possible picture of the church -- Google has better ones, I'm sure. (Sorry I cut off your head there, Jesus, or St. John, or whoever that is in the middle!) But it does prove I was there! You can see my dad leading the way inside.Of course, the feast is about more than just this building. The Scriptures we hear this Sunday are full of challenges for us to consider: What kind of water flows out of the Church? Is it healing, nourishing, life-giving? Does it refresh and renew? What do we need to drive out to come closer to that vision? We've been asking those questions, to some extent, already, in the wake of this election. It seems like a particularly important moment to go back to Ezekiel's vision, Paul's warning, and Jesus's zeal, and see what they have to tell us.If you visit St. John Lateran, be sure to take a walk through the 13th-century cloister on the south side. It's full of marvelous twisted-marble columns with inlaid mosaic work, and other artistic treasures that were once part of the church. Below is the view from inside the cloister, looking back at the church. The side of the Basilica that faces the east is ornate and majestic, but this side, the southern face, is rough. You can see evidence of the work that has been done, changes and repairs made over the centuries. This view gives me hope for all the work we have left to do.