The oldest basilica in Christendom is celebrated today, because the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran happens to fall on a Sunday, and so, like last Sunday’s Feast of All Souls, trumps the Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Constantine, Christianity’s first emperor, received the property from the wealthy Laterani family, which explains part of the name. (Later, the church was dedicated both to St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist.) This was, and is today, the official basilica of the Bishop of Rome.
Imagine what this building, restored and rebuilt many times, has seen. Like the Church itself, it has been declared dead many times. But it still stands today.
And here is the best part. On his first Holy Thursday as pope, the Holy Father elected not to remember the institution of the Eucharist, and Jesus’ command to wash each other’s feet, at that ancient basilica. He knew that there would be plenty of cardinals who would happily preside there, washing the feet of other dignitaries.
Instead, Pope Francis celebrated that most holy night, the night that remembers the institution of the priesthood, at a penal institution for minors on the outskirts of Rome. If you missed the heart-filling photograph of him bending to kiss the feet of the inmates whose feet he had just washed, google it, or ask someone to google it for you.
It’s the best possible image of what the pope’s church is. For where there is love, there is God. And there the Church must always be.
Which worship space most serves as the place where you encounter Jesus?