He Ranks with Apostles and Archangels

So why does St. Lawrence get a feast day? Not just an optional Memorial, not just an obligatory Memorial, but a feast day—like the Apostles, like the Archangels? I mean, we all know a lot of great guys named Larry, but…

Basilica of St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence served as Pope St. Sixtus II’s deacon. Both of them were martyred by order of the Emperor Valerian in the middle of the third century.

Everyone loved Lawrence. He concerned himself solely with sacred worship and the well-being of the poor. He had a great sense of humor. He went to his martyrdom with such courageous faith that some of the pagan Roman senators who witnessed it became Christians.

In other words, St. Lawrence had such strength and charisma that he bolstered the faith of countless people. We could say he was a Pope-John-Paul-II-like figure, seventeen centuries earlier. Lawrence’s tomb was erected near the site of his martyrdom, and people flocked to it in droves. The Emperor Constantine built a basilica to house the tomb. The relics of St. Justin Martyr and St. Stephen are housed with St. Lawrence’s relics. Pope St. Leo the Great said that St. Lawrence gave to the city of Rome the same luster that the first Christian martyr—St. Stephen, like Lawrence a deacon—gave to Jerusalem.

So today’s feast unites us with the long and inspiring history of our Mother Church, the Church of Rome. May St. Lawrence pray for us, that we will heroically keep the faith with love and good humor.

[Click HERE to read about Pope Benedict’s visit to St. Lawrence’s tomb.]

Martyred After the Edict of Milan

Before he became a holy man and a bishop, St. Blase had been a physician.

St. Blase lived through the Diocletian persecution, which lasted for 25 years and is also known as “the Great Perseucution.”

The emperor Diocletian believed that the practice of Christianity offended the gods and caused problems for the Empire. He revoked rights which Christians had previously enjoyed and insisted that everyone offer pagan sacrifices.

This provoked a crisis of conscience, of course. Many Christians embraced martyrdom rather than commit sacrilege. St. Blase was one of these.

Diocletian had established four prefectures to govern the vast empire. The father of Constantine the Great ruled the prefecture of France. As we know, the young Constantine declared Christianity legal after he took over the Italian prefecture in the year 312.

St. Blase, however, lived in the Eastern prefecture. Constantine did not assume control of that part of the Empire until the year 324. In the meantime, St. Blase was martyred, in 316.

As he was led to prison, a woman with a child dying of a throat disease begged St. Blase for his prayers. He prayed, and the child got better.

The Holy Cross

This past weekend proved to be quite emotional.

Dick Enberg called his last professional tennis match.

–The Brooklyn Youth Chorus sang Sarah McLachlan a cappella.

–The Washington Redskins soundly defeated the New York Giants!

But when the first cool breezes of fall begin to caress our faces, our thoughts must run to the immemorial September 14 commemoration of the cross of Christ…

The ancient Romans used crosses to execute low-life criminals of the barbarian races. The criminals often hung for days on crosses along highways. The Roman Empire made a statement this way: We will do what we need to do to maintain order.

Cicero was a philosopher and statesman of ancient Rome. He taught that a polite person should not even mention the word “cross.” Well-bred citizens did not refer to such ghastly business in pleasant conversation.

But something changed. Constantine marched toward Rome in the fall of AD 312 to unseat the tyrannical emperor Maxentius. Constantine raised his eyes to heaven to pray for help from the true God, and He received a vision. He saw a cross in the sky and heard these words: ‘In this sign, you will conquer.’

The cross had been a brutal, unmentionable means by which the Romans conquered disorder and rebellion among the nations they subjugated. But the Son of God turned the cross into something else. Christ committed no crime; He never rebelled against order and truth. But the sentence for sin fell upon Him, and He lovingly embraced it for the sake of the salvation of the world.

So now the cross signifies not death but life. If signifies not crime and punishment but mercy and kindness. Now, we do not shy away from mentioning the cross, or invoking it. The cross is not foreign to polite society. Rather, the sign of the cross adorns the lives of Christian people in every possible way.

But we owe it to ourselves to meditate frequently on the fact that the shameful cross of Cicero and the victorious cross of Constantine are not two different things, but the same thing–transformed from ugliness to beauty by the suffering of Christ.

Constantine’s mother Helen sought and found in the ruins of Jerusalem the wood of the cross on which the Lord had been crucified. This same holy relic was defended in battle by the Emperor Heraclius three hundred years later, when the Persians attacked the Holy Land.

September 14 commemorates all these events, which link us with the true cross. The cross of beauty can be none other than the cross on which Christ suffered at the brutal hands of the ancient Romans. We exult the glorious cross because the Savior of the world hung in agony on it for us.

Dedication of St. John Lateran

facade1Today’s feast is very important. It is so important that we even keep it on a Sunday. Last week we kept All Souls on Sunday, because it is such an important day. Usually, if a feast falls on a Sunday, we do not keep it that year. So the Dedication of St. John Lateran must be an important day. The problem is that a lot of people have no idea what this means.

Let’s go over the name of today’s feast word by word, so that we can be sure that we understand what we are celebrating.

naveFirst word: Dedication.
Generally speaking, we human beings do what we need to do IN BUILDINGS. Don’t get me wrong—it is nice to get outside, go for a walk, take a bikeride. But we are not like birds, or tigers, or wolverines. We cannot live outside. We need shelter from the elements.

As a general rule, we cannot have Holy Mass outside. Maybe occasionally, like Pope John Paul II’s funeral 2 ½ years ago in St. Peter’s Square. But, generally speaking, we need a church for Mass.

A church building is not like any other building. A church building is itself a symbol of invisible realities. Both the exterior and the interior of the church building express the reality of God, His angels, and His saints. For any prayerful Catholic, his church is a precious fixture in his interior life.

Because a church is a sacred building, set aside for divine worship, it must be solemnly dedicated after it is built. Then, every year on the anniversary of the dedication, we can thank God again for the gift of the church building, and for all the grace that He pours out in it.

Today, then, is the anniversary of the dedication of a church building. Which church? St. John Lateran. Ever heard of it?

St. John Lateran is a church in Rome.

The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
Now, of all the churches in a particular city, there is one that is especially important, namely the cathedral. The “cathedral” is the church which has the cathedra in it. The cathedra is the bishop’s seat of office. The cathedra symbolizes the bishop’s authority to teach and govern his diocese.

Here in Washington, many people think that the cathedral of our diocese is the National Shrine. The Shrine is the grandest church in the city. But the Archbishop’s chair is not in the Shrine. The cathedra is in St. Matthew’s on Rhode Island Avenue, downtown. St. Matthew’s is the cathedral.

Washington is not the only city where people get confused about which church is the cathedral, as we shall see.

Of all the dioceses in the world, there is one that is uniquely important. All the bishops in all the cities of the world are successors of the Apostles of Christ. The Bishop of Rome is the Successor of St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles. Therefore, the Bishop of Rome is the Pope, the chief shepherd of the whole Church.

The Baldacino over the High Altar, containing the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul
The Baldacino over the High Altar, containing the heads of Sts Peter and Paul
The cathedral in Rome is the most important church building in the world. In the cathedral in Rome, the Pope sits in his cathedra and teaches and governs all the Catholic people on earth.

The National Shrine is the largest Catholic church building in the western hemisphere, but it is not the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Washington. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the largest church on earth, but it is not the cathedral of Rome.

“Lateran.” What does this word mean? We have to go back seventeen centuries. Christianity was legalized by the Emperor Constantine in A.D. 313. For the first time, it became possible to build churches.

The Emperor’s family owned a large piece of property that had previously belonged to a prominent Roman family, the Lateran family. The Emperor gave it to the Pope, and the Pope built his cathedral church on that piece of property.

In 324, this cathedral church of Rome was solemnly dedicated and placed under the patronage of St. John. Because it was on land that had belonged to the Lateran family, it came to be known as St. John Lateran.

aerialSo today is the day that the Pope’s cathedral was dedicated, the day the most important church building in the world was dedicated.

Now, most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica as the Pope’s church, and of course it is his church. For the past 700 years, the Pope has lived at St. Peter’s instead of St. John Lateran. The truth is that the Pope has four Basilicas in Rome: His cathedral, St. John Lateran, the basilica at the tomb of St. Peter, the basilica at the tomb of St. Paul, and a basilica dedicated to our Lady.

May God be praised for giving us such splendid churches in which to worship Him!