Since I was a little girl, my parish church has been extremely important to me. I grew up around the corner and down the block from Presentation Church on the West Side of Chicago. Though I am unsure of when my affection for this building took root, I do recall that my family and I were always very much at home there. We celebrated the happiest of times and endured the saddest of times in this home away from home. We found joy at our family baptisms, on First Communion days, when we were confirmed and at the Christmas and Easter liturgies. We found consolation as we sat in Presentation’s dark wooden pews during Funeral Masses for my uncle, my grandfather, my grandmother and my dad. We enjoyed our fellow parishioners during social events such as talent shows and annual picnics. When we moved the summer after I completed sixth grade, I had to be dragged to the car because I didn’t want to go. Presentation Church was my home away from home and our parish family was my auxiliary family. It was very difficult to leave them behind.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. On November 9, 324, Pope Sylvester I dedicated what would become the cathedral church of Rome. Though we most often associate St. Peter’s Basilica with the pope, St. John Lateran is actually the Holy Father’s parish church. The papal throne is located in St. John’s, and it is from St. John’s that the Holy Father offers his most important teaching. Though all of this sounds quite formal and official, I imagine that Pope Francis finds great consolation within the walls of this holy building. Throughout the course of history, only a few will serve as pope. Since 324, at one time or another, each one who has held that office has knelt in the Basilica of St. John Lateran to beg the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to thank God for blessings received and to share the burden of caring for God’s family here on this earth. Just as Presentation Church became my home away from home because of my own history and the many people who enriched me there, so St. John Lateran is for Pope Francis.
I’m happy to share that the same holds true for me and my husband regarding our current parish. Years ago when news circulated that our town would be home to a new church, Mike spoke with Father Farrell, the founding pastor. While Mike investigated his transfer as deacon to this new parish, Father Farrell investigated where to hold weekend Masses. We gathered for our first Mass in a public school gym. For what seemed like decades, we and a crew of tireless volunteers prepared that gym for Mass every Saturday afternoon. We also disassembled everything after the last Mass every Sunday. Though it was some time before we actually constructed a building, we had built a very strong church of people during those years. When we opened the doors of our church building for the very first time, we simply moved that church of people into its tangible home.
It has been 1,690 years since Saint John Lateran Basilica was dedicated. As we celebrate the church which the Holy Father calls home, we celebrate even more so the church of people among whom Pope Francis walks. As a child, I called my parish church “home” because of the people who welcomed, nurtured and consoled me there. I found God amidst my parish family just as tangibly as I found God at Mass, in the sacraments, during my prayer and in the world around me. I am who I am today because of my relationship with my church family. It occurs to me that the same is true for us all regardless of what our faith happens to be. There is only one Francis I. There is only one “you” and only one “me” as well. Our church family is enriched greatly by the special gifts only Francis, you and I offer. When Francis, you or I aren’t here, our entire family misses out.
Today’s feast of the Holy Father’s “official” church is the perfect time to celebrate our worldwide church family which Pope Francis so lovingly embraces and our parish family here at St. Paul’s. It is also a good time to talk about our faith with our children. Let them know just how blessed we are to have this auxiliary family with whom we can pray, celebrate, mourn and do good. Together, we have made a place for God and for God’s other children in our lives. One day, our parish children will walk this familiar aisle for their weddings and their own children’s baptisms. My husband and I can personally attest to that! What precious times there have been, there are and there will be in the parish and in the church which are our family and our home!
©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved