By Vatican News
On the façade of the Basilica of St John Lateran is a Latin inscription that identifies it as “Mother and Head of all Churches in Rome and the World”. It is the Pope’s Cathedral, insofar as he is Bishop of Rome, and it is the oldest Basilica in the Western world. The Pope visits St John Lateran every year on the feast day that commemorates its dedication by Pope Sylvester I, on 9 November AD 324.
In his homily during the Mass, Pope Francis chose three verses from the liturgical readings to share with the diocesan community, with priests, and with pastoral workers, asking that they “meditate and pray over them”.
For the diocesan community
The Pope addressed the first verse to the entire diocesan community of Rome. It was from the Responsorial Psalm: "A river whose streams make glad the city of God". Christians who live in this city “are like the river that flows from the temple”, said the Pope, “they bring a Word of life and hope capable of making the deserts of our hearts fertile”.
Referring to St John Lateran as “the Mother Church of Rome”, the Pope prayed she might “experience the consolation of seeing once again the obedience and courage of her children, full of enthusiasm for this new season of evangelization”. Pope Francis described this as “meeting others, entering into dialogue with them, listening to them with humility, graciousness and poverty of heart”.
Pope Francis dedicated the second verse, from St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, to priests: "No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ". This is the heart of your ministry, said the Pope: “to help the community be always at the Lord’s feet listening to His Word; to keep it away from all worldliness, and bad compromises; to guard the foundation and blessed roots of the spiritual edifice; to defend it from rapacious wolves, and from those who want to deflect it from the way of the Gospel”.
Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the priests of Rome, telling them he admires their faith and love for the Lord, their closeness to the people and their generosity in caring for the poor. “You know the districts of the city like no other, and you keep the faces, smiles and tears of so many people in your hearts”, he said.
For pastoral workers
Pope Francis reserved the last verse for pastoral workers. He explained the Gospel account of Jesus’ casting out the merchants and moneylenders from the Temple. “Sometimes, in order to unsettle peoples’ stubbornness and lead them to make radical changes, God chooses to take strong action”, said the Pope. He pointed out an important detail in this Gospel passage: “The merchants were in the courtyard of the pagans, the area accessible to non-Jews”, he said.
But God wants His temple to be a house of prayer for all peoples, “hence Jesus' decision to overthrow the money changers’ tables and drive out the animals”. Jesus knew this provocation would cost Him dearly, said Pope Francis: when they ask Him, "What sign can you show us to prove your authority?", the Lord answers saying: "Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days”.
Rebuilding the temple
“In our lives as sinners, it often happens that we distance ourselves from the Lord”, said the Pope. “We destroy the temple of God that is each one of us… Yet it takes the Lord three days to rebuild His temple within us”.
Pope Francis encouraged pastoral teams to find “new ways to meet those who are far from the faith and from the Church”. No one, no matter how wounded by evil, is condemned to be separated from God on this earth forever, he said.
“We may sometimes encounter mistrust and hostility”, concluded Pope Francis, “but we must hold onto the belief that it takes God three days to raise His Son in someone’s heart”.