(Written by my good friend Bob Horning of Ann Arbor Michigan. Bob is a freelance writer who writes for National Catholic Register. An edited version of this story appears in this week’s issue. Thanks to Bob for permission to use his story.)
The first time that I went to Rome, I thought I was going in order to see St. Peterâ€™s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Coliseum, the catacombsâ€¦Â All of which I did see, and Iâ€™m glad I did.Â But it was seeing a little chair that turned out to be the most significant and moving for me.Â And Iâ€™m not even into furniture or antiques.
I wasnâ€™t prepared as we walked into the building where I knew the chair was, not knowing what to expect.Â But I found myself becoming nervous, like one does before speaking to a group, as we drew near to the chair and our tour guide began talking about it. There it was, fifty feet away, sitting alone, and roped off so no one could steal it or damage it, a guard always close by.
When I saw the Chair, tears began running down my cheeks.Â I tried to stop them, but didnâ€™t do very well, so I separated myself from everyone.Â I wasnâ€™t embarrassed at my feelings; just at my crying because I didnâ€™t know if the others would understand.Â To them it may have been just another chair, just another part of the Catholicism that Rome is full of.Â Why cry over a chair? To me, this was the center of the universe.Â This chair was what I had been seeking my whole life and didnâ€™t know it, then finally found; the chair that made sense out of everything else in the world.
(Steve standing by the Pope’s Chair in St. John Lateran in the video/DVD â€œPeter, Keeper of the Keys.â€œ)
After a couple minutes, our little group moved on, so I did, too. But the next day I was back, by myself.Â I needed more time by the chair. For thirty minutes, I knelt there behind the rope, praying and reflecting.Â It seemed the appropriate position.Â I wanted to get closer to the chair, to touch it and hold it, though I knew there was no chance of that.Â Most people just walked by, many of them probably not even knowing what it was. But here I was in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the church of the bishop of Rome, the pope.Â And this was his chair, the one he sits in when he comes to say Mass.Â The chair of Peter, Christâ€™s representative on earth.
St. John Lateran was built in the early fourth century, and was the residence of the popes until after their return from Avignon when their home moved to the Vatican. It was the center of Christian life in the city.Â It is still the Cathedral of Rome and called the mother of all churches, though it is now at St. Peterâ€™s that the pope says Mass most often.Â It is here that the Pope speaks ex cathedra (from the chair).
Maybe being a convert has something to do with the chair being so important to me, Iâ€™m not sure.Â For until I became a Catholic, the pieces of the puzzle of life never quite fit.Â For many years I had hoped to find the answers somewhere.Â But in the non-Catholic world, there are parts of scripture that just canâ€™t be reconciled with others, and there is no authority that can make definitive statements on theology or life or ethics or practically anything.Â The result was that I was confused on a number of issues; worse than that, I was beginning to conclude that God was confused, too.Â I had only a slight hope that somehow, somewhere this side of heaven, Godâ€™s revelation was being held sure and clear.
Finally, here, in what this chair represented, I had come to find a truth that was dependable and consistent, that gave light and direction on complex issues, a truth that never changed. I knelt there thanking God for his revelation to man through the Church, and for establishing and protecting an authority that we could trust.Â I thanked him for the font of wisdom that flowed from this chair to the ends of the earth.Â I thanked him for the faithful Catholics through the centuries that had lived the truth and passed it on to people like me.