When my father-in-law died, I observed that no one among his six sons, their wives and his many grandchildren wanted to sit in his chair at the table. It wasn’t fear or dread, it was something much simpler: the chair, that chair, belonged to Leonard. It always had, and, in some sense, it always would. We had eaten so many meals with him at the head of the table in his chair. We had played so many games of cards with him at the head of the table in his chair. I understood as I watched us take our places at meals after his death that the chair stood for Leonard and his place among us.
The chair is a sign of our unity and of our tradition and history.
Today is the Feast of the Chair of Peter. Each bishop has a chair, the bishop’s chair, from which he presides. The Latin word for a bishop’s chair is “cathedra.” That is the source for our word “cathedral,” which is the bishop’s home church in his diocese.
If you go to Rome, and visit St. Peter’s Basilica, you can see an ancient wooden chair that we believe to have been Peter’s, when he was the Bishop of Rome. We preserve the chair, and honor it, because it stands for the long, unbroken history of bishops, from that day to this. The chair is a sign of our unity and of our tradition and history.
If you have a bowl or a plate that belonged to an ancestor or a friend who has died, use it when you have supper tonight. Tell the story of how it was used at feasts and on special occasions. Perhaps you have some item of clothing that reminds you of a dead loved one. Wear it today. Remember, and give thanks for the chain of mothers and fathers, stretching back to the beginning of time, which links us, to them, and to one another. And give thanks for the Church, which continues — through wars and scandals and plagues and attacks — to lead us home to God, and to those who wait for us there.
The painting above is Vincent Van Gogh’s “Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity).”