Our beloved Parisian Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire yesterday.
It’s not breaking news. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m simply repeating the facts because the whole occurrence is still so surreal:
Notre Dame caught on fire.
Why So Devastating?
I’m not a Parisian. And though I’ve been to the Cathedral twice in my lifetime, they were semi-fleeting moments during a semester of European adventures. The little time I spent there does stand out — it’s one of the few gothic structures I saw that I actually liked as it wasn’t dark and dreary — but besides that, it wasn’t a huge monumental experience for me.
So why, why did the news hit me like a punch in the gut?
Why did my heart and mind race thousands of miles away?
Why did I feel as though something “living” was burning??
My sister sent me a text that put into words what my own heart could not…
“It’s a devastating image because Notre Dame, Paris and France play a key role in the history of European Christendom, that is second only to Rome and the Vatican,” Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, told [the reporter].”
“This is really a fire at the heart of Christianity,” he added.
A fire at the heart of Christianity… yes. Yes, that explained the pain.
As Christians, we are the Living Body of Christ. And like our God, we are co-creators in this world. The things we create have spiritual significance — especially our houses of worship. We fill them with beauty and treasures both as offerings and in gratitude to our God. Blood, sweat, salt, tears, heart, and soul went into the construction of that building. And in the centuries sense, millions of people have both sought shelter and been lifted to the heavens in awe, pouring out their own hearts in prayer within the walls of that sacred structure. Theologians and scholars have marveled at the truths contained in her architecture and religious art, and regular folk have found comfort in the warmth of her beauty and the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
This is why Paris flocked to the burning Cathedral, though they could do nothing to help.
This is why Parians got on their knees, prayed rosaries, and sang “Ave Maria” as the fire brigade battled the flames.
This is why the bells of churches tolled in unison all over the city…
As Christians, we have one heart.
The Hydra & The Resurrection
Chris is currently reading the book Antifragile (a recommendation by Fr. Mike Schmitz). According to the author, one of the characteristics of a person who is anti-fragile is their resiliency and he compares this to the Greek mythological creature, the hydra.
If you’re unfamiliar, the hydra is an almost undefeatable monster. It had nine heads and would grow two back in place of one being decapitated. Chris brought this up yesterday when my eyes started welling. I was checking on updates and was incredibly moved by the prayers and songs of the Parisians gathered around the perimeter of the church. “We’re resilient,” he said, “this isn’t a defeat.”
He was right, even more so because of our faith. Unlike the hydra who was almost unbeatable — and did eventually face defeat– we have a God who destroyed death. And the irony of fire taking place during Holy Week is hard to ignore. In our faith, death has no longer has a sting, because death leads to Resurrection
It’s Not the End
I was touched by the words of the French President, Emmanuel Macron who remarked, “the worst has been avoided, even if the battle has not been fully won.” With pride and certainty, he vowed that France “will rebuild Notre Dame.”
To date, hundreds of millions have been donated by wealthy Franks millionaires and billionaires to do just that. Thankfully, almost every priceless and irreplaceable relic (including the Blessed Sacrament) was saved. And as I look back over the events of yesterday and scour over the news articles of today, I find myself wondering, “in the grand scheme of things, what was lost?”
And I have to conclude… nothing. Nothing was lost.
Nothing was lost and everything was gained. It was an event that brought the world together in love. It set hearts aflame, burning in unison, and it will continue to do so for years to come.