Last night in Paris, the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire. We still don’t know how. The entire structure is undergoing renovations and one expert in the field said that the building would start to fall down upon itself within the next 10 years. And so the work began. It is expensive and disruptive to renovate old buildings, especially buildings that are so revered, loved, and visited by tens of thousands every year.
People go there to worship God, to thank God, to adore God, to praise God. People go there to ask God questions, to find the answer to their question, “Are you there, God?” More than one person has found He was there, indeed, and in the rest of the world, too.
Some people go to admire the architecture, which is amazing; others go to contemplate the history of this over 850 year old structure and all that has transpired in Paris, in France, in Europe, in the world, since the cornerstone was laid all those centuries ago.
And, yet, many more centuries before that, the true Cornerstone was placed, in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is to honor Him and the rest of the Trinity, and to remember always the role that His Blessed Mother had in our salvation, that the building was erected.
It is in the shape of a cross, the very instrument upon which Christ died for us all. And He is glorified on that cross; He wins the victory for us all in that completely selfless act. I have visited Notre Dame a couple of times. It was as awe inspiring and amazing as everyone tells us it is. I have prayed to God there, I have marveled at the creativity and faith of human beings who could imagine and build such a marvelous thing.
It is important for us to remember that, though this is a tragedy of a certain kind, in the end, the materials used to construct this church and the very church itself are only humankind’s attempt to glorify God and to help us in our adoration and contemplation of our Creator and Redeemer. In a word, it’s just stuff. Glorious, irreplaceable, height of man’s creative talents and efforts, but still just made of material things with human hands. And while we embark on a sort of mourning for the significant losses, we have to thank God that no one seems to have been killed or even injured by the blaze. People are always worth more than stuff.
We can lament the end of a very long, beautiful era, too. But I have to say that, having visited many and various churches around Europe over the years, the era has been slowly dying for quite some time. Many churches are empty on Sundays or nearly so. Some are no longer places of worship at all. Notre Dame still was, and that is good. But so many others around the world have continually diminishing numbers who participate in our Eucharistic celebrations. Perhaps this spectacle of a church’s destruction as it is engulfed in flames is the appropriate symbol for our time.
Our triune God cannot be contained in a building anyway, or in anything else. But the symbols, the signs, do bring us closer to Him often. The peace within, inexplicable even with hordes of people milling about, cannot be duplicated outside those walls. The reverence with which most visitors and certainly all participants in the Masses and other Liturgies are no longer going to be experienced there. At least not for a very long time.
I pray that Notre Dame Cathedral can rise from the ashes; may she become once again a beautiful, majestic place to pray, to celebrate, to give thanks, find forgiveness, discover that God has been waiting for them, calling them to Himself.
But while we wait, and others more talented and knowledgeable than I take on that seemingly impossible task, may we who are the Church, the Body of Christ, work to glorify God and bring people to Him every day. May we, with our “temples of the Holy Spirit,” inspire and show those who are lost “a more excellent way.”
The unum necessarium, the one thing required, is to love God. Seek Him and you will find. Help those of us who know to share that message, Lord.