Notre-Dame des Flammes – And Why It’s Not As Sad As It Might Seem

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The timbers of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris had been drying out for eight centuries, so when a fire started near the roof they burned quickly, lighting up the sky in a riveting and sad spectacle Monday.

The drying timbers, though beautiful before they were consumed, are a reminder of the drying out of religious faith in France, and in the rest of Europe, and to a lesser extent (possibly) in our own country.

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, quickly declared that the country will rebuild one of the most famous religious structures in the world. That’s what leaders say at times like this.

Yet in the last 24 hours we’ve seen two statements that get closer to what this awful fire may actually mean. You can decide for yourself if you agree. But they’re deeper than what many are saying.

One is from Mark Steyn, the conservative political and social commentator, who appeared Monday night on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News Channel while the fire was still burning. He described visiting Notre Dame three years ago, after attending the funeral of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Jacques Hamel, who was knifed to death in July 2016 by two Muslim terrorists while celebrating Mass.

Here’s some of what Steyn said:

“You do have the sense that a living, breathing faith is just becoming actually a museum, an art gallery, a storage facility. And the French who were on the streets in tears this evening, on the streets of Paris, they’re not mourning — I don’t think they’re mourning just history or architecture or art or culture, they’re mourning something else, but what that something else, post-Christian France can’t quite identify it. And that’s, that’s really the conundrum. When Monsieur Macron says ‘Oh, we’re going to rebuild it.’ Rebuild it for what? When people talk about, ‘Oh, the heart of France has died.’ What is in the soul of France? What is this? Is it just a building, or is it something more?”

The other statement, closer to home, is from a Roman Catholic priest in eastern Massachusetts who preached about the Notre Dame fire on Tuesday morning. He spoke about it in Catholic terms, since it was, of course, a Catholic church.

Some might see the timing of the fire as accidental. Some might see it as judgment from God. The priest sees it as neither.

He said the horrific scene, as sad as it is, is actually an invitation:

“You think this was a coincidence, think again. It was prophetic. Monday of Holy Week. Palm Sunday. Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. … You look at the responses. ‘We will rebuild it. It will stand again.’ What will stand again? A cultural monument? An attraction? For tourists? Gaze at architecture? Tell me, did you hear anybody speak about God or about faith? …

“As I saw this morning the remains, it just came to me. What did we see? We see an altar untouched. We see a cross illuminated, beautifully. And we see that beautiful 14th century sculpture of Mary, the mother of Jesus … On Monday of Holy Week, God has thrust open one of the greatest churches in the world. Everybody’s attention is riveted on that scene. The doors are all open, and there, here in Holy Week, we gaze upon the cross. We gaze upon the altar of sacrifice. Do we stand present at the paschal mystery, the resurrection of Jesus? … We will only be saved by the cross. As Paul said, all who preach otherwise are filled with fluff. ‘I will preach nothing but the wisdom of Christ and Christ crucified.’ ”

He noted that the point of the cathedral isn’t the beauty or the grandeur, but rather:

“… The Eucharist. Why the altar has been laid bare for the world to see. … So there in the cathedral the doors are wide open.

“The Lord doesn’t want a monument. There’s no faith left in France. There’s not a lot of faith around the world, let’s not just pile on France. But there’s the altar of sacrifice. There’s the cross, illuminated, and Our Lady. In the divine plan of God all graces come to the earth, come into our souls through Our Lady. It’s a wakeup call. It’s a wakeup call for the world. … He wants to save souls.”