Jesus’ words, from Matthew 24:35, were what first passed through my mind when I saw striking pictures of the interior of Notre Dame Cathedral, miraculously preserved after Paris firefighters had mostly doused the blaze that tore through it Monday afternoon and evening. It was a deeply moving conclusion to a terrible day.
I was home for lunch when suddenly my Facebook news feed blew up with stories of the tragedy: Notre Dame was engulfed in flames. We turned on the TV in time to see the spire collapse. Most of the news throughout the afternoon said to expect the worst, that the 900-year-old Gothic cathedral would be be destroyed. And what about its many relics? Its carefully preserved Crown of Thorns?
By evening, it appeared that most of the relics, including the Crown of Thorns, worn by Jesus at the Crucifixion, were saved. And, officials were saying that the cathedral was not a total loss, through the cause remains unknown:
The 850-year-old Gothic building’s spire and roof have collapsed but the main structure, including the two bell towers, has been saved, officials say.
Firefighters are still working to contain the blaze as teams try to salvage the artwork stored inside.
President Emmanuel Macron called it a “terrible tragedy”. The cause of the fire is not yet clear.
Officials say it could be linked to the renovation work that began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.
Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened an inquiry into “accidental destruction by fire”. A firefighter was seriously injured while tackling the blaze.
Rebecca Bratten Weiss, who manages the Catholic portal here at Patheos, said a lot, early Monday afternoon, with this Tweet, showing once again why she is so fit to be our boss here at Patheos:
And I keep thinking of the thousands of nameless craftspersons who labored for two centuries to create a monument for the ages. The great cathedrals have always spoken to me of the sanctity of human labor. It’s tragic that their handiwork is now mostly gone.
— R Bratten Weiss (@Prof_RBW) April 15, 2019
“The sanctity of human labor.” What a beautiful way to capture the spirit of the hundreds, of not thousands, of stonemasons, glassmakers, painters, sculptors, woodworkers, artists, blacksmiths, tailors and weavers, to say nothing of engineers and architects, who labored for 200 years, and for nine centuries since then, to make Notre Dame a wonder of the world. If any good is to come of this, may it be that the world’s craftspeople and artisans may gather together to restore what we lost Monday.
At the other end of the Catholic Twiter spectrum, we have Patrick Coffin, self-described porn expert and Catholic “culturpreneur” (i.e., simonist). While the rest of us mourned the loss of a world-renowned monument to faith and the Mother of God, Mr. Coffin spent the day spreading Muslim hate.
The Catholic Right never fails to not impress.
Meanwhile, at the White House
While the whole world, regardless of creed or belief or religion, was shocked and heartbroken, the President of the United States used the occasion to insult the French.
What an awful, disgusting, worthless embarrassment he is. The Paris Fire Department, bless them, responded, in English:
So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2019
Hundreds of firemen of the Paris Fire Brigade are doing everything they can to bring the terrible #NotreDame fire under control. All means are being used, except for water-bombing aircrafts which, if used, could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral.
— Sécurité Civile Fr (@SecCivileFrance) April 15, 2019
It is the only tweet in English I found on their Twitter account. There can be no doubt as to whom it’s directed.
Joy without a cause, faith without a hope
Monday’s fire, especially at the start of Holy Week, shook the whole world, and not just the Catholic world. I have nothing profound to offer in way of analysis or closing. I don’t want to tell you what to think. But as the Cathedral was dedicated to the Virgin Mary—”Notre Dame” means “Our Lady”—a snipped from a poem by G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse, comes to mind. In it, England’s King Alfred the Great, having been beaten back by the Danish invaders of England, is feeling a bit sorry for himself. Out for a walk, he comes across our Lady. Their exchange, I think, may help us all find a proper perspective.
“The gates of heaven are fearful gates
Worse than the gates of hell;
Not I would break the splendours barred
Or seek to know the thing they guard,
Which is too good to tell.
“But for this earth most pitiful,
This little land I know,
If that which is for ever is,
Or if our hearts shall break with bliss,
Seeing the stranger go?
When our last bow is broken, Queen,
And our last javelin cast,
Under some sad, green evening sky,
Holding a ruined cross on high,
Under warm westland grass to lie,
Shall we come home at last?”
But our Lady is having none of it, and gently chides Alfred.
“The gates of heaven are lightly locked,
We do not guard our gold,
Men may uproot where worlds begin,
Or read the name of the nameless sin;
But if he fail or if he win
To no good man is told.
“The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.
“The men of the East may search the scrolls
For sure fates and fame,
But the men that drink the blood of God
Go singing to their shame.
“The wise men know what wicked things
Are written on the sky,
They trim sad lamps, they touch sad strings,
Hearing the heavy purple wings,
Where the forgotten seraph kings
Still plot how God shall die.
“The wise men know all evil things
Under the twisted trees,
Where the perverse in pleasure pine
And men are weary of green wine
And sick of crimson seas.
“But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.
“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
“Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”
Lent winds down, and on Thursday we enter the Triduum, and into the mysteries of our Lord’s suffering, passion, and death. “The sky grows darker yet…the sea rises higher.” Meditating on how the cross and altar emerged unscathed from Monday’s conflagration, do we have joy without a cause, faith without a hope?