Notre-Dame was burning.
It was an awful sight. Flames peeling towards the sky. Smoke billowing black and ominous. Devastation ripped through a country, a religion, a world. This magnificent piece of architecture, the work of skilled human hands imbued with talent from God, was burning. And no one knew if it would survive.
This is not the first time Notre-Dame de Paris has faced destruction, as it was partially destroyed during the French Revolution. But seeing it in flames was a whole other kind of heartbreak.
I missed my opportunity to see it.
When I studied abroad during college, some friends and I traveled to France. We had grand plans to visit Notre-Dame de Paris, the Eiffel Tower, St. Thérèse’s basilica, Lisieux, and Giverny Gardens where Monet lived and painted, all in two days. Like any trip with college students who don’t speak the local language, we had a mix up.
As it’s been many years since the incident, I forget exactly what happened, but we had a mix-up with our overnight train from Spain to France. We either boarded the wrong one or bought the wrong tickets. Either way, instead of getting into Paris in the morning, we didn’t get there until the early afternoon. At that point, we could choose to see either the Eiffel Tower or Notre-Dame de Paris. We’d seen many churches over the course of the semester– we’d been all over Rome and Italy, Poland, Spain, and Austria. Because of this, we chose to see the Eiffel Tower instead.
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
This cry of Jesus from the cross is filled with the despair and terror and loneliness of having completely lost God. It is the cry of a life without God’s presence. The agony of this empty life. To not know where God is or if He will ever come back to you is terrifying.
Many cried this as we watched Notre-Dame burn and as we watched firefighters work diligently to put out the flames. Why is God doing this to us? This is punishment for our sins. Where has God gone in this? Of course, there was the fear of God literally burning up with the cathedral, as the Blessed Sacrament was inside, along with the Crown of Thorns, other relics, and artwork.
But He has not left us. He is there, even in the flames. He is there in the destruction. He is there in the brave men and women who worked to contain the flames and save the cathedral. He is right there on the cross.
By Your cross You have redeemed the world.
“Hold the cross high so that I may see it through the flames!” St. Joan of Arc cried out with her last breath, as she was burned at the stake.
“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit,” were the last words of Christ as He hung on the cross (cf. Luke 23:46).
The Blessed Sacrament, Crown of Thorns, and other precious items were saved from the flames. A brave priest aided by a brave fireman, ran into the cathedral to get them. The flames were put out. In fact, the most miraculous part of the whole ordeal was that the main structure of the cathedral was mostly in tact, including the altar, cross, and the stunning rose window.
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19). Jesus was, of course, talking about Himself. But it is hard not to hear this as the news broke that Notre-Dame de Paris was not completely destroyed. Notre-Dame will be rebuilt. Perhaps, I will even see it in my lifetime. The bells of Notre-Dame will resound again.
Photo courtesy of https://www.foxnews.com/world/notre-dame-golden-altar-cross-images-inside