Notre Dame suffers, but Notre Dame lives.
Much was lost at Notre Dame today, but much has been lost before in the past. Cathedrals are not built in a day or remain static: they grow, decay, change, are renewed over the centuries. This has been and will be true of Notre Dame.
Easter brings hope.
Our Lady, Notre Dame, will be renewed now at the hour when she seemed to die. Any icon, an image that is a celebration of the life of the Theotokos, must also live: born, growing, changing, developing over time. The great church in the center of Paris never has stood still since she was built. Nobody would say it today, but when I visited Paris one guide told me that he disliked the spire, thinking it a late carbuncle on a gothic beauty. Surely this will not be said, at least quickly, after the great fire of April 15. Even controversial architecture that has been around for a century or two is hallowed when lost.
What should be done? That is for the French, the Catholics of Paris, to decide.
The iconoclasts, fear casting out love, afraid glory will detract from Glory, are defeated by an icon such as Notre Dame. The beauty is so great that the mind is turned to God if at all capable. The more glorious the image, the more the soul is driven by love of beauty to glory, the more the soul desires glory. Beauty begets love and love longs for more beauty. As Notre Dame says “yes” to God, so we cannot love her without loving God.
In Notre Dame, full of glory, the Lord is with you. I nearly missed this looking at history, the art, and the tourists.
The first time I saw Notre Dame, the tourism overwhelmed my vision. We came, we took pictures, we learned facts, and left. Later climbing up to Sacre Coeur, my heart was changed. I ceased to be a tourist and became a pilgrim. Some nuns were there praying with many people and I began a search for God, for ancient, holy France, for San Denys and good Saint Louis.
We went many places, but much had been lost in Revolution and war. We were lost.And then a kind guide told me what any scholar of Christian Paris would know: what I sought could be found in Notre Dame. She held great treasures, including the shirt of San Louis. Hope and I were almost out of time, we had to leave Paris the next day, but we raced back to Notre Dame. This time we saw it as pilgrims and our souls leapt within us when we saw her. This was different!
Sadly, we were told the treasury where the relic we sought was locked. We had been told of the hard hearts of the French toward American tourists with our demands.
Yet when we told our story to the woman at the gate, she let us through the door where we could see. Around us, above us, I am no longer sure, we heard the sounds of a mass, or some service beginning, and there was the shirt of Saint Louis. The relics of the knight were with Notre Dame.
We prayed and asked God to save France and to save us. Timeless: we stood and went beyond the relic of a knightly king, through colored windows, past the bell towers, or so it seemed to us at the time.
The saintly king of France took us to Notre Dame and Notre Dame took us back to the sacred heart of Jesus.
That’s how it felt and has always seemed to me, a not important visitor to a church too great for me. When I saw the fires, I was horrified. What was being lost? Had they saved the shirt of the king? The windows surely were gone. The spire our guide had questioned fell. What else?
Yet small as it was, ignorant as we were, our experience with Notre Dame comforted me. If all the icons were lost, Notre Dame lives and so the icons can come again. Later I learned the relics were saved, though not the glass, and much of the structure endured.
Thank God, yet even if all had been lost all could have been renewed. The stone and the glass were blessed, but only because they housed those that heard the word of God and did it. There are still such souls and so new stone and new glass can bless and be blessed.
Our hearts turn to Notre Dame.
God bless Catholic France.