Counterintuitive as it may seem, the “disaster” at the Cathedral of Notre Dame might have been anything but.
Make no mistake: the devil was active. The Church is under attack on all fronts. But God allowed it. It may thus be an opportunity. It depends on the lasting reaction to it.
For a solid two days, the world was transfixed on a profound Catholic treasure, staring in sadness at a cathedral’s destruction and remembering, or realizing for the first time (here we think of the young who have no religion), how precious Catholic tradition is — how awesome (to finally use that word rightly) is a Church that has been all obscured by the abuse crisis but transcends both time and men and scandal.
A Church facing extinction?
This, saw hundreds of millions of people — billions — is not a Church that operates spur of the moment or was born after one division after another; rather, one that goes back into what seems like the unfathomable past: a cathedral that despite rampant secularism, remains the heart and soul and bulwark not just of Paris but the nation of France.
Even atheists mourned the damage to such an incredible structure, one that was first commissioned in the 1100s and has existed through the reign of 97 popes!
Our Church speaks of its age in terms of millennia.
Notre Dame is the real definition of a “mega-church.”
And this week it gave Catholics a mega-phone.
“Hello, world. This is God, this is Jesus, this is Our Lady (Notre Dame) speaking…”
The prophetic pulse: how about this holy card?
Even if it had been entirely destroyed, it would not have been a critical blow to Catholicism, which transcends popes and bishops and structures (and has more than a few other incredible edifices).
Set before the world was the image of an altar and candles that remain standing — candles! — and news accounts of relics such as the Crown of Thorns, during Holy Week.
Under the altar Cross? A Pieta.
Only God orchestrates (or allows) such.
CNN, NBC, The New York Times — countless media outlets lamenting damage to a Catholic structure, and even discussing vespers and the Eucharist and Confession.
It was the biggest religious-education class in the history of the planet, regarded as major news even by often antagonistic evangelicals, pentecostals, Muslims, and “nones,” who perhaps got a dose of reality when they realized the depth and age of the Mother Church: it is a structure, is Notre Dame, that predates Martin Luther by centuries. The images are amazing. We’ve seen enough of the fire. There are other photos [below]. The debris is not a symbol of division in the Church. It is a sign of sin, indifference, and irreligion.
Use it or lose it.
Secular France: the government now guarding it!
And it hardly stands alone among ancient such Catholic treasures (see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
Our faith is that rich; that enduring; literally — in the case of the stone exterior, which remains despite the intense fire – as the Rock of Peter against which not even the fire of Hades can claim victory.
Remarkable was how billionaires immediately offered aid — including Apple, which, as part of the tech culture, is about as “unreligious” or irreligious — as secular — as it gets.
To watch Anderson Cooper wax mournfully poetic over the destruction was a shock when Catholicism is so often portrayed as a villain.
All of a sudden, no one wanted to lose a church. Think about this. They can talk about the reason being its history and architecture, but something deeper was operating here.
And so it is, this extraordinary Holy Week. The world was focused on the Crown of Thorns!
In the past year, Catholicism has taken hits greater than any problems since the cathedral was built (in the Middle Ages, when similar crisis threatened it). There’s a sign in that. There’s a sign in how irreligion and Church scandal ended with bubonic plague that decimated Europe. There is a sign in fire, so often associated with chastisement.
But out of the images of smoke and fire and a collapsed roof, out of the water poured forth by tremendously brave firefighters (many of whom risked their lives), are the images of laymen of all faiths (or none) forming a human chain to save the Eucharist and relics and the debris scattered around an untouched altar from which — this Holy Week, this year when Christianity has been under more assault than in memory — glowed that golden Cross at the very center of the world stage.
[ My children, God is cleansing His Church. Our beloved Church must be cleansed, renewed and restored to holiness and wholeness. Must be made one again, as it was in the beginning.]