“Notre Dame North Rose Window” by Bradley Weber (licensed under CC BY 2.0)
Je vous salue, Marie, pleine de grâces, le Seigneur est avec vous;
vous ętes bénie entre toutes les femmes, et Jésus le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni.
Sainte Marie, Mčre de Dieu, priez pour nous pécheurs, maintenant, et ŕ l’heure de notre mort. Amen.
It is April. It is Holy Week. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is burning—her spire has fallen, and there are reports that some of her beautiful stained glass windows have shattered from the intense heat of the fire. Moving footage of kneeling mourners singing the Hail Mary prayer in French brings tears to my eyes. Someone on social media scornfully asks of those singing, “Is the church repaired by praying?” to which another wisely responds: “They are the Church.” Wherever two or three are gathered . . .
I watch the flames pulling the spire of Notre Dame to the ground, and a deep sorrow settles in my heart. Notre Dame can never be replaced. Rebuilt, perhaps, but never replicated. One can’t help but feel that this fire is a symbolic manifestation of the slow burn that has been happening behind the scenes for some time. Yes, the Church is on fire in so many ways, and in so many places.
And, yet, every cathedral in the world could burn or crumble to the ground, and still the Church would remain. Scandal, corruption, and neglect could shake her to the core and leave nothing but smoldering rubble, but the Church would go on just as she always has. Because she lives.
It is Holy Week, and tomorrow evening I will travel to the cathedral of my own diocese to procure the sacramental oils that will indelibly mark me as a member of the Church at the Easter Vigil. And, so, I find myself weeping for the church that was, even as I prepare to be united with the Church that is.
Perhaps it is best to end here with the words of my fellow convert, G.K. Chesterton, who wrote in his essay “The Five Deaths of the Faith“:
. . . The Church in the West was not in a world where things were too old to die; but in one in which they were always young enough to get killed. The consequence was that superficially and externally it often did get killed; nay, it sometimes wore out even without getting killed. And there follows a fact I find it somewhat difficult to describe, yet which I believe to be very real and rather important. As a ghost is the shadow of a man, and in that sense the shadow of life, so at intervals there passed across this endless life a sort of shadow of death.
There are people who say they wish Christianity to remain as a spirit. They mean, very literally, that they wish it to remain as a ghost. But it is not going to remain as a ghost. What follows this process of apparent death is not the lingering of the shade; it is the resurrection of the body. These people are quite prepared to shed pious and reverential tears over the Sepulchre of the Son of Man; what they are not prepared for is the Son of God walking once more upon the hills of morning.
It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.