Tuesday, April 16, 2019


As Notre Dame burned I found it increasingly difficult to focus on my work.  Every fifteen minutes or so I would do a search on my computer to see if there was any good (or at least less bad) news.  Someone gave me a brass model of the cathedral about a year or two ago and I went upstairs and brought it down to my desk to contemplate as the day progressed.

Why is it so significant that this structure caught on fire?  Why did it attract the attention of much of the world?  It is for reasons much deeper than many people think.  It is more than just a tourist attraction going down, it is more than something old that was in danger of disappearing, it is more than another significant part of another skyline possibly being erased.  

Already more than 650,000 dollars have been raised to rebuild.  Non-Catholics shed tears and offer support.  Why should a Catholic Church so many miles away and which so many people who watched on-line moment by moment be so dear to the hearts of so many who have never seen it in person and maybe do not even belong to the Church?

It is because this 850+ year old church is more than just another shelter.  It is more than art.  It is more than history.  It is an icon (not an idol) of Western Culture.  When our culture is radicalized and reaches its zenith, it produces Notre Dame, not “Real Housewives of Madison County.”  The former an example of us at our best, the ladder is of us on a decline.  Notre Dame is what happens when God is at the center of our culture, when we value the human person, when true beauty is held in esteem, when be believe in something bigger than ourselves, when we focus on our responsibilities to each other and not just grabbing at our rights, when art is about inspiring the human person and not a mastabatory exercise in self expression.  It is about when individuals sacrifice on behalf of all (into the future) and all sacrifice on behalf of the individual person.  Even when we forget these things (and we have been doing that a lot lately) this great dame stood as a constant reminder that, when we were ready to come to our senses, we could achieve this again.

Generally people think of St. Sebastian as a large and bright church.  Today as I celebrated Mass with the children for Tuesday of Holy Week, it felt small.  If St. Sebastian burned to the ground today, there would not be a world wide call to rebuild her.  Presidents and Kings would not offer their condolences and support.  CNN would not have a moment by moment analysis of the local tragedy.  But it would still be a significant event.

It may be very minor in the scheme of things, but this parish does play a role in the building up of Western Culture.  Original artwork, beautiful grounds, great music reside within her and constant reflection on Scripture and the great ideas that have formed all of Western Culture echo in her walls.  With great effort she brings significant life to her boundaries and does what she can to educate, inspire and influence people to what is Good, True and Beautiful in our Western, Christian culture.  Places like Notre Dame inspire her to her best.

What did we lose in Notre Dame?  We lost a three dimensional blueprint of our best selves.  We are in danger of losing another reminder of who we can be.  I fear we were in danger of losing the ideas of God upon which our culture is based, ideas already much in need of shoring up not unlike the remain walls of this cathedral.  Part of us burned with her.


Anonymous said...

This was a tragic loss of what is beautiful in the world. But I read this on Facebook and thought it was good enough to copy and paste here.

Every time I watch the film of the fire at Notre Dame, I get a pit in my stomach. And then I hear this voice that reminds me that we are God's Church. His people are is church. Maybe as they are fixing the beautiful symbolic structure, I need to fix me, the church within me. Sometimes God sends us a sign, maybe a purification by fire.

Kim Miller said...

Fr V - one of your best posts ever! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Father. I was lucky barely enter the vestibule of Notre Dame in maybe 2007-2008 when in Paris for all of 36 hours for clinical drug trial meeting. The beauty, the serenity.

Cyndy said...

Yesterday we were all sickened and upset at the thought that Notre Dame might burn to the ground. It felt like one of those "remember where you were" events. However, as the evening wore on, it became clear that the damage, while massive, would be reparable. We also learned that over 500 firefighters were working tirelessly to put out the fires and that many others were racing to remove her treasures and artifacts. Today I am heartened to learn that so much of the church is intact and awed by the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars have already been offered for her restoration. This event has unified millions of Catholics around the world because Notre Dame belongs to all of us, it is not just a museum full of pretty things, it is an active Catholic parish church where any one of us could go to pray or attend a Mass. I can already imagine how amazing the day will be when she is re-opened and even more glorious than before. Hopefully with new sprinklers.

Anonymous said...

I found it very interesting that the Notre Dame fire was during Holy Week. To me it seemed to be an allegory for what is happening within the Catholic Church today. A part of the Church is being destroyed by the scandals over the past years and yet the cornerstone and main structure along with the cross remained intact. The phoenix will rise from the ashes.

Anonymous said...

Well stated, Father. Especially how you expressed how we are at our best when God is at the center of our focus.

BTW - it might not make CNN, but if, heaven forbid, St. Sebastian (or my beloved St. Bernard) were to burn to the ground, or some other catastrophe would happen, I would be heartbroken. Our parish churches are our homes, what we rally around. And our good pastors and parish priests are indeed the head of our parish families, an apt reason for us to call you "Father".

We may sometimes take our parishes and priests for granted, but if we are faced with losing something so close to our hearts, it becomes all the more dear. Maybe this is the reason the Polish held on to their Faith in the face of persecution and Communism, and the Irish never lost their Faith under the heavy hand of the British (at least, sadly, until recently). And why, when some of us were merged and lost our parishes and priests a few years back, it was so dreadfully painful. But God always brings something good out of every tragedy. I pray that he does for the French, and for our suffering and heartbroken American Catholic Church.

Peace to all here - Sue, OFS

MaryofSharon said...

I just knew you would have a powerful reflection on the fire at Notre Dame, and I was not disappointed when I stopped to visit your blog.

I agree with the "Anonymous" who sees this fire as quite illustrative of what is happening in the Church today, not just with the scandal, but with the abandonment of much of what is good, beautiful, and true (much of which you address in your post). But, as is the case with the cathedral, there may be a lot of severe damage, but with the grace of God and the hands and hearts of Her people, the Chuch can be strong and beautiful again. God come to our assistance. Make haste to help us!