Rebuilding Notre Dame

Thomas Griffin (8/19/20)

The blaze of red which erupted from the highest point of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France represented so much more than just a typical fire destroying an old edifice. Silence, tears and heartbreak were sung as the chorus surrounding the clips showed the raging fire ripping through the almost 900 year old Catholic cathedral in April 2019. 

There aren’t many who haven’t heard of or better seen the infamous images from the heart of Paris. The collapse of Notre Dame’s highest portion has been replayed in slow motion on all major news outlets for over the better course of a year. 

As someone who watched others view the television in the pantry at work, overheard conversations on the train to and from work, and heard countless comments from friends and family it forced me to ask why there is such tremendous attention on this admittedly devastating event. Is it a respect for history, art or an iconic structure? Or is it a reverence for what the place of worship stands for? A sanctuary for tens of millions of pilgrims each year and a site that has been visited by somewhere near a billion people over hundreds of decades. The annihilation of a sacred space that has been standing for so long causes one to question their own existence. 

We become attached to places and to views that we see everyday. They become a part of our existence and help form the fabric of a culture. Notre Dame cathedral has been a part of the skyline for as long as anyone can remember and all history books speak of its grandeur and beauty. Places like it simply are not constructed anymore. Our world was simply under the assumption that something so majestic and huge was more or less indestructible. Then the flames began. 

Maybe the fire burning the notorious pilgrimage site is a symbol for something each of us holds most dear and believes to be something that we’ll simply always have: life, health, loved ones. Tragic moments like this brings people together and forces us to come to terms with the fact that nothing is permanent, not our lives, our jobs, our health or even an almost millennium old house of worship. When people get sick or a loved one dies we begin to live more attentive lives, at least for a while. Focusing on what’s most important and treating our loved ones and strangers better. Then the smoke clears, and life returns to the mundane. 

The smoke in the famous church has cleared. Now what? The fire in the cathedral was awful and I wish it didn’t happen. However, the faith of Europe and the faith of our country has been burning for decades. The globe has grown more and more upset about Notre Dame’s ill fortune. A part of me can’t help but ponder whether our upset hearts could be better suited looking at the loss of belief, and perhaps giving our money and time to rebuilding character and virtue rather than artwork and history. 

The fire blazed around Easter of 2019 and our churches were filled that weekend. The weekends that followed contained a return to their normal numbers. The 13-16% of Catholics in the U.S. will return to the pews again, but let’s not forget that the fire still burns. That faith is still hemorrhaging. 

The cure for the bleeding and the fire, it’s not restoring marble or reconstructing buildings. It’s looking into the empty tomb and finding the grave void. To get there though, we have to run like the disciples and preach unreservedly that the fires, the destruction, the violence and despair, and even death doesn’t win. 

God reigns from his empty tomb: meet him there. And watch him clear the smoke and ruins permanently. Then Notre Dame, then faith, then the Church will truly be reformed.

Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.

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