I’m sure you’ve all seen the horrific pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral being consumed by a massive fire. During the fire itself, while the roof of the building was an inferno, a rescue effort began.
What was saved first? Was it the priceless art, the statues, the moneybox, the gold candlesticks? It was none of these. The first and greatest treasure of that Cathedral is the same treasure that our parish contains – The Blessed Sacrament. A priest, at great risk to his own life, went into a blazing, super-heated 800 year old building as melting lead was literally pouring from the ceiling and he retrieved the Blessed Sacrament. Why? Because Jesus is everything.
The fire at Notre Dame revealed, for me, a connection with that place that came out of nowhere as I found myself surprisingly emotional. I’ve never been there, but as I saw those pictures it was as if my own home was burning down. We all know that a building doesn’t matter as much as even a single human life, but as a watched one of the greatest symbols of Christendom going up in flames, I thought about the 200 years of loving care and labor that those French Christians put into creating their cathedral. That’s how long it took to build. The Church wasn’t a monument to themselves, to their wealth and creativity – the vast majority of craftsman and artists who made it are entirely anonymous – they built it for God. If God is glorious beyond compare, than his home also ought to inspire thoughts of awe, to lift up the heart to God simply by being within it.
In a world of ugliness, Notre Dame was beautiful, and harmonious, and technically challenging, a masterwork of love and devotion. Its destruction was the destruction of beauty and love. That is what is so sad.
It’s interesting, the work of the medieval builders survived much better than anyone would have imagined, and the main structure survived in conditions a modern building would have collapsed under, so the Cathedral will be repaired. It’s almost as if the medievals were very wise and cultured and, to the extent that we have lost the ability to create churches like that, we actually might be barbarians living in the remains of a superior civilization. This becomes noticeable also when we compare the quality of our artwork, literature, and music to what was produced in the 13th century.
What was their secret? What raised up this great culture that we call Christendom? They were a people who understood that Jesus is at the heart of life, that he is the impulse, the principle by which we are freed from our lesser desires, freed from our addiction to pleasure, our mediocrity, the inevitable fading away into death. The resurrection of Christ is the sign that God would have us live life to the fullest. Christianity is not a religion that dislikes life. We are not attempting to escape this world and into a fairy tale heaven. On the contrary, Christianity gives us our lives back.
More than any cathedral, it is a miracle that the human soul can be redeemed and built up as a holy temple to the sacredness of life. Our faith is earthy and physical. Our Lord, in overcoming death, takes on a human body. Notre Dame was shaped by human hands who turned stone, metal, and glass into a beautiful house for God. You and I, we are shaped by God’s hand from the mud of the earth infused with his breath. You are God’s greatest work of art, a pure, fitting home for Christ. Death will not conquer you, the fire will not burn.
Rejoice, rejoice and be glad. Our Lord has overcome the grave and he is the innermost treasure of our heart.