“Virgin Mary, at the heart of the Cité We pray to you for this capital city. You Intact, preserve the purity of its faith! Virgin Mary, from the banks of the Seine, We pray to you for the country of France. O Mother, teach it to hope! Virgin Mary, in this great Christian site, We pray to you for all the earth’s people. You, full of grace, may they be one in Love”
Pope Saint John Paul II, Paris 1980
My first trip out of the country, and without my parents, was to Paris with my high school. At 16, I remember being a little underwhelmed as I walked through Notre Dame. I don’t know whether it was my age, or the museum fatigue, or the effects of a week without curfew, but I remember walking through a cavernous and ornate building that kind of felt like it used to be important. While watching the news coverage of the flames billow out of Notre Dame last Monday, I, like many, felt great sadness for what might be lost. My melancholy while watching this tragedy also included the unfortunate realization of an undeniable metaphor. There was an imploding, massive, gothic structure, physically still located in the center of a community, but no longer at the heart of that community. I saw a house of worship that welcomes many tourists looking for history, but fewer and fewer residents looking for a future. I witnessed a museum in flames, with crowds observing in horror from the other side of a moat, only able to watch it burn and say, “what a shame.” Indeed, the fires at Notre Dame may be extinguished, but unfortunately my friends, our cathedral still burns.
I brought my cynicism to our parish for a Tenebrae Service at which my eldest daughter, Annie, was asked to read. As I sat amongst my community with only the light of our individual candles and heard my daughter read, I remembered the other fire of the week. This other fire is one that does not destroy, but initiates. It is a fire that does not engulf but enlightens, emboldens, endures. This other fire brings light to darkness, courage to cowards; one that fills emptiness with truth. Yes, our cathedrals may be burning. But as long as a candle is lit from the Paschal candle and handed to a baby’s godparent, as long as a sanctuary lamp stands guard at a tabernacle, as long as incense billows out, an Advent wreath sits on a kitchen table, as long as children like Annie read the Word of God out loud or to themselves, the Church still burns, and that praise God, is a fire no one can extinguish. Let’s fan the flame. Happy Easter!