By Sean Mulcare
As I was watching the destruction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame – one of the most beautiful and symbolic churches of the Catholic Church, a church in which hundreds of saints have walked with awe at its beauty: Sts. Thomas Aquinas, Therese of Lisieux, Joan of Arc, John Vianney, and countless others – as the great cathedral was ablaze with fire, I was moved to tears. I saw it as a symbol of the destruction of the Catholic Church that we are seeing in our modern age. The Church that was one so majestic and beautiful, is falling apart before my eyes. I had images of the bulldozers coming to clean up the debris in order to replace the once great symbol of the Catholic faith with luxury apartments. As Mass attendance is plummeting and the Church is so divided in the midst of the sex scandal, what can we do? Is there anything we can do?
But then something happened that I didn’t expect. I saw the French people kneeling and singing hymns. Mass attendance in France is among the lowest in the world with only 5%. This once great Catholic nation seemed to have lost its identity all in the name of secularization. It seems to me that watching that 900-year-old church burn before me was, in a way, like the nation holding up a mirror before itself and looking at what it had become. I saw the people singing as a symbol of repentance. This repentance brought hope. Instead of plans for bulldozers to come, plans for rebuilding the great cathedral began. Hundreds of million dollars was raised overnight. How was it possible? This nation that seemed set on destroying the remembrance of the Catholic Church was unifying for the reconstruction of something that is so deeply Catholic. The burning of the cathedral seemed to have in some way awakened the conscience of France.
In an analogous way in our own lives, maybe we’ve become lukewarm. The great passion for the faith that we once had, like the people of France had when that great church was first constructed in the 1200s, seems to have been lost. The building of our soul is crumbling from neglect and sin. Maybe we find ourselves at an even darker point… We feel as though our entire relationship with God or even our belief in Him is crumbling to the ground just as the fire ravaged through Notre Dame. So what are we going to do? The people of France needed to decide what they were going to do with the skeleton of Notre Dame – a symbol of the Catholic Faith. Were they going to tear it down or rebuild it? Despite it being so much easier to tear down, they decided that they would do the hard work of rebuilding it. In a symbolic way, they repented. When we sin, it would be so much easier to keep doing it and to allow ourselves to fall deeper and deeper into the pit of death. Sometimes we need to experience near-hopelessness in order to look up.
This Easter season, during this time of resurrection, we are invited to rise from our tombs of death with Christ. We don’t need to be enslaved to sin anymore. We must begin the long and difficult process of healing. As France begins its reconstruction, let us reconstruct our neglected souls. Let us become holy. As people throughout the world will supply the money for Notre Dame’s reconstruction, God will supply the grace for our resurrection. Our souls that were once dying or even dead can come back – resurrected from the death of sin. Let us say with the people of France: “We will rebuild Notre Dame even more beautifully… it is in the deepest sense, our destiny,” (French President Macron).