Notre Dame was built over an almost 200-year period. Generations of people came and went, investing their days in this life for the sake of a project, the fulfillment of which they knew they would not live to see.
By Noelle Mering
I heard the news that Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire while en route to a midday Mass. In an apparent coincidence, or matter of providence, the Gospel reading for the day was the story of Judas criticizing Mary for lavishing costly oils onto Christ’s feet. Judas’s stated objection was that it was a gratuitous and wasteful act, and represented money that could have gone to the poor.
I always think of cathedrals when I hear this Gospel story — the deep devotion that inspired their lavish construction, and the devotion and conversion that they inspire in us.
Notre Dame was built over an almost 200-year period. Generations of people came and went, investing their days in this life for the sake of a project, the fulfillment of which they knew they would not live to see. Hours and days and money and energy that could have been spent strictly focusing on other practical needs.
In the cold calculation of a culture that has lost sense of the eternal and of God himself, lavishly adoring Our Lord makes no sense.
And yet there we were, religious or not, watching this fire with dread, and collectively feeling the trauma and magnitude of this potential loss, and the relief when it turned out not to be total.
Mother Teresa once famously said, “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people.”
Without a horror of sin we lose our felt need for grace — leaving us with a depth of impoverishment that no material wealth can redeem. What we lose is what countless people have given their lives for — the whisper of which exposes as feeble any would-be rival to it.
But seeing the French on their knees, clutching rosaries, and singing lovingly to Our Lady who is of victory and sorrow, our Mother and our Queen — we have the sense of a seed of the old faith fighting to enliven our dormant hearts.
Our reverence for Notre Dame is certainly a reverence for its consummate majesty. It is also a reverence for those who built it — their devotion and our disquieting desire for the One who inspired it.