Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire on Monday, April 15, 2019. We began Holy Week with tragedy and shock. Seeing the flames engulf the 850 year old cathedral evoked many emotions globally because of it's religious and cultural significance.
What could this event mean?
There is a photograph taken from a drone after the 19th century steeple collapsed, and it captured the flames from a bird's eye view. The cathedral was built in the shape of a cross, so it looked like a cross set on fire; it was eerie. My first thought was "Refiner's fire."
"He will sit refining and purifying. . . .so that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness."
Through the fire of such an iconic place--a symbol of France, art, architecture, and culture--there is refining and purifying. Why? So that offerings can be brought to the Lord, so that we can refocus our gaze on Him.
Here the tragedy is transformed into an opportunity. So far, there have been over 1 billion Euros donated to rebuild the cathedral over the next five years. During the fire itself, there was a human chain created to get art, relics, and the Blessed Sacrament out safely, and no one was injured in this effort. People all over Paris dropped to their knees to pray and to sing the Ave Maria. In such drastic times, people resorted to prayer and giving.
Giving of finances, risking injury or even life itself, and praying was the immediate response. All eyes were on Our Lady. All eyes were on the Crown of Thorns. Much is offered to the Lord here; He metamorphosed tragedy to triumph through these actions and the global vision was set to witness Him.
The cross, the Pieta, the rose windows, the Blessed Sacrament, and the structural integrity of the building all emerged from the ashes. Christ has already conquered death, and in this event he displays this once again. Among the rubble, the golden cross shone the victory of Resurrection.
We began our Lenten journey with an ash cross on our foreheads to symbolize sin and the need to be cleansed. Now we began this Holy Week with the image of the ashen cross of Notre Dame.
As flames dimmed and the smoke cleared, the firefighters were met with the cross and the face of Christ, in the Pieta. As we approach this Triduum, the Passion of Christ and his Resurrection, the flames of our hearts will burn and dissipate to ash.
"Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!" -St. Joan of Arc
What cross is Christ meeting you with? What, in your heart, needs to burn so that Christ can live in you? What golden cross is left to arise on the third day so that God can work through you?
"Not words or doctrine or teaching, but that window was working in me. . .it was working some alchemy of the soul that was drawing things together, convincing me at the level of the heart. . .beauty can grab us sometimes in a way that is beyond what words can communicate."
-Bishop Robert Barron, on the north rose window in Notre Dame Cathedral
It is a miracle that everyone made it out of the burning building safely. It is a miracle that art, relics, and the Blessed Sacrament made it out unharmed. It is a miracle that the structure of Notre Dame stood the test of time. It is a miracle that all of the rose windows survived. It is a miracle that as firefighters opened the doors to approach the cathedral's fate, they were met with the cross to manifest faith's victory.
We are grateful for the firefighters. We are grateful for Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier for blessing the building and for asking Jesus to save the cathedral before he exited to safety.
Beauty has a way of silencing our thoughts and stirring our hearts to something ever higher. The fire is put out, the damage is left to be cleaned, and rebuilding is now discerning. The battle has been fought and won for us.
Beauty and hope remain.