Holy Week, la semaine sainte, began Sunday; yesterday evening Notre Dame de Paris lost her roof and spire to flames. The footage of her spire toppling left me hollow, ready to retch. I wonder that this has occurred in our lifetime, to gaze at the height of the landmark cathedral that has endured since the Middle Ages and watch her soaring roofline burned to ash.
The flames were doused as night fell; we appreciate the hundreds of pompiers who worked to stop the destruction. Ave Maria was sung in the twilight by some who looked on, though few knew the words. Even the morning after, it is evident that the spirit of mourning will linger long after the smoke and ashes drift away. Notre Dame's spire was a lenten candle snuffed out. Most of the world recognizes that an enduring symbol and cultural heritage has been stricken; we ultimately grieve the fracture of an enduring testament to faith.
Those in charge have assured the masses that rebuilding will happen, and appeals to funding are being sent. Notre Dame de Paris will not sit decrepit and neglected as Victor Hugo once found her. But do we console a husband with assurances of remarriage at his wife's funeral? Let us mourn; the partial devastation of Notre Dame de Paris is tragic.
Yet as a Christian, I understand my faith more deeply than I did prior to this tragedy. I stand among the crowd who must have loathed Jesus’ words saying he would rebuild the temple in three days if it were destroyed. I feel how the crucifixion must have hollowed the hearts of all who witnessed the crucifixion of Christ. I empathize with the Jews and Christians who were aghast when the temple was burned (and much of Jerusalem was razed) in 70 AD. Horror and hopelessness will seem to prevail in the darkest times. This is the requiem of Lent: that destruction and death will be permitted to strike, again and again, until evil is crushed.
Lent is the crucial practice that the Catholic church and the Christian liturgy get right: we cannot rush into a celebration of Easter and fully comprehend its astonishing hope until we face the darkness and contemplate irreparable loss. Christ's body was broken and his blood was spilled out as a necessity of redemptive love. Faced with loss, destruction, and the seeming triumph of evil, grief is our only recourse. The grief, however, is collective, and though we may feel aghast when faced with the ugly truth of tragedy, our pain is shared.
And so we may withdraw in grief as we survey the charred toiture of Notre Dame de Paris today and afterwards, but for those who hold to faith in Christ's death and resurrection, this tragedy leads us to a reinforced understanding of a world without light and without inspiration, a place where death and loss could have been the final words of the story. Only when we have dwelt in these dark moments and days will the power of rebirth and resurrection be revealed in their full meaning and intensity. Soli Deo gloria.