I was on a train back into Paris this afternoon when I started receiving a number of messages on my phone asking if I had heard about Notre Dame. The roof was on fire, I was told, and it might be difficult to put out. But the first thought that came to mind was that all things happen by God's will or His permission. Nothing is random. Everything has a purpose. This was Monday of Holy Week. Could I help but think of Our Lord's words, "Weep not for me, but for your children"?
Just yesterday in the liturgy Our Lord was triumphantly welcomed into Jerusalem, a city He so loved. A city whose denizens He wished to gather as "the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings." A city that would not know, would not accept the "things that are to thy peace."
France, in the person of King Louis XIV, that most disastrous of Capetian monarchs, refused the request of Our Lord to be consecrated to the Sacred Heart. One hundred years later his descendant was cruelly murdered. Paris, where Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Laboure the day after King Charles X was chased out of office by the mob, missed Our Lady's message and continued spreading her errors, born of the so-called "Enlightenment" and come to life in the Terror. Notre Dame de Paris, one of the most celebrated cathedrals in the land, has not hosted the true sacrifice of the Mass for half a century, the anniversary of Paul VI's promulgation of the New Mass having passed only two weeks ago. Can we be surprised that God abandons a building that has abandoned Him, a building in a city that is in the capital of the country that refused his gentle yoke, then and now?
The second thought that came to mind was the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls. For those who have visited it, it feels like a new building compared to the ancient churches of the Eternal City. That's because, relatively speaking, it is brand new. In 1823 the more than 1400 year old structure (making it more than 600 years older than Notre Dame by comparison) burnt almost entirely, due to some mistake of a workman. The building was magnificently rebuilt due to a successful worldwide appeal of the Holy Father, but that extravagance lent (and still does) a feeling of a museum to the building rather than a house of worship. Thinking of it reminded me that all things pass in this life, and more importantly, we have been promised that the new heaven and earth will not come after a flood, but after a great fire, the smallest of previews we saw this evening in the burning of our cathedral here in Paris.
My final thought turned to Holy Week, which we are currently in, and to the mysteries of Our Lord's Passion that await us in the coming days. Mysteries that the small congregation here in Paris will contemplate in a rented hall, as we have long since outgrown the small oratory where weekday Masses are celebrated. Yet even in these circumstances, we have been preceded by our ancestors in the Faith. I close with the words of St. Athanasius:
"May God console you! ... What saddens you ... is the fact that others have occupied the churches by violence, while during this time you are on the outside. It is a fact that they have the premises – but you have the Apostolic Faith. They can occupy our churches, but they are outside the true Faith. You remain outside the places of worship, but the Faith dwells within you. Let us consider: what is more important, the place or the Faith? The true Faith, obviously...Thus, the more violently they try to occupy the places of worship, the more they separate themselves from the Church. They claim that they represent the Church; but in reality, they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray. Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ."