Like so many others, I spent Monday glued to the news, watching the extensive coverage of the devastating fire of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. Like so many others, my heart hurt to see so much history burn to ash. And like so many others, I went in search of and found a picture of my husband and myself in front of the medieval church.
We were on our honeymoon, the last leg of a three week backpacking trip around Europe. We were tired and a touch homesick. And while I can’t claim to have stepped up to Notre Dame and had an inspirational, life changing moment, I can tell you that when I saw her set against a perfect evening sunset sky, pink and purple clouds hovering behind the belfry towers, that I felt this immense moment of peace and contentment. And for a few moments, my fatigue fell away, and I felt like I was home.
For so many Parisians, and others, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is home. A home of the Christian faith, a beacon of Christ, and a symbol of the Catholic Church that has stood for almost a thousand years. To see it ravaged by angry flames felt like seeing my own home consumed and burned away. It’s hard to put into words what I felt when I saw the spire atop the cathedral snap and collapse into the flames. Heartbreak. Loss. Despair. I cannot even imagine how excruciating it must have been to have been to stand in that crowd on the plaza, to experience the fire firsthand.
And then I thought about how Jesus’ followers in the crowd must have felt that Good Friday, 2,000 years ago. They must have felt that sense of heartbreak, loss, and despair. They must have felt as if their home, their hope, their salvation, had just died, right before their eyes. They must have felt lost, confused, and broken.
That’s a bit how I felt Monday. I do not believe it is a coincidence that this fire occurred during this holiest of weeks in the Christian Church. As we prepare for the Passion and death of Jesus, we can share in his suffering and pain in a tangible way through our despair over Our Lady of Paris. We can share in that aching feeling of loneliness and sadness that Jesus experienced as he prayed in the garden before his arrest. We can share in that grief and darkness his mother and disciples must have felt upon Jesus’ death.
But also? We can share in the resurrection of Christ. We can share in that light and hope. We can share in that redemption. Amidst all that heartbreak and tragedy on Monday, we also saw that hope shining through. We saw it in the crowd of Parisians, praying the rosary on their knees and singing ‘Ave Maria’. We saw it throughout the world as people, no matter their religious affiliations, shared their stories and their support with the city of Paris. And we saw it in the cross. No longer a symbol of death and destruction, but a symbol of hope and light, as it seems to glow behind the altar, still standing proudly amidst the rubble on the cathedral floor.
“Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames.” -St. Joan of Arc
Monday may have felt like Good Friday, but the dawn of Easter Sunday is approaching, and it too will glow with the promise of redemption and hope.