Fire is a horrid thing. My mother often recounted her age-six trauma of seeing her family home burn down. No wonder she was always after us kids to practice nothing dangerous that involved flammables.

It was hard to believe the headline on my news feed when I came home after morning errands. I caught most of the story on English-language French media via YouTube. The US president spouting advice on dropping water from the air was just too much. Seeing the spire collapse into the inferno was shocking enough, given the number of replays US media was giving it. The view of the cathedral from the air after the roof had totally collapsed looks worse: only a shell of stone seems to remain. One church expert on French tv said that stained glass is far too fragile to survive the catastrophe. So the north window, above, is surely lost.

Many of my fb friends have visited Notre Dame in Paris, and they were all grieving, sharing pictures from their own travels. Another friend commented that it was a symbol of dying Catholicism in Europe. Which I thought was historically ignorant in addition to being in bad taste.

It brought back the most powerful memory of my experience when my parish’s church was arson-attacked seven years ago. A priest friend and I inspected the Eucharistic chapel the day after. Soot had not gotten into the interior of things. However, withdrawing the Sacrament for placement in an alternate tabernacle was disturbing to me. I was surprised by the intensity of the feelings. My last parish wasn’t an architectural wonder by any means. But it was a spiritual home for people moving from adolescence into adulthood for more than a half-century. The reserved sacrament is a far more potent symbol of people’s faith than the burning of a church is of a perceived waning of religion.

Paris, its cathedral and parishioners, its citizens and people of sensitivity worldwide have suffered a loss far more grave than I did. As of this writing, the first indication is that the fire was accidental, not a work of arson or terror. Will the lack of human action, or the seeming act of God make it easier to heal or more difficult? Will the numerous “saves” in electronic media make a restoration possible? Or would it just be a clone? Or would it continue as an empty shell until more lived experiences recreate the spirituality of a church home?

I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:6-8)

May those who mourn hear of God’s steadfast love in the coming morning.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Fire

  1. nassauny says:

    Would someone identify the Marian hymn sung by this group during the fire?. YouTube link
    Another clip shows four or five people singing the Salve Regina for a camera person from Huffington Post.

  2. Liam says:

    The North window survives. Injured, but intact – for now. Other reports are that the other rose windows of the interior have also survived intact. Also possibly the organ. (All vulnerable because of the necessary use of malleable but meltable lead.) The small rose windows above the major rose windows were for lighting the attic above the stone vaults below the former roof. The entire purpose of strong Gothic stone vaulting was to enhance the likelihood of the survival of the structure when (not if) the roof caught fire – a very frequent occurrence. Europe may have been behind the great empires of the world in many ways 800 years ago, but its building engineers were far ahead of the world in this talent (and in a number of other ways). When I read some people comparing this to the collapse of the World Trade Center yesterday, I realized people didn’t know two things: (1) Notre Dame de Paris and its kin buildings were designed precisely with this kind of disaster in mind, and (2) the World Trade Center was not designed for the disaster that hit it.

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