This week (like many of you I’m sure), I’m thinking about the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. I’m praying for the people of Paris and all of France. Though I’m especially praying for the faithful congregation that still meets for mass at Notre Dame. There is an active congregation that still worships there, a congregation that has been displaced on Holy Week. When I visited Notre Dame while studying abroad in college, the Cathedral took my breath away (I took these photos in 2006.) The history and all it took to build that Cathedral. The works of art, including the Rose Windows. The doors of Notre Dame were open to all, and I could have spent hours inside the church and felt completely at peace and close to God.
The fire also brings up mixed emotions about church buildings, even a cathedral as famous as Notre Dame. Sometimes the money we pour into church buildings can give us pause—the sheer amount of money it takes to maintain large buildings (and the deferred maintenance that takes place, sometimes costing more down the road.) Part of us may worry about churches spending money on old church buildings and not on people and programs enough.
Yet, when people were being interviewed as Notre Dame was literally burning, you could hear the emotion in peoples’ voices. One woman declared that she is an atheist, but for her Notre Dame is about French history and culture. It’s about the ingenuity of the human spirit as people had to come together—architects, artists, masons, carpenters, everyday people—to build such a marvelous cathedral. Maybe she wouldn’t say that she feels close to God inside Notre Dame, but she feels connected to something larger than herself. And that is sacred, is it not?
When church buildings can be used in such a way that they are open to the community, when they can connect people to something larger than themselves—that is sacred. And it’s putting an old, large church building to good use in the present. Notre Dame Cathedral is a remarkable place not just because of the world-famous Rose Windows, the organ, or the Gothic Architecture, it’s remarkable because it’s literally a place of sanctuary. A holy place with its doors wide open, which is why people have been affected the world over by this fire. Though Notre Dame will rise fully from the ashes, and what a beautiful sight that will be to behold.
(This Week’s Thoughts 4.18.19)