are people, even non-Catholics, drawn to walk into and gaze around in the
National Cathedral in Washington D.C, Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City,
or Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris?
is because of the vastness of the architecture, the beauty and attention to
detail of the pictures, murals, side-altars, chapels, sculptures, choir stalls,
the organ, the nave, tapestries, stained-glass windows, and the sanctuary, all invoking
a deep feeling of awe. The awesomeness, omnipresence, mercy, love, and
grandeur of God is palpable.
a country where only 5% attend Sunday mass1, a huge portion of the
population, even outside France, cares about this quintessentially Catholic architectural
marvel known as Notre Dame Cathedral that caught fire this week.
Cathedral comes from the Latin word
for chair, so a cathedral is the seat or throne of the bishop. It is the place where a bishop makes official
pronouncements. Construction of Notre Dame was begun by Pope Alexander III in 1163, taking two decades to complete.
Notre Dame means Our Lady in French, a veneration of the mother of Jesus and the
preeminent role she played in his life.
Catholic roots of France go back to Constantine the Great in the fourth century. Various events in Constantine’s life led him
along a faith journey, including when he and his army saw a vision of a cross
while leading his army to battle. During
his reign, in 313 CE, it was no longer illegal to be a Christian in the Holy
800 CE, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire2,
a church-state pact that ensured the presence of many French Catholics for centuries
or non-practicing Catholics may have ebbing faith in the integrity of the institutional
Catholic Church. But they may still have
deep faith for the teachings and personhood of Jesus, even though they may have
migrated to other Christian denominations, Buddhism, or professing to be “spiritual.”
week’s widespread demonstration of tenderness towards Notre Dame
Cathedral indicates that although throngs may have abandoned their faith in the
integrity of an institutional organization and its many flawed leaders, the
power of the resurrection of Jesus still lives in the hearts and souls of many.
came to teach us a message. It was not
to build golden church domes. It was not
to wield mighty ornate croziers, nor to wear tall miters that cast shadows of hubris,
nor to wear a piscatory ring that beckons to be kissed. It was not to create a regalia of scarlet
garments nor a club of men wearing crimson zucchettos ostentatiously signifying
the desire to die for one’s faith.
came to a poor family, spent the first days of his life sleeping in a horse
feeding trough, and was murdered on a cross.
On this day, Maundy Thursday, the day known for when Jesus instituted
the Sacrament of the Priesthood, he taught his first class of ordinands to wash
one another’s feet. He taught them that
to lead, you must be the servant of all.
this era where the servant-model of leadership is often eclipsed in the
Catholic Church, it is encouraging that the true teachings of Jesus do remain in
the hearts of the faithful.
natural disaster like a flood or fire can bind communities of people who previously
were divided by various prejudices of race, creed, and politics. I take heart that the outpouring of emotion at the collapse of the Notre Dame
Cathedral indicates that faith can still thrive in the populous, even with a
grossly imperfect organization. This
week, ex-Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, Christians of all denominations, and all spiritual people are reminded of their enduring profound
was born and raised Catholic. It has
been years since I attended Catholic Sunday mass. I’m proud to be a
post-denominational Christian, one who doesn't require a building or an
organization to validate or nurture my faith. Although I do appreciate the support of a loving and faith-filled church community.
Nevertheless, I am grateful that the Catholic Church and
other church organizations chose to build such lovely monuments around the world
that herald the majesty of God and the creativity of human beings in their devotion to God.
1 What the Notre-Dame Fire Reveals About the Soul of France, New
York Times, by Steven Erlanger.
2 History of the Catholic Church in France, Wikipedia