ON the second day of Holy Week, just after the triumph of Palm Sunday, we all watched in horror as Notre Dame de Paris burned. The loss has turned out to be almost entirely repairable, but the gut feeling of it will remain. What a terrible loss.
Yet through it, we find our selves facing the greatest and most beatifying aspect of Christianity – sacrifice. Through sacrifice we rise again, the world rises again, and is renewed by the eternal spirit. As surely as Christianity has defined nearly everything we might all “Western Civilization” today, it is worth reflecting on as the week draws to a close.
For those of you who are not Christian, or who have issues with the Catholic Church in particular, I beg of you to not color this by your own feelings. Notre Dame itself is more than a church, it is an architectural triumph, a symbol of France, and a calling to remember that which, for better or worse, is the eternal memory from which we ae made. As surely as life becomes, at the end, a collection of stories Notre Dame is the keeper of those stories and the hopes and dreams of a people spanning enough time to be immortal.
Confronting its loss is to confront our own mortality on an exponentially more difficult scale.
Like the Easter story itself, however, this is not about loss. Even before we learned that much survived the fire, €1 billion was pledged to rebuild it. Notre Dame will be resurrected, and though the corruption of the physical world may die the spirit will live on. But the story did not stop there.
It seemed as heartless as the stone of this magnificent building to care so much for it and not the black churches of St Landry Parish, Louisiana, which were destroyed by race-fueled arson. And as this hypocrisy was pointed out, $1 million was quickly raised for these churches. But the calls do not stop there. If we can really generate this much money, this quickly, for a building, can we not raise it to take care of each other?
That has not been resolved yet, and it remains to be seen where this goes. Suffice it to say that once the wallets are open, we can hope that they stay open. Notre Dame is not just stone, after all, but the physical presence that reminds us of life, hope, and obligation.
Western culture, whether we like it or not, has been completely defined in Christian terms. Many people do not have the same relationship to the Church or to Jesus that was once common, but the terms of the culture and the allegories it taught remain. While there are many who want to go beyond the Church as we have known it, it remains a simple fact that its teachings run deep in nearly everything that Western Civilization has to offer. A proper understanding and respect for this is a failing, whether you want to preserve this legacy or build a new and different world.
The simple truth is that all cultures have many basic moral values in common. The concept of sacrifice is not unique to Christianity, but it is expressed in a foundational and empathetic way which is unparalleled. It is, ultimately, one of the gifts that the West has to offer the world as we become one large family and exchange our gifts with each other in a new holiday of fellowship.
Was the sacrifice of Notre Dame an omen, a punishment for a world that has moved on from the faith that it represents? Or was it a calling for renewal and rebirth in spirit? Optimists, universalists, and I would argue Christians as well must see it as the latter.
Events like this are a calling. To have it come this week makes the point with a brutal eloquence. A world that turns away from the complexity of greater closeness and runs shrieking into selfishness, isolation, and anger needs an alternative. It sometimes takes a terrible loss to understand what we share across borders and time. Sacrifice, or the surrender of self for the good of all is what made the world we inherited.
The sacrifice must be met with resurrection, if for no other reason than to tell us that our own sacrifices will never be in vain. We now can see what great wealth is unleashed once resurrection is simply imagined. That power runs at the heart of Christianity, the Western World, and ultimately all of humanity. That is the calling we are given this Easter.
Peace be unto you, brothers and sister.