Fr. Glenn: Notre Dame

By Fr. Glenn

A very holy and blessed Easter season to all! May God keep all of you near His heart in this sacred Christian season.

One click to the news last week was one of those “heart sinking into the stomach” moments as we witnessed flames leaping from the Paris cathedral of Notre Dame. As a historic center of Catholic Christian worship for the nation of France, Europe and the world, and as one of the jewels of Christian artistry, it was like watching history itself go up in flames.

But then, as calls resounded for the rebuilding of that great gem of the faith, there were inevitable—nonetheless beautiful—analogies to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which we Christians celebrate as the pinnacle of the faith year.

Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and death are, of course, the focal point of the week ((Holy Week) preceding Easter … and the consumption of Notre Dame by fire seems a rather fit analogy for her for whom the cathedral was named—“notre dame”—“our lady”—Mary, the mother of Jesus the Christ, and so is, in a certain sense, mother of all Christianity.

How does such an analogy fit? As we read the Gospel of St. John, we cannot help but think that Mary herself must have felt as if she were burning as she stood at the foot of the cross … watching the slow tortured death of her only Son … her only child … who had done nothing but the greatest good for all … willing that she could take His place, perhaps remembering from Lamentations: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…” (Lamentations 1:12) Anyone who has witnessed mothers’ grief at the death of their children know that there are few greater agonies than that. 

And yet … from the ashes of Notre Dame arose the virtually untouched altar and golden cross in the post-conflagration center of the cathedral. Such must have been Mary’s indestructible love for her Son—like the love of ANY mother—shining ever more brightly in the midst of travail … in what must have felt to be the charred remains of her very being. 

We Catholics cannot help but gaze in wonder—especially in the aftermath of such an inferno—that the sculpture remaining under that cross was that of the Pietá—an image of Mary cradling the lifeless body of her Son—the body of Him whom she brought forth thirty-three years before, just at the beginning of Holy Week, seeming to punctuate the sacrifice soon to be memorialized in the next days.

Many misconceptions exist about the Catholic beliefs of Mary—especially that we “worship” her as a “goddess” of sort. Yet, as we might honor and venerate a secular hero, we honor and venerate ALL the saints as “heroes” of our faith—believing Mary as being, by far, the greatest and most honored of these. But worship? No. She is still only a human being—a creature like ourselves—though we Catholics (and Orthodox) also believe that, by the mere fact that she was chosen to be the mother of God’s Son, Mary was gifted and imbued with an abundance of special grace. Like the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant constructed with the purest of gold and with greatest of skill to hold stone tablets with the Ten Commandments, we view Mary as the true Ark of the covenant—not containing stone tablets with the word, but containing the very Word itself in her conception and pregnancy with Jesus. 

Indeed, St. John—believed to have been with Mary at the crucifixion (John 19:26), being referred to as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” in John’s Gospel—we believe himself saw Mary as an image of the Church in the book of Revelation attributed to him: “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple…And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery…she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations…”  (Revelation 11:19-12:5). And, in reference to Satan: “…the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus…” (Revelation 12:17)

As we Catholics also remember the commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother”, we know—confirmed by Jesus’ obedience to her—that Jesus Himself honored Mary; thus, should not the Christian honor her whom Christ Himself honored?—and whom He doubtlessly honors still, for the Word of God—including the commandments—has no expiration date … on earth OR in Heaven.

Yes, those images of the burning of Notre Dame—burned also in memory—struck to the core of every feeling heart … as would such a tragedy for any religion or culture in simply human empathy toward agony. Yet, in the end, we Christians know that our faith and our hope is far greater than any building … far greater than the material, no matter how beautiful.

Much that is lost is lost forever; one doubts that the same craftsmanship, and love of God and of “notre dame”—Mary, “our lady”—that went into its very stones and woodwork can be found again. But there is joy in renewal and renewed life, and we look forward to the “resurrection” of Notre Dame in the future … to be a visual image of the true and eternal Resurrection of Easter.

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.