Monday, April 15th, was a whirlwind at work. My family alerted me to the fire within the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. I couldn’t watch the coverage, but the texts continued.
The spire fell. The roof caved. My heart sank.
I called my sister on my way home and we cried together. It felt so strange, we lamented, to cry for a building. Yet this is not just a building. It is something beautiful, historic, cultural, Catholic, French and so much more. It is transcendent – pointing humanity from something to someone.
I stepped foot in Notre Dame in May 2017. I remember the experience like it was yesterday. I have visited many beautiful churches – but Notre Dame was in a category unto itself.
Outside, the intricate sculptures and mighty yet delicate buttresses entranced me. Inside, my eyes were drawn higher, higher and higher still. I was overwhelmed – surrounded by the magnificent beauty of stained glass and stone and wood.
I thought about the men and women who offered their blood, sweat and tears for two hundred years to build this incredible Church. I sensed that their goal was quite simple: to glorify God. Their work revealed just a small fraction of God’s height, depth, beauty, strength, delicacy, and awe.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is not useful, in the sense that our transportation, jobs, and phones are useful. It is not necessary in the sense that water, food, and shelter are necessary for human survival and flourishing.
So why are we weeping at its loss? Because we are made for more than utility and necessity. We are made to glorify God – through who we are, how we live, and even what we create. For centuries, the Notre Dame cathedral has lifted us out of the ordinary into the extraordinary – brought us from the human to the divine – helped us glorify God.
While we mourn what has been lost – and rejoice over what has been spared – I believe there is an amazing opportunity before us. In the promised rebuild, we have the opportunity to glorify God anew with the time, talent, and treasure of people worldwide.
Six weeks ago, ashes were placed on our foreheads to mark the beginning of Lent. They symbolized a call to refocus on what matters most – our relationship with God. In the days after the fire, we see the ashes from a cherished cathedral. Now, we find ourselves in the midst of the Easter Octave. What is the symbol here?
We celebrate Jesus’ death and Resurrection, which offers redemption, restoration and renewal to humanity and to the created world. “See I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). The cross doesn’t have the final say and neither does this fire. The solidarity, generosity and prayers offered from around the world are just the start of God bringing beauty from ashes.
For more resources to guide you through the Easter season, please click here.
**This post was written prior to the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka. Please join us in prayerful solidarity for our Christian brothers and sisters and all affected by this tragedy.
“Do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” - Luke 12:11-12
“Moses, however, said to the LORD, ‘If you please, LORD, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.’" - Exodus 4:10-12
I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to characterize myself “slow of speech and tongue” as Moses does, but I do face certain insecurities when it comes to speaking out (about the faith or any topic). I am a perfectionist. I often hold back from evangelizing out of fear that I will say the wrong thing, or even the right thing but not do it justice. This fear is the reason I prefer writing; I can revise until the text says (almost) precisely what I want. However, I am finding more and more that I am being thrown into situations which do not have space for revision. How can I be sure to respond in a way worthy of my baptismal call?
When we volunteered together on a recent Confirmation retreat, my friend gave an eloquent reflection on the person of the Holy Spirit as a gift and an advocate to us and for us.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit - including those which precede eloquent speech, such as knowledge and understanding - are truly the gift of the Holy Spirit, the person of the Trinity. We are given God, whom we can call to our side to provide us with whatever strength we currently need... even when we’re unsure what we truly need. St. Paul points out that “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26).
My friend, who is a high school teacher, found that on the days when he remembered to pray to the Holy Spirit before class, the class had the most fruitful discussions. University of Notre Dame President Emeritus and civil rights champion Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, repeats the simple prayer “Come, Holy Spirit” hundreds of times throughout the day, in immediate preparation for every situation. If that prayer is good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.
While comforting, the Spirit's guidance does not excuse us from all responsibility in developing the coherent response of the Church to the world. St. Peter reminds the faithful that we must "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3:15). Even with the Holy Spirit as our advocate, preparation is necessary. I must be disciplined and conscientious in my study for my upcoming comprehensive examinations. I must continue to grow in prayer, as well as increase my knowledge of my faith and I must be aware of my witness to the faith in word and deed with each person I encounter
Yet once the critical moment of speech or witness arrives, just breathe a call to the Holy Spirit and take God’s own Word for it: Do not worry about what you are to say (Lk 12:11).
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and we shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.
Laura Berlage holds a M.A. in theology from the University of Notre Dame and currently works as a Pastoral Associate in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, MO.
“The fruit of sacramental life is both personal and ecclesial. For every one of the faithful on the one hand, this fruit is life for God in Christ Jesus; for the Church, on the other, it is an increase in charity and in her mission of witness" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1134).
I am a liturgical - and sacramental - junky. Whether it be when the organ plays, the incense burns, wooden crosses process or babies cry- I love being part of liturgies! But my love of liturgy does not end with the communal gathering or the symbolic signs. Rather, the reason I love liturgy is that I believe, as Fr. Aidan Kavanagh, OSB, a liturgical theologian, put it, “liturgy is doing the world the way the world was meant to be done.”
In the liturgy we are participating in the life of God. We are entering into, and living within, the eternal circulation of the Trinity’s love! But what does that actually mean? It means that we are not simply attending a gathering. We do not show up to another building for another event. It is not a lecture or a show. Rather it is a transformation of ourselves with our God, who is love, so we can go out and witness to that love and act out of it.
This is why I love liturgy. It calls me out of myself. It shows me God acting in all things and then sends me out to be his hands and feet. Liturgy connects me to the Body of Christ and reminds me that I am to care for that body. It shows me that the world can be used to glorify God and that the world itself, being God’s creation, is a symbol of His active presence in my life.
David Fagerberg, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, illustrates this thought saying, “Water could be a sign of God’s love if I gave a cup of it to someone who is thirsty, but not if I use up on my golf course the water he needs for his vegetable patch.” Liturgy reminds and shows us how to act out of love, not pride; to live out of hope, not despair; and to be guided by compassion, not self interest.
Pope Francis affirms that we must be a living Church: a Church for the poor, a Church that acts. He emphasizes that, “Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.” We encounter, learn and receive Christ in the Liturgy in order that might know Him and act as His Body for the world.
This Sunday we must remember that we are participating in something that goes beyond the building, the preaching and the music. We must remember that we are encountering Christ and he is teaching us a way that asks us to share in his mission of building the kingdom of God by acting out of the truths of love, justice, kindness, and peace.
Pam Tremblay is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center. She currently works at St. John's University in Queens, NY as Resident Minister for Social Justice.