Why do the horrific images of Notre Dame Cathedral in flames, during Holy Week, linger in the mind? Those images haunt me, even more than the still-more-horrific images of Sri Lankan Christians massacred at worship on Easter Sunday.
Partly, it is that I have been to Notre Dame, not to Sri Lanka. Partly it is the primal fear of fire. When I walked into the break room at work and saw the live broadcast of the flames leaping from the roof of the building, my stomach tightened, even before I learned which building was ablaze.
Partly, it just seems so wrong, wrong that such a grand treasure of art and history and devotion could be (nearly) lost to carelessness and mundane tragedy. So wrong, but still, somehow, appropriate.
The church has always had an awkward relationship with pomp and riches. Or at least if should have. But it is at home among those who fear, those who suffer, those who grieve. We worship a crucified Christ, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” as Handel’s
Messiah, quoting the King James Version of Isaiah 53, puts it.
And in the Gospel of Luke, Mary, the mother of the infant Jesus, was “blessed” by the aged Simeon with these less-than-comforting words: “This child is destined to be … rejected; and you too will be pierced to the heart” (Lk 2:34-35,
REB). Mary – the “Our Lady” for whom the cathedral of Paris is named – also was no stranger to suffering.
The fire burned during Holy Week, the week of Christ’s passion. Everyone whose heart was pierced by the sight of the flames threatening Notre Dame – well, we all are in good company.