April 21, 2019KR BlogBlogCurrent Events

After the Cathedral Fire

It was astonishing to see the news coverage, last week, of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris. In many ways it was heartening, all of that attention to a centuries-old place of worship, people in the streets singing hymns, the human chain that rescued cathedral artifacts and relics, including the Crown of Thorns supposed to have been worn by Jesus during his passion. Centuries of spiritual and physical energy stand embodied in that building. It was a tragedy that so much of it burned. I’m far from the only one to be impressed by the human response.


Nor am I the only one to wonder what the cathedral fire means in light of other tragedies around the globe: genocides, refugee crises, degradations of land, shortages of clean water, wars, human trafficking, climate change; the list goes on and on. One may be forgiven for wondering about the proclamation of the word that the cathedral stands for. I think of all those gospel stories about Jesus feeding the hungry and healing those in pain, and how he called on his followers to do the same, as well as feed the hungry, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, and visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25: 31-40). What if genocides and hunger garnered the same attention on a daily basis as the cathedral fire did last week, brought us out into the streets, prompted from us comparable physical and spiritual exertions? Of course, many people around the globe are already very hard at work on these crises, but the cathedral’s burning and the response it prompted lead me to believe we could do much more.


I do not question the heroism of the Fire Department chaplain who went into the midst of those flames to retrieve the Crown of Thorns. But does anybody really believe that that’s the actual crown placed on Jesus’ head before his crucifixion? Would it help us bring relief to a suffering planet if it were? If the 7.7 billion people (give or take) currently on the planet could pool our energies, or even if only a critical mass of us could, we really would be capable of miracles. Nor do I see us bound to an either-or proposition. Of course we can rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral, as we can maintain our other great cultural monuments. But, at least on our better days, we are an impressive species. Surely we can spare some extra energy to rebuild and maintain the grand world in which we live.