We Will Rebuild
5/1/2019by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
The tragic fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral evokes both our history and our responsibility as Catholics
I AM WRITING this column while a massive fire is still engulfing our beautiful Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. I say “our” because this magnificent structure has been for centuries an artistic patrimony of humanity, a place of prayer for millions of Catholics in France and throughout the world — and, more recently, a special place for the Knights of Columbus.
In May 2017, I joined a delegation of brother Knights from Paris to attend Mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral and to participate in a special exposition and veneration of the relic of the Crown of Thorns. Later that year, the Knights of Columbus was one of the major sponsors of a light show on the cathedral’s façade. Titled “Dame de Coeur” (Queen of Hearts), the light show depicted the history of the cathedral in commemoration of World War I.
From the two-volume history The Knights of Columbus in Peace and War (1920), we read this: “In Paris on Good Friday 1919, the most impressive religious service held in the history of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe took place when the Knights of Columbus … held a service there for the public adoration of the cross. Ten thousand Americans packed the great edifice; the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Mons. Amette, presided.”
Much has been said about the significance of this tragic fire. It is difficult to grasp its significance for the French people and especially French Catholics.
Perhaps “The Virgin at Noon,” a poem by Paul Claudel, can help us understand. It is noteworthy that Claudel’s conversion took place in Notre-Dame Cathedral during the singing of the Magnificat on Christmas Day 1886.
“It is noon. The church is open.
I must go in.
Mother of our Lord, I have not
come to pray.
I have nothing to give and
nothing to ask.
I am here, my Lady, only to look at you.
To look at you, to cry for joy, to know
That I am your son and you are there.
Only for one moment when everything stops.
To be with you, Mary, in this place
where you are.
To say nothing, to look at your face.
To let my heart sing in its own language.
To say nothing, but simply to sing
because my heart is too full… .
Because you saved me, because
you saved France.
Because France too, like myself, was
for you a thing to be considered.
Because at that moment when
everything collapsed, you intervened.
Because you saved France once again.
Because it is noon, because we are
at this moment of today.
Because you are there for always,
simply because you are Mary,
Simply because you exist.
Mother of Our Lord, we give
thanks to you.”
When the president of France announced today that Notre-Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt, I thought of how the great Gothic cathedrals were originally constructed. An account from 1144 states that the faithful were freely “harnessed to carts, laden with stones, timbers, corn and whatever might be needed for the work of building the cathedral, the towers of which rose like magic into the heavens… . Everywhere men humbled themselves, did penance, and forgave their enemies. Men and women could be seen dragging heavy loads through mire and marsh, praising in song the miracle which God was performing before their eyes.”
Mindful of all the controversies consuming the Church in recent years, the image of this burning cathedral seemed in a way to symbolize the devastation so many Catholics have felt as our Church has been rocked by one crisis after another.
Fires have destroyed great cathedrals before, and they have been rebuilt. So let us hope this will be true again.
But not only this church. Let us resolve to patiently “rebuild” the Church, not with granite and mortar, but with living stones in the spirit of those earlier builders — with humility, penance and with gratitude for the miracle that God is still performing before our eyes.
And let us do so with confidence in Mary, who “at that moment when everything collapsed” does not hesitate to intervene for us.