From the onset I have hoped that the burning of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame will “spark” the Faith in Paris and in France. And I don’t think that it is a mere “coincidence” that the famous church burned. It may have been a construction machine glitch or it may have been a human act or it may have been the act of a human, but, as Chesterton observed, coincidences are God’s puns. These events mean something.
At Crisis today there is a thoughtful piece by William Kilpatrick about the fire. A couple of points. I really like the quote from Flannery O’Conner.
In the Bible, the destruction of a city or a temple is often linked to immorality or unbelief. The fire and brimstone that was rained down on Sodom was punishment for the sins of its people. Likewise, Jesus warned the people of Capernaum and other cities that their fate could be worse than Sodom’s because they did not repent despite the “mighty works” he had performed in their midst (Matt. 11:20-24). When Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, he prophesied that its enemies “will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).
The “sign” of Notre Dame ablaze comes on top of other disturbing signs. Since the beginning of the year, dozens of churches in France have been vandalized, desecrated, and torched. In 2018, 1063 attacks on Christian Churches or symbols were registered in France—a 17 percent increase over 2017 when “only” 878 attacks were registered. Other signs that the times are out of joint are not hard to find. Among the more horrific were the massacre at the office of the Charlie Hebdo publishers, the Bataclan Theatre attack, the truck jihad in Nice, and the Christmas Market massacre in Strasbourg.
Church desecrations and terror attacks are not confined to France, but since France is one of the most aggressively secular states in Europe, it may be more in need of signs than most. And it may require more spectacular signs to call France—once considered the “eldest daughter of the Church”—back to the faith.
When asked why her stories were full of grotesque characters and shocking violence, Flannery O’Connor replied: “When you write for the blind, you have to write in big letters.” Those who live in overly-secularized societies, such as France, often become blinded to what is truly important in life, and may, therefore, require fiery signs to wake them up to reality.
The truth is that unbelief in France is probably as great as, if not greater, than in the Biblical cities and towns cited in Christ’s warning to the unrepentant. Only four percent of French Catholics attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis, and in the larger cathedrals, the number of tourists far exceeds the number of worshippers.
After visiting several Churches in France, including Notre Dame, Mark Steyn was struck by their emptiness: “One gets the sense that a living, breathing faith is just becoming, actually, a museum, an art gallery, a storage facility.” The cathedrals of Europe are truly magnificent and awe-inspiring, but the awe is for achievements that we no longer seem capable of because we lack the requisite faith.
The damage to Notre Dame is a wakeup call not only for Christians who have let their faith lapse, but also for dyed-in-the-wool secularists.
I’ll add an observation. For a while now I’ve written about my own experiences in Paris. I’ve gotten to Paris one or two times a year now for several years after a long hiatus of visiting the City of Lights. I’ve noticed, over the last few years in Paris, that the churches have gone from being closed and dirty to open more often and being cleaned. The lights are on and people more are praying in them. I’ve seen the Blessed Sacrament exposed more often.
Also, I think that the revival of the Traditional Mass is playing a part. How could it not?
And attacks, especially by Islamic terrorists are on the rise.
We must not forget that we are involved in a war on many levels, including the spiritual. The Devil and his demons have human agents. They will not be idle in the face of the revival of the Faith. They will not be idle in the provocation – through signs – of their pawns.
God permits evils and brings glory from them.
Don’t forget, during your Triduum observances, to pray to the angels of France and to the Mother of God to help the awakening of Faith in the people of that ancient core of Christendom.