A good article in Crisis about France. Fr. Z adds a short rant.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. JustaSinner says:

    Men, with low-tech equipment, Love of God and their faith over a century built such Cathedrals. What could we DO TODAY, with our technology, equipment and a century? Only things missing are faith and Love of God. So I guess, never mind…

  2. oldCatholigirl says:

    The Islamic attacks may also help spark the Faith–or at least some aspects of it. Active opposition sparked it in Ireland for years.

  3. The Astronomer says:

    The primary purpose of Notre Dame cathedral was/is not to serve as a sightseeing stop for hordes of tourists with cameras and cell phones taking selfies. It is for the worship, honor and praise of Almighty God and His Blessed Mother through the offering of the the august most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Nor are its exterior grounds a frequent impromptu lavatory for ‘undocumented immigrants’ from the Lands of the Prophet (and I’ve witnessed this in person at Notre Dame and the Duomo in Firenze…makes my blood boil to see Muslims peeing on the wall of a church with impunity, much less one dedicated to Our Lady).

    FACT: Most people in France have lost the Faith and it may well be that the Lord Jesus, seeing that His Mother’s blessed name was the primary advertising for what has become a tourist trap, decided the people of France did not deserve such a glorious work.

    Last night, a man was arrested by the NYPD entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral with gasoline cans, Kingsford barbeque grill lighter fluid and cigarette lighters. …it begins.

  4. It seems to me that lately there is an upswing in open attacks specifically on the Mother of God in the form of destruction of her images and statues — and, perhaps, vandalism of churches under her patronage. Jesus Christ was a far, far better Child to his mother than any of us could ever hope to have been to ours. Could anything be more calculated to bring down His swift and decisive wrath than assaults on His mother?

  5. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Father, I believe you read Spanish. I hope I haven’t got that wrong. This is a particularly poignant eyewitness account by a Bielorussian living in Paris of the spontaneous outburst of faith by thousands of mainly young laypeople, notable for the absence of priests and bishops.

    *Andrei es un joven bielorruso de Minsk que estudia en París. Aparece en el video viral de la oración por el incendio en la catedral. De vuelta a casa, ya avanzada la noche, escribió este relato en su perfil de Facebook*

    Esto es lo que pasó. Estaba en casa, charlando por teléfono con mis padres, cuando de repente por la ventana empezó a oírse ruido de sirenas. Cerré la ventana pensando: «Espero que no sea nada grave». Terminé de hablar con ellos a las ocho en punto. Entonces abrí Facebook y lo primero que vi fueron las fotos de Notre Dame en llamas.

    La última vez que estuve allí fue el 5 de abril, cuando expusieron la Corona de espinas para la adoración. Era el día después de que en mi ciudad, Minsk, se celebraran vigilias espontáneas porque en Kuropat, un lugar de memoria de la represión soviética con grandes cruces, 17 de estas habían sido destruidas. La gente reaccionó yendo a rezar.

    Salí de casa. No vivo lejos de la catedral. Desde mi calle veía una enorme columna de humo. Veinte minutos después llegué a la iglesia melquita de Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, justo enfrente de Notre Dame, en la otra orilla del Sena. Desde ahí se veía todo el incendio. En ese momento me movía la curiosidad, igual que a cualquiera. Aunque algo dentro de mí me decía que debía estar allí. No tenía la más mínima idea de lo que iba a suceder.

    Había gente en pie cantando el Ave María en francés, Je vous salue Marie. Me quedé allí con ellos. No dejaba de llegar gente, hasta que la calle acabó bloqueada por cientos de personas cantando. Algunos rezaban de rodillas, otros llevaban en la mano iconos o rosarios.

    Nota sociológica: casi todos tenían entre veinte y treinta años. Hombres y mujeres en proporción similar. Había rostros europeos, indios, africanos, marroquíes, chinos. También vi algunos niños. Incluso me encontré con mi compañero de piso y también aparecieron otros tres amigos.

    La oración era constante, sin pausa. Vi hombres corpulentos llorando como niños. No eran los únicos. De vez en cuando alguno salía y delante de todos pedía un minuto de silencio. Luego seguían cantando.

    Llegando un cierto momento se leyó el evangelio de Juan 2,13-25, donde se habla de la expulsión de los mercaderes y de la profecía de Jesús sobre la destrucción del templo. En el Evangelio de Juan, esa era la primera Pascua de Jesús en Jerusalén. Mientras que en los otros evangelios, este hecho sucede justo después de la entrada en Jerusalén, es decir, antes de la última Pascua. Hay quien piensa que aquel hecho sucedió precisamente en Lunes Santo.

    Luego rezamos juntos el Padre Nuestro. Después, la oración a santa Genoveva, patrona de París. Y la oración a la Virgen de san Juan Pablo II, que él mismo rezó en Notre Dame. Luego se leyó la oración de san Francisco y un fragmento de Charles Péguy sobre la Virgen. También rezamos por los bomberos.

    Traían agua y biscotes para repartir. No había sacerdotes, no había nadie que dirigiera de alguna manera, todo se organizó espontáneamente. Aparecieron una pareja de jóvenes con violines y acompañaron con música los cantos. Al oscurecer, se encendieron las farolas. Desde las dos columnas de la catedral se veían las luces de las linternas de los bomberos. Encima del incendio, luces rojas, hasta las estrellas parecían rojas, eran drones tomando fotografías. Sonaban las campanas por todas partes.

    A las 23.10h una persona anunció a todos que habían conseguido salvar la estructura de la catedral. Algunos empezaron a cantar el himno Nous Te saluons, couronnée d’étoiles y todos se unieron al coro. Luego hubo otros cantos dedicados a la Virgen. Dijeron que la Corona de espinas y la túnica de san Luis se han salvado del fuego, y entonamos el Salve Regina en latín, para repetir después varias veces Je vous salue Marie.

    El fuego todavía ardía, pero ya más débil. Poco a poco, la gente empezó a marcharse. Después de medianoche, mis amigos y yo también nos levantamos para dirigirnos al metro. Se me acercó una periodista preguntándome por la oración de Je vous salue Marie, y le respondí.

    Fuimos a ver la situación desde otra calle, había muchísima gente también allí cantando. Era como si hubiera sucedido lo mismo en todas las calles, puentes y plazas. Miles de personas cantando por las calles durante horas. Era algo parecido a la revolución.

    Ahora pienso que la gente con la que estuve rezando no rezaba por el mero disgusto de la destrucción de una pieza esencial de nuestro patrimonio cultural, no lloraban solo porque ardía un símbolo de la nación francesa. La gente estaba allí rezando a Notre Dame, Nuestra Señora. Nadie había convocado a todos esos jóvenes, ni los curas ni los obispos. Fue un movimiento espontáneo pero al mismo tiempo ordenado y respetuoso. Eran piedras de la Iglesia real, una Iglesia joven y viva que se mostraba a sí misma. Yo también, con aquella periodista, en cierto modo estaba dando un pequeño testimonio. Nadie se esperaba el incendio. Pero tampoco nadie se esperaba una reacción de este tipo. Fue un acontecimiento, diferente a cualquier otra cosa que pudiéramos imaginar. Algo que rompía una continuidad.
    Ahora veremos qué nos pedirá Dios en los próximos días que nos esperan para la Pascua.

    Un testimonio para meditar.

  6. jaykay says:

    Anita Moore: good point. The fifth reason for having five First Saturdays of reparation that Sr. Lucia was given, after a vision of Our Lord in May 1930, was because of insults to Her images.

  7. Pingback: A good article about France and a short rant from Fr. Z | Catholicism Pure & Simple

  8. JamesA says:

    The O’Connor quote brings to mind another from C. S. Lewis :
    “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
    I pray the French (and all Christians everywhere) are ready to listen.

  9. Gerard Plourde says:

    An important question to ask is whether unbelief has increased or whether contemporary societal norms masked the actual state of affairs. How many doubters or unbelievers attended Mass (or, to expand beyond Catholicism, Protestant church services and Jewish Synagogue), because to do otherwise would have subjected them to social censure?

  10. Chris in Maryland 2 says:

    Saint Joan of Arc, fair and brave, pray for us, and for Notre Dame, and it’s faithful, in Paris, and all over the word.

  11. Roy Hobbs says:

    Over the past 20 years or so, I’ve been to Notre Dame three times. In each of those times, I do not recall ever seeing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not even in a side-chapel. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall even seeing a priest! But those were just three random visits.

    However…. Sacre Couer, on the other hand, up the hill in Montmarte… that’s a different story. I recall that place being for the parishioners, with the tourists allowed in here and there. Notre Dame, not so much.

    Sad to say, but I think the French government turned Notre Dame into nothing more than a tourist attraction.

  12. jaykay says:

    Gerard Plourde: yes, I agree, but I’d say that has always been the case. We are social animals and going with the flow, the societal norm, seems ingrained … when “the flow” is safe and societally ordained. These days, we have to swim upstream.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Up until this week, Notre Dame had Mass on weekdays at 8 AM, 9 AM, 12:15 PM, and 6:15 PM (6:30 PM on Sat.). The 8 and 9 AM Masses were in the choir, and the other two were at the main altar. (No 9 AM Mass during July, Aug., and the first half of Sept.)

    Sunday Masses were 8:30 AM, 10 AM, 11:30 AM, 12:45 PM, and 6:30 PM.

    Vespers at 5:45 PM every day. Lauds on Sunday at 9:30 AM.

    So no shortage of Mass times.

  14. Imrahil says:

    I myself have attended once the anticipated Sunday Mass, or most of it, in Notre Dame, and there were genuine worshippers there.

    It was no more, I guess, of “just a tourist attraction” than St. Peter’s in the Vatican (which I know a bit better), which is a whole different story once you passed the guards with a “posso attendere Messa/ fare Confessione?”. And St: Peter’s doesn’t even have a parish consisting of (if you pardon the imprecision) “normal Catholics living there” (even the Swiss guards have their own parish), while Notre Dame, if I am correctly informed, does.

  15. JonPatrick says:

    A translation of HvonBlumenthal’s Spanish article (Google Translate):
    Andrei is a young Belarussian from Minsk studying in Paris. It appears in the viral video of the prayer for the fire in the cathedral. Back home, late in the evening, he wrote this story on his Facebook profile *

    This is what happened. I was at home, chatting on the phone with my parents, when suddenly sirens began to be heard through the window. I closed the window thinking: “I hope it’s nothing serious.” I finished talking to them at eight o’clock. Then I opened Facebook and the first thing I saw were the pictures of Notre Dame on fire.

    The last time I was there was on April 5, when they presented the Crown of thorns for worship. It was the day after spontaneous vigils were held in my city, Minsk, because in Kuropat, a place of memory of the Soviet repression with great crosses, 17 of these had been destroyed. People reacted by going to pray.

    I left home. I do not live far from the cathedral. From my street I saw a huge column of smoke. Twenty minutes later I arrived at the melquita church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, just opposite Notre Dame, on the other side of the Seine. From there you could see the whole fire. At that moment I was moved by curiosity, just like anyone else. Although something inside me told me that I should be there. I had no idea what was going to happen.

    There were people standing singing the Hail Mary in French, Je vous salue Marie. I stayed there with them. People kept coming, until the street was blocked by hundreds of people singing. Some prayed on their knees, others carried icons or rosaries in their hands.

    Sociological note: almost all were between twenty and thirty years old. Men and women in a similar proportion. There were European faces, Indians, Africans, Moroccans, Chinese. I also saw some children. I even met my roommate and three other friends also appeared.

    The prayer was constant, without pause. I saw corpulent men crying like children. They were not the only ones. From time to time someone would go out and in front of everyone he would ask for a minute of silence. Then they kept singing.

    At a certain moment, the Gospel of John 2: 13-25 was read, where the merchants are expelled and the prophecy of Jesus about the destruction of the temple. In the Gospel of John, that was the first Passover of Jesus in Jerusalem. While in the other gospels, this happens just after the entry into Jerusalem, that is, before the last Passover. Some people think that happened precisely on Holy Monday.

    Then we pray the Our Father together. Then, the prayer to Saint Genoveva, patron saint of Paris. And the prayer to the Virgin of Saint John Paul II, which he himself prayed at Notre Dame. Then the prayer of Saint Francis and a fragment of Charles Péguy on the Virgin were read. We also pray for the firemen.

    They brought water and biscuits to distribute. There were no priests, there was no one to lead in any way, everything was organized spontaneously. A couple of young people with violins appeared and accompanied the songs with music. At dusk, the street lamps were lit. From the two columns of the cathedral you could see the lights of the lanterns of the firemen. Above the fire, red lights, even the stars seemed red, were drones taking pictures. The bells rang everywhere.

    At 23:10 a person announced to everyone that they had managed to save the structure of the cathedral. Some began to sing the hymn Nous Te saluons, couronnée d’étoiles and they all joined the choir. Then there were other songs dedicated to the Virgin. They said that the Crown of thorns and the robes of St. Louis have been saved from the fire, and we intoned the Salve Regina in Latin, to repeat after several times Je vous salue Marie.

    The fire was still burning, but already weaker. Little by little, people started to leave. After midnight, my friends and I also got up to go to the subway. A journalist approached me asking me about the prayer of Je vous salue Marie, and I replied.

    We went to see the situation from another street, there were many people there also singing. It was as if the same thing had happened in all the streets, bridges and squares. Thousands of people singing in the streets for hours. It was something like the revolution.

    Now I think that the people with whom I was praying did not pray for the mere disgust of the destruction of an essential piece of our cultural heritage, they did not cry just because a symbol of the French nation burned. The people were there praying to Notre Dame, Our Lady. Nobody had summoned all those young people, neither the priests nor the bishops. It was a spontaneous movement but at the same time ordered and respectful. They were stones of the royal Church, a young and living Church that showed itself. I, too, with that journalist, was in a way giving a little testimony. Nobody expected the fire. But nobody expected a reaction of this kind either. It was an event, unlike anything else we could imagine. Something that broke a continuity.
    Now we will see what God will ask of us in the next days that await us for Easter.

  16. SKAY says:

    Thank you JonPatrick

  17. Semper Gumby says:

    William Kilpatrick wrote:

    “…if there is no God, there is no ultimate standard by which the state itself can be judged. Hence, the state becomes the ultimate arbiter of what rights you can and cannot have.”

    “Pope St. John Paul II was the most prominent proponent of keeping God in the European constitution. According to [Paul] Kengor: “He [John Paul II] made arguments akin to those made by the American Founding Fathers: It is crucial for citizens living under a constitution to understand the ultimate source from which their rights derive: their rights come not from government but God.””

    “The hollow shell of Notre Dame should be a reminder to France that the secular state is itself a hollow shell when it fails to acknowledge the Creator who endows us with inalienable rights. The state has no lasting vision to offer. And its guarantee of liberty, equality, fraternity, and the rights of man are backed by absolutely nothing.”

    Christianity and “aggressive secularism,” Socialism, are incompatible. The former acknowledges human weaknesses and guides one willingly towards human flourishing and eternal life. The latter seeks to re-design humans for a Heaven on Earth, and results in suffering on a vast scale and totalitarian governments.

    Which brings us to Freedom. For St. Thomas Aquinas freedom is a result of virtue. Freedom is exercising our will and reason to achieve the good, the true, and the beautiful. For William of Ockham freedom is merely choice, an exercise of the will by the autonomous Self. (See George Weigel’s essay “Two Ideas of Freedom,” which also points out a serious flaw in Isaiah Berlin’s 1958 influential lecture “Two Concepts of Liberty.”)

    Freedom for excellence (Aquinas) is engraved in our souls by the finger of God. Freedom for libertinism (William of Ockham) is broadcast day and night by Marxist professors and journalists, Socialist/Democrat politicians, and the latest depraved “progressive” oddity that slithers out of the movie, TV, and music industries. A choice is to be made here.

    Fr. Z wrote:

    “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?”

    That observation is heartening. Freedom for Excellence requires persistence. Notre Dame can be burnt in a day, rebuilding it can require a lifetime.

  18. Semper Gumby says:

    William Kilpatrick wrote: “In the Bible, the destruction of a city or a temple is often linked to immorality or unbelief.”

    An interesting exception is Nineveh, which repented when Jonah, after three days in the whale, warned Nineveh of God’s wrath. When Jonah arrived in Nineveh the city was a cult center for Ishtar- a goddess primarily of war and sex.

    Ishtar is essentially the Astarte of the Phoenicians, Canaanites, and of King Solomon in 1 Kings 11:5. Ishtar is also traced earlier to the Inanna of the Sumerians of about 3000 BC. The Sumerian Inanna is often referred to by Sumerians as Queen/Lady of Heaven and is represented in statuary as wearing a crown of snakes or horns, and trampling a lion.

    Just my two cents, Inanna-Ishtar-Astarte appears to be, to borrow Carrie Gress’ phrase, an Anti-Mary.

    (Note: there are variables here such as: the Sumerian language is a “language isolate”; Inanna is interpreted by some as a goddess not of sex but fertility, and as of beauty and violence; Inanna can be dated to the Uruk period before the Early Dynastic period in Sumer; the Phoenician and Canaanite practice of child sacrifice might be connected to Astarte (see Jeremiah 44). Also, see the results of a web search on “Wicca and Astarte.”)

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