Watching flames engulf the Notre Dame Cathedral on the evening news was simply stunning. I was — am — saddened to see such an architectural masterpiece, with such rich history, go up in flames. The building itself is unparalleled, and the artwork and artifacts inside irreplaceable. And the stained glass… just the stained glass is a pinnacle of human artistic achievement.
I am not Catholic, nor am I on the same page with the Catholic Church philosophically or spiritually. However, I truly appreciate what the loss of such a historical treasure represents. I don’t feel sad for the Catholic Church (it is grotesquely well-funded), but I do have empathy for those who are mourning the loss of this cathedral. Weddings, funerals, christenings and comfort were found by many, through the centuries. The building has more history and meaning than just the material from which it was constructed.
This 12th century cathedral miraculously withstood the French Revolution, and World Wars I and II, unscathed. How ironic that not war or malice or earthquake or flood but simple human error was the likely cause of its ruin. The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation but it appears that it was simply an accident. Oops.
As the flames disappear and officials inspect what is left of this scorched structure, it’s becoming apparent that the cathedral can’t be rebuilt exactly as it was. And maybe it shouldn’t be, because a modern fire sprinkler system is clearly needed. One report said that even if it were possible to completely recreate it, there aren’t trees in France big enough to be used to make the wooden beams. All that can be done is to sweep up the mess, wash away the smoke and char, and decide whether to rebuild or stand back and consider the options.
Here in California, we are well aware of the devastation that fire can cause. Just ask anyone who lived in Santa Rosa or Paradise during the recent colossal fires that turned these towns to scorched earth. So many died. At least no one died in the Notre Dame fire. That’s something to be thankful for. But should it really be rebuilt, exactly as it was?
Consider the 9-11 Memorial that was built rather than attempting to reconstruct the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I have been to that memorial, and standing next to it is about the most eery and surreal feeling I’ve ever experienced. There’s a heavy, solemn energy to it that is palpable. There was a recognition that what was there could never be again, and anything built in its place would carry a legacy of horror and death… Better to create something that inspires us to think about the fragility and unfairness of life, and strive to be better people.
Like Santa Rosa and Paradise, what’s gone is gone. To recreate them exactly is impossible. Like the World Trade Center, maybe what was isn’t what should be in its place going forward.
To date, more than a billion dollars has been pledged by wealthy French individuals and businesses, as well as donations coming in from around the world, to get cracking and clean up the site and rebuild it. Let’s just curb our philanthropy for a moment and consider that the Catholic Church allegedly seeks to do the will of Jesus Christ and support and follow his teachings. (Pedophilia issue notwithstanding.) This being Holy Week, let’s pause for a moment and ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” Imagine if he were presented with a billion dollars to be spent in his name, and the choice was to rebuild a fancy, expensive building or to use it helping the poor, sick, homeless and hungry. Do I even have to articulate his immediate response? It’s obvious.
So before one board is hammered and one nail is pounded, let’s consider the angles of this sad historical loss:
- The building is destroyed. After the tears, take a breath and accept it. No matter what arises in its place, it will not be that historic building that withstood war and history and time. It’s gone.
- There are people sick and starving all over the world, and a billion dollars would go a long way toward helping them. Has one dime been spent to help them?
- What Would Jesus Do?
Yes, the image of Notre Dame in flames is horrific. But I ask you…. is it more horrific than this:
A billion dollars to rebuild a building. Is there even a dime for the starving?
Matthew 25:40-45 New International Version (NIV)
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
(For more information about Kevin Carter and “The Struggling Girl”, click here.)