The Word of God remains forever

Originally Appeared in : 9909-4/25/19

On Sunday, April 14, in the Year of Our Lord 2019, the Catholic Church “throughout the world” celebrated Palm Sunday of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, when the People of God gathered outside their churches for the blessing of palms and/or olive branches, and for the proclamation of the Gospel of the Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem. When Jesus of Nazareth went up to the Holy City for the last time, to observe the precept that all able-bodied Jewish men should celebrate the Passover there, he was greeted by a tumultuous crowd. “The children of Jerusalem welcomed Christ the King. They carried olive branches and loudly praised the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.”


We then heard the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke proclaimed, which recounts that by the end of that first Holy Week, the “children of Jerusalem” had been manipulated into baying for Christ’s blood: “Crucify him. Crucify him.”


On Monday, April 15, while still preparing my homilies for the Paschal Triduum, the “three days” of the Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ from death to life, I learned that the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the most famous churches in the world, was burning. I immediately turned on my television and watched in horror as flames engulfed the roof of this beautiful structure dedicated to the truth and goodness of the triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  


My stomach churned as the famous spire—the highest point on the Paris skyline until the Eiffel Tower was built at the end of the 19th century—crashed into the body of the church. In that moment, the fragility of all human endeavors, even those fashioned in praise of God, was apparent to all.


The tragic conflagration in Paris brought back vivid memories of a house of God that I knew well, in which I had worshipped, and which played a significant role in my conversion to Catholicism over half a century ago.


As a young boy in Dayton, Ohio, I was fascinated by “the work of human hands.” I had a keen eye for beauty and liked to draw. Planning for a while to become an architect, I drew renderings of buildings—real and imagined—and eventually blueprints. I’m sure that any building I designed would have been quite beautiful, but my lack of any mathematical skill would have made it collapse in short order.


I checked out a book on Paris, as seen from the air, from the local library. I was hooked on the City of Lights, the only city that has been rebuilt three times with the express purpose of making it ever more beautiful. I began learning French at the age of 15. After my third year of high school French, I was able to join my teacher and classmates for a summer program of intensive instruction in French in an idyllic town in Switzerland. On the way, we spent four days in Paris; I already knew its landmarks and found it easy to navigate its boulevards and avenues. In just four days we toured Paris, including the Louvre and Notre Dame, with an excursion to Versailles and Chartres.


When I first set foot in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in June of 1967, it was only the second time that I had been inside a Catholic church—the first was for a cousin’s wedding a month or so before. Our class had prepared for this visit by watching a film on Gothic architecture, which explained the “theology” behind the great churches built in the 12th and 13th century, when pointed arches enabled taller walls supported by flying buttresses, allowing for more light to enter through exquisite stained-glass windows. I was overwhelmed with awe to experience that sacred place for myself. Looking back, I see that what I experienced then was the presence of God, which helped me to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church in December of 1968.


The homily given by Pope Benedict XVI at Vespers on September 12, 2008 at Notre Dame, comes to mind. Addressing the gathering of the clergy, seminarians and religious, the Holy Father said, “The faith of the Middle Ages built the cathedrals, and here your ancestors came to praise God, to entrust to him their hopes and to express their love for him. Great religious and civil events took place in this shrine, where architects, painters, sculptors and musicians have given the best of themselves.” Over the years, I have felt privileged to worship God in that shrine, to entrust my hope to him, and to express my love for him there.


By Tuesday evening, April 16, word had reached the priests gathered with our bishop for the Chrism Mass that, although the roof and spire of Notre Dame had collapsed, the fire itself was confined to the attic by the heroic actions of the fire fighters of Paris and that the stone walls still stood, along with the famous towers and buttresses. The clergy and firefighters had managed to retrieve the most precious relics, the Blessed Sacrament, and many works of art. The great rose window had survived and even the great organ—one of the finest in the world—was probably salvageable. We shared images from our cell phones at the dinner before the Mass in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, especially the one of the cross still gleaming behind the intact high altar of this consecrated house of prayer, which Pope Benedict called “a living hymn of stone and light in praise of that act, unique in the annals of human history: the eternal Word of God entering our history in the fulness of time to redeem us by his self-offering in the sacrifice of the cross.”
The Word of God indeed remains forever.


Father Douglas K. Clark is pastor of St. Matthew Church, Statesboro. 


The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, has set up a fund to help the Cathedral of Notre Dame resurrect and rebuild. Funds can be sent to: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Attn.: Monsignor Walter Rossi, Rector, 400 Michigan  Avenue, NE, Washington, D.C. 20017. Checks should be made payble to “Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,”; indicate “Cathedral of Notre Dame Fund” in the memo portion of the check.


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