April 2019: Giving Thanks for the Gifts We Are Given
It was shocking news – Notre Dame de Paris was on fire! It was even more disturbing to watch the video as the 19th century spire of the Church was consumed by flames and fell into the nave of the Church, along with a good portion of the original 13th century roof timbers that quickly turned to ashes. Early news reports showed people lining the streets, saying prayers and singing, challenged to deal with the terrible loss. So much of the media reports commented on the symbolism of Notre Dame - the “eldest daughter” of the churches of France, an iconic place in the heart of Paris, a reservoir of history, and a place that celebrated the Catholic faith through the centuries.
However, as a result of this tragic loss of historic architecture, art and artifacts, perhaps even greater “riches” have been found. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, stated that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Almost immediately, contributions toward the reconstruction of the Church were made, with two French billionaires committing the equivalent of three-hundred million dollars. Interestingly, previous to the fire, the fundraising campaign for the approximately six-million-dollar renovation was waning, and overall regular church attendance has declined in France, as well as most other European countries and in the U.S. in recent years.
Is there a lesson to be learned here, particularly noting that the devasting fire took place at the start of Holy Week? Do we truly treasure our faith as a gift, or are we complacent, thinking that “it will always be there,” and so we take it for granted?
In thinking about this scene of destruction, I think about our own personal Lenten journeys, when we are called to “de-construct” ourselves. In some ways, we have to experience loss or the absence of something before we can truly appreciate what it means. And to regain what we have lost, to “rebuild” provides us with the opportunity to make us even stronger, removing as many weaknesses and refreshing as many deteriorating parts of ourselves that we can identify and that we are able to resourcefully manage.
Now, we are in the Easter season, when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life. If we have journeyed well through Lent, we might feel a renewed Spirit in this season of hope. It is the Spirit that encourages us to continually rebuild ourselves. Saint Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” (1Corinthians 6:19-20)
It is the same Spirit that is bringing faith-filled people from all over the world to be united with the citizens of France in supporting the work to rebuild Notre Dame. Through the rebuilding of this earthly temple, joining together we are rebuilding something much greater and more valuable, “priceless,” in fact; that is a church united by human hearts and minds. So, during this Easter Season, let us give thanks for the gifts we have that we may take for granted, and let us try to look for the blessings in the hardships and tragedies we are asked to bear, just as through death to life, our Savior gives us eternal hope. Happy Easter!