Holy Week and the Notre Dame Cathedral fire teach the same lesson: Tragedy exists to teach us faith and heroism.
It’s right there in Sacred Scripture, in the letter of St. Jude.
First, though: A lot of people have shared a lot of lessons from the fire.
The fire was still blazing when friends started to use the destruction of large sections of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris as a metaphor.
If it was set deliberately, it’s a sign of the Church under attack — as the under-reported vandalism against French churches attests.
If it was set in the attic during renovations, it is a symbol of the abuse scandals, secrets destroying the church from the inside.
It will be impossible to rebuild, said a Benedictine College architecture professor — we have lost the faith and skills of craftsmen who can do that.
But the most often repeated comment was that it left people feeling like they did on 9/11 — something great had been lost.
But something great was uncovered, too.
In the wake of 9/11, the natural faith that people have was unleashed. Where I lived near New York, “God Bless America” banners blossomed in the streets, and we shared pictures of the cross in Ground Zero and the sun glinting between the two towers.
Faith that had been covered over, re-emerged.
The same thing happened in France. In the glow of the fire of Notre Dame, French people gathered and sang “Ave Maria.”
The cathedral is “the epicenter of our lives,” said French President Emmanuel Macron.
“It is what we are,” said a French historian.
Fire chaplain Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier is being hailed as a hero in the French press for rushing into Notre Dame Cathedral to save relics that are of key importance to every Christian’s life this week — but wouldn’t otherwise have been noticed by most Parisians this week: The Crown of Thorns, a nail from Christ’s crucifixion, and a relic of the true cross.
“Fr. Fournier is an absolute hero,” a rescue worker told reporters. “He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved.”
On 9/11, priests were heroes too.
This is the same priest who rushed inside a concert hall in Paris in 2015 after ISIS terrorists killed 89 people with guns and explosives, to absolve the dying and save what souls he could.
In 2001, before firefighters marched into the burning buildings, priests gave them general absolution. Fire chaplain Mychael Judge died giving last rites.
Priests told the stories of people stopping them on the streets for confession while they were fleeing the buildings. Other priests describe days of searching through the rubble for body parts to bless, then going back to their parishes to comfort families who lost loved ones.
Tom Colucci is a great example. He was a captain in the New York Fire Department on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, he is a Catholic priest.
It was his job to save people from the fire 18 years ago. That’s his job today.
In fact, St. Jude says we all have the vocation to “snatch people out of the fire.”
Near the end of his letter in the New Testament, St. Jude tells Christians what to do in times like ours. “Convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”
This is our job. Jude reminds us that the the apostles warned “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
Our job isn’t to shun them, he said. It is to try to talk to those who will listen, forgive — and beware — those who won’t, but most of all to pull who we could out of the fire.
Follow Fr. Fournier’s example this Holy Week.
When Fr. Fournier entered the burning cathedral, his goal, said French Catholic journalist Etienne Loraillere was “to save the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament.”
There are terrible battles raging in the world. Walk through the flames and take the passion of Jesus and his Real Presence out with you. Protect them in your heart and in your family like priceless treasurers. Don’t let them be lost in the chaos of our times.
Then look for people who will still heed the warning, and show them where safety can be found.