What can I say? Watching the Cathedral of Notre Dame burn yesterday was tough. But the shock and sadness isn’t the only reason why my tongue is tied. The disaster was covered extensively on all the major networks and countless people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, described so eloquently and emotionally how important this magnificent house of worship is to them.
Although nothing I can say will come close to matching what has already been said, I can share the perspective that I related to when I was watching the flames billow out of Notre Dame.
For yesterday’s fire to really hit home, I thought about St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach, my home parish. It is a beautiful church with an impressive altar, unique stained glass windows, a large choir loft, and an interesting seating configuration. The brick structure stands out like a sore thumb on Kings Highway, serving as a magnet that attracts the faithful.
St. Andrew to me is my spiritual refuge – my “happy place,” if you will. When I moved to Myrtle Beach, I attended mass at the church my first weekend here. A couple years later, I would marry Sidney inside of it. Sloan’s baptism would soon follow. When I approach the doors of St. Andrew, I am immediately at peace.
Last night, I thought about how I would feel if the fire raging in Paris was instead terrorizing a certain Myrtle Beach church located at 3501 North Kings Highway. To see the the structure I treasure the most engulfed in an inferno would be gut-wrenching.
But here is where the perspective shifted to a different level. St. Andrew was built in the 1960s. The Cathedral of Notre Dame was built in the 11th century. Although it took some time to build St. Andrew, it surely didn’t take almost 200 years. My parish doesn’t dominate the skyline of the city. Some of the best architects in the history of the world didn’t build it, nor have any Popes said mass in it. Lastly, while we very well might welcome 150,000 different people through the doors of the church each year (complete guess on my part), we definitely don’t welcome 15 million.
I am not downplaying the significance of my home church. Both the Cathedral of Notre Dame and St. Andrew are sacred places that house the Blessed Sacrament – a distinction that in a way makes them both equals. But there is no way you can discount the history, tradition, and appeal that the Cathedral holds over 99% of all other churches in the world.
When I compare what my feelings would be like if St. Andrew was ablaze to the heartache that millions of people are feeling right now, I can understand some of their pain. But I would be remiss if I said that I could identify fully with the loss that countless French Catholics are dealing with at the present time.
Of course there is a great silver lining. The church is salvageable and unreplaceable artifacts and relics were not harmed. As one clergy member said, the prayers offered up from around the world gave the firefighters the stamina and precision they needed to extinguish the flames before catastrophic damage set in. As we are in the midst of Holy Week, we can draw on the glorious theme of the Resurrection. From the ashes, the Cathedral of Notre Dame will rise. Don’t Blink.