Earlier this week we learned to our horror that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was on fire. Because of the bravery of the Paris Fire Department, and particularly the actions of Notre Dame’s Chaplain Fr. Jean Marc Fournier it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Construction began in 1160 and wasn’t completed until 1260: nobody who began the construction lived to see its completion and nobody who witnessed its completion was born when it was began. In the last 800 years people from all over the world have gathered to worship there. Modern day visitors to Paris know they need to visit three places: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre.
I have to confess that I’ve never been to Paris and I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame, but I understand its attraction. My parents and grandparents belonged to Notre Dame de St. Rosary parish, that we all call “Holy Rosary.” My grandmother, Imelda Cazeault (1909-1981) told me about how, as a child, she witnessed the delivery of the bell that was raised into the bell tower.
When she died I was one of her pallbearers and as we carried her into Holy Rosary for the last time, the bell tolled for her (as it did for all funerals). At that moment, in 1981, I found myself carried back to 1915 when she was six years old and watched that same bell hoisted up into the tower. I was also carried back to November 18, 1918 when my father’s parents (recent immigrants from Canada) married.
The sound of the bells became timeless to me. It brought me back to 1915 and 1918, but also to 1931 when my father was baptized, to 1938 when my mother was baptized, and to 1958 when my parents were married. It also brought me back to 1994 when I returned to Holy Rosary as a priest to celebrate my (3rd) first mass and to 1995 when I returned to celebrate the funeral mass for my grandfather (and namesake), Thomas Cazeault (1902-1995).
I write this to illustrate the place Notre Dame de Paris holds in the hearts of Catholics. While Notre Dame de Gardner is more than a century old, Notre Dame de Paris is over 800 years old. Its place in history is clear.
Notre Dame de Paris will rebuild and we will all rejoice. But we should also rejoice that its history will continue well into the future, to Christians who aren’t yet born but will find its place in their lives.