The news of Notre Dame Cathedral is hard to absorb, so momentous and tragic a loss it is of one of the greatest legacies of Christendom. Yet we also recognize a tragic irony in the event.
A Wall Street Journal editorial said, “The importance of Notre Dame as a religious, cultural and political monument in France’s life is hard to appreciate if you aren’t French. An analogy for Americans would be to imagine the Metropolitan Museum of Art, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Capitol in Washington burned a the same time.” That puts the loss into greater perspective.
Yet Samuel Guzman of the Catholic Gentleman acutely acknowledges that the fire represents an analogy for an even greater loss to Christendom that has been smoldering for a long time:
My heart is broken. … We are heirs to so much beauty, so much truth, so much faith. And what have we done? We have squandered it, rejected it, and collectively shaken our fist in God’s face, through bloody revolution and even more subtly through apathy. … Plagued by horrific abuses, worldliness, and compromises, the church in the West, despite our veneer of respectability, is very much on fire. We have left our first love (Rev. 2:4), and we are reaping the tragic consequences.
Indeed. What is church attendance in France? While 53% of the French population identify as Catholic, a 2017 sociological study found that only 1.8% are practicing Catholics.
Paul referred to those who have “a form of godliness but deny the power thereof” (2 Tim 3:5). Can this not be said of Christianity in the West? The outward form of Notre Dame was a true representation of godliness that could only have been produced by inward power that comes from God. French President Emmanuel Macron described his sadness at seeing “a part of us” burn. We can also be sad that a part of the Christian West has been smoldering for a long time.
We can thank God that the foundation of the Cathedral is intact, but can we say the same for the Christian West? President Macron has pledged to rebuild, and we can support the French élan in this effort. But let’s also pray that the rebuilding go far deeper as Western Christians consider the state of our souls.