A Continual Story of Resurrection
Dear Friends in Christ:
This week, the world watched with shock and sadness as the ravaging flames engulfed the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Besides the awful video of the spire crashing into the roof of this beloved edifice and symbol of French pride and culture, I was struck by two media reports. One was a video of a group of young adults kneeling with rosaries in their hands, praying and singing a hymn in honor of the Blessed Mother. The other was a French commentator reacting to an American journalist on NPR. The American journalist, ignorant of history, suggested that this tragedy was remarkable in light of the famed cathedral surviving two world wars. The French commentator politely corrected the American journalist by pointing out that the remarkable feat was not the survival of the world wars but rather the French Revolution! Notre Dame, unlike many other cathedrals, churches and monasteries, did survive but was not unscathed. During the Reign of Terror, this magnificent shrine built in honor of Our Blessed Mother so many centuries ago was taken over and turned into a warehouse and then used by the forces opposed to the Catholic Church as a “temple of reason” in the attempt to “de-Christianize” France. During this time, church buildings, convents and monasteries were destroyed or closed, altars desecrated, statues and artwork defaced or destroyed, priests and religious imprisoned or killed on sight and the practice of Catholicism forbidden and driven underground. The celebration of the Eucharist was a criminal act. The teaching of the Catholic faith was held as seditious and dangerous. The Revolution worked to make sure that Christianity had no place in the Republic and in lives of the people. The Catholic Church in France, the Eldest Daughter of the Church, was in many ways like today’s burned out shell of Notre Dame de Paris. But we know that was not the end of the story.
From the ashes of the revolution there was a fervent growth of faith among the French people. From suffering in the dark shadows, the Catholic Church in France emerged and saw a new springtime of growth and vitality. The faith grew strong in people’s hearts and lives. Families devoted themselves anew to the love of God and His Church, devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Mother exploded in popularity, seminaries and convents filled with legions of young men and women desiring to dedicate their lives in service to the Church as priests and nuns. New religious orders on fire with zeal were established. French missionaries took the gospel to the furthest corners of the world; to Oceania, Africa, Asia, and even to Texas! In spite of the terror of persecution and great suffering, there was a great revival of faith.
But no one should really have been too surprised. Our faith is based on the belief of resurrection.
There have been a few to suggest that the burning of Notre Dame is perhaps emblematic or symbolic for the state of the Catholic Church today. They see the Church crushed by scandal by some of its leaders and a growing apathy and a decreasing numbers of followers. Yet, that is what was said in the 18th Century (and the 16th and the 14th and the 11th and the 6th and the 3rd and the 1st centuries as well). As any faithful Catholic knows, the Church is not a building or the institution. It is not simply another organization or institution of human origin. It cannot be reduced to an edifice, to the papacy, to the clergy or to an organizational chart. The power of the Catholic Church is not in her clergy or her members or her buildings. The power of the Church is in our founder, Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen! Ours is a continual story of resurrection, hope and joy! In every age, the Church has seen persecution from outside sources. In every age, the Church has also seen itself fail to live according to the teachings of our Savior. Yet in every age, Jesus has never abandoned His beloved. He has been true to his promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against His Church (Mt 16:18) and that he would be with us always (Mt 28:20). This is the reality of the resurrection: Jesus lives and the power of death is defeated. Easter is not the “eternal return” as asserted by the ancient Stoics or in more modern times by Nietzsche or “New Agers”. The truth of Easter is that Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, has redeemed the world in his blood shed on the cross and His rising to new life. We who live in darkness and sin are given forgiveness of our sins and a new life in Him. Easter is not a recurring cycle or returning back to the beginning. Easter does not take us back to the Garden of Eden, but opens up for us the Gates of Heaven. Resurrection is living in the life that is ever moving forward to the eternal life of God and nothing can stop this progress. We continue to experience this “new life” because the One who gives it, never ceases to offer it to us. Our joy is not simply that Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago.
Our joy is that Jesus IS risen and lives! Our joy is that Jesus offers each of us that same life today!
In pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately