Notre-Dame has been a landmark of Catholic worship and is well known for various reasons the whole world over. People from every country who visited France would make it a point to see the more than 800-year-old cathedral. As a structure of beauty and inspiration and history, it was a sight to behold! And even following this latest disaster, it apparently is still a sight to behold.
Yet no church or cathedral, no matter how beautiful or historic, should ever minimize the reason for its being in deference to its beauty or magnificence. Can we all possibly agree as to the reason Notre-Dame was built? There might possibly be some secret “political” reason for the structure to initially be built, but let’s just assume that it was built as a structure of beauty and magnificence to honor and worship Jesus and God the Father.
There is no need to describe that cathedral; surely we have all seen pictures of it and read many descriptions of its grandeur or majesty. And the internet is full of beautiful photos of before and the devastating photos of after. Yet while I’m a big fan of “beauty,” I’m also a big fan of simplicity. Notre-Dame pre-fire may well have been considered beautiful, but it could never have been called simple.
When Jesus was alive on earth, he never built — or had built — a church or building for himself in which to hold services or any kind of worship. When he felt the need to talk (or preach) to the masses, he simply preached to them on a hillside or in some other outside gathering. I feel rather blessed to have had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem and walk over the same ground where Jesus walked and visit the places that Jesus visited. I was in the very room where they held the Last Supper, and in the Garden at Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and cried, and where his apostles kept falling asleep and couldn’t
stay awake long enough to keep watch with him for even one hour. I also visited the tomb of Joseph, where they laid his body after the crucifixion.
It is hard for me to imagine that Jesus would have preferred a huge and ornate cathedral to the simplicity of the mountainside, or the simple river banks of the Jordan. But I also can’t imagine that he would turn his back on a cathedral built just for his worship — if indeed it was just for that purpose — yet I still believe he would have preferred to spend those funds on the poor and needy.
As I pondered the burned structure that the whole world was watching while still in flames and engulfed in smoke, I wondered how the Catholics and/or the Christians of the world would react to this devastation, and I read about the fireline of those who volunteered to be part of the chain of rescuers, passing each relic along the chain as long as they could. And I caught a glimpse of one priest who apparently ran back into the building to rescue whatever religious
relic or relics he could. It reminded me of my Aunt Genevieve, my father’s sister, who fell asleep smoking in bed and set the house on fire. The good news is that she was able to get out alive, but when I saw the priest run back in to save relics, I couldn’t help but remember two things. One thing was that my aunt ran out in panic, and was fine, but then remembered that she had forgotten to grab her beloved cat. She then ran back in to rescue her Fluffy, and succumbed
to the smoke, dying in the fire. Fluffy was her treasure and she risked her life for her precious pet.
The other thing I thought about was that Jesus would not and did not wish anything he left behind to be worshiped, knowing that some would, could, or might worship such items as various of the known pagans worshiped their idols or fetishes as imbued with magical or spiritual powers of some kind. Jesus often wrote on the sand, but never wrote on anything that could be saved. He left it to others to remember his words and pass on his messages and lessons by word of mouth.
And while each fire means different things to different people, depending on its own value or meaning, and some are extremely more costly than others, such as the cost to repair and rebuild Notre-Dame, added to the value of all that was lost and can never be replaced, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the three fires that happened to three members of my own family. Fire number one was the fire in which my Aunt Genevieve was killed trying to save her Fluffy. Fire number two was the fire that burned down my sister’s home, and in which she died. Fire number three happened just last month, which burned down my
nephew’s home. The really good news is that he and his family and all others who were in the house were all able to get out safely because one family member had gotten up extra early that day before the whole house was engulfed in flames.
While accidental fires will no doubt continue to happen, many can be avoided by taking more care when it comes to prevention. When it’s an “accident,” that’s when people give a second thought to those old paint cans or any other flammable substances left around where they could possibly catch fire, maybe from a carelessly tossed lit match that was not even allowed to be inside the building. How easy it is to say one is sorry after the fact, which is not really easy at all since the pain may linger the rest of one’s life.
While the fires that happened to my family members are totally different from the fire that destroyed many parts of the famous and historic Notre-Dame, two of those fires destroyed human treasures that can never be replaced. One quickly learns what is important when one’s house is consumed by fire and all those who were in the house get out safely.
I sincerely hope that as Resurrection Day (Easter) approaches, all those who wished to attend services in that magnificent cathedral will say a prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving for their own safety, and remember why it is that any building — church, cathedral, synagogue, temple or any other type of house of prayer, reverence or devotion — was built in the first place…and that is for the worship of God.
May we always remember to think safety, be grateful for our safety, and praise God wherever we go and wherever we are. Jesus doesn’t need elaborate structures in which to feel your love and devotion; and while he’ll happily accept it there, he’ll also feel it while you’re sitting under a tree, while you’re walking down the street, or while you’re playing with your child or kitten.
Happy Easter to all who have any sense of the wonder of what it means! And even to those who don’t!
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at firstname.lastname@example.org.