Easter week is the holiest week for Christians. What a week we have had this year.
Early this week, we watched in horror and devastation as the Notre Dame Cathedral was consumed by flame and the cathedral's spire collapsed. Many of us felt a deep sense of loss and grief. Yes, we were concerned about the priceless relics, the art and building. But as Christians, we couldn't help wonder what does this mean to our faith and what symbolism or lesson should we draw from the burning of one of the most celebrated Christian churches during holy week.
After all, we learned from the Bible that God sometimes uses fire to express his anger, as in Psalms 89:46, “How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?" Sometimes God uses fire to cleanse what's sinful and unholy, as John the Baptist told the crowd in Matthew 3: 11, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
So it's natural to ask: what is the message from God this time?
There was a very touching moment as the blaze went on, Parisians united on their own and sang "Ave Maria." The singing started Monday evening and lasted until Tuesday morning.
The day after the fire, we learned some good news-- the main structure of the Church, though charred by fire, still stands. There was no loss of a single life, even though a mass was going on when the fire started on Monday evening.
We also learned about the heroes who risked their lives to save as much as they could. The one who stands out is FatherFournier, chaplain-major of the Paris Fire Brigade. He was the chaplain on duty when the fire broke out in the Notre Dame cathedral. In an interview, he described when he rescued the Blessed Sacrament: "I did not want to simply leave with Jesus: I took the opportunity to perform a Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. Here I am completely alone in the cathedral, in the middle of burning debris falling down from the ceiling, I call upon Jesus to help us save His home."
God answered his prayer. The brave firefighters were able to stop the fire and rescue both bell towers and so much more:the most precious relics and some priceless artifacts are saved; inside the cathedral, the famed rose windows are safe; the pulpit and the pews are unharmed, and miraculously, the altar with a golden cross is intact.
But that's not the only miracle happened this week.
Someone on social media brought up the fact that while the world fixated about Notre Dame, there are three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish Louisiana that have burned between late March and early April: Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, St. Mary Baptist Church and Greater Union Baptist Church. A suspect was arrested and charged with arson and a hate crime. None of these churches carries enough insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding. So the Seventh District Baptist Association, a 149-year-old non-profit religious organization, started a GoFundme page to raise money to rebuild these churches. Prior to the Notre Dame fire, the fundraising was slow going. It raised only $100,000 as of April 16th.
Then Journalist Yashar Ali started a series of tweets to point out that the rebuilding of Notre Dame would be well-funded and encouraged everyone to join him in donating to the rebuilding effort of these three historically black churches. Many people not only quickly answered his call to donate but also helped to spread the word too. The result was astounding. By Good Friday, the donation to these three churches reached over $2 million, exceeding its goal of $1.8 million. The last I checked, donations are still coming in.
Commenting on this miracle, Freddie Jack, President of the Seventh District Baptist Association said that after the Notre Dame fire, "What God has done is open up the hearts of people. That is what you call a prayer being answered."
Of course, the miracles that Notre Dame and these three Baptist Churches experienced this week are only preluding to the biggest and the most important miracle of all time--this Sunday, we commemorate our Lord Jesus Christ's rising from death. Through his sacrifice and resurrection, all sins are forgiven and all sinners are saved.
So what's the message we should take away from the miracles of this week? FatherFournier said it best, "We started Lent by imposing ashes and saying "remember you are dust", and truly this was a miniature Lent: the Cathedral went to ashes, not to disappear, but to emerge stronger, as we Christians are, after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus-Christ."