Wallace Henley: The Parable of Notre Dame Cathedral

What happened at Paris’ Cathedral of Notre Dame on April 15 is a searing parable for the global Church of Jesus Christ in all its forms, designations and denominations in our time.

I confess to a great love for cathedrals. The soaring design of the massive sanctuaries arose from hearts and minds that understood the reality and importance of God’s transcendence. Through Isaiah, God reveals that “I dwell on a high and holy place. And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

That’s the message-in-architecture proclaimed by these grand buildings. To stand in a Notre Dame is to be simultaneously reminded of one’s “lowliness” and God’s exalted being.

The cathedrals represent something we have lost in our secularizing frothing—the sense of consecrated space. On the morning after the Notre Dame conflagration I drove to a Catholic church in my community, and entered its chapel that had been set apart—consecrated—for prayer. I needed to “come aside” and be with Jesus in the quiet space.

There I remembered a blistering day a decade ago in the Paris neighborhood of Montmartre. My wife and I were about to climb the big stairway leading to the Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica sitting on a high perch above the city. We suddenly heard horrid music coming from a platform on the edge of the mount, below the big church. Black T-shirts identified the band as satanists. They seemed to want to show their defiance of the very God in whom they did not believe.

Then Irene and I finally entered the Basilica, and sat with other tourists and worshippers. Soon I heard another kind of music. A nun brought in a cluster of children. She sang to them about Jesus, and prayed over them in her beautiful French. The contrast with the monstrous noise from the satanists was striking.

I understood afresh what “sanctuary” truly means, and the sadness in our loss of that idea in our time.

A few years later Irene and I and a group traveling with us were in Notre Dame itself during a Sunday Mass. At its conclusion the great pipe organ shouted the glory of God to the rooftop.

Perhaps the very roof burned out by the flames of April 15.

No, I have not abandoned my evangelical faith for Catholicism. But I do grieve over the severe reductions of the Reformation—especially the radical reformation wherein lie my Baptist roots. The iconoclasts destroyed beauty and art that proclaimed God’s glory. They swept their gathering places bare of the things that hush us when we sit, stand, or kneel before them.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Wallace Henley