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Notre Dame: Save the Cathedral of the Heart

Last updated on 28th July 2019

We received this moving text written by a rural priest visiting Paris. Shattered, he calls for Notre-Dame of Paris to be left in its current state, i.e., torn from the hands of predators by the flames of the fire and finally returned to the people for its free use.

Brothers and sisters,

Yesterday, Notre-Dame of Paris burned. On his day, Christ set us an example by chasing the merchants out of the temple. All true Christians today must chase temple merchants out of the temple of their hearts. Otherwise they will succumb to the obscene manoeuvres of speculators of all kinds, politicians, tax evaders, holier-than-thou persons, people uncultivated in the search for roots, or polluting groups, hasty to think only about themselves. Let us remind the hands that become generous only to the extent of the glory they derive from it, these words of truth: “You can not serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

What a contrast between this gloomy goings-on and the solemn sight that the streets of Paris offered yesterday (April 15th) evening: the ancient passion of fire was uniting us, and the silence of the contemplation hovered over the city, the silence of fire that reminded me of the ecstasies of Pascal, a silence that no pomp, no fundraiser, no tax-free gift will ever buy. We lived the greatness of a moment of pure time and everyone, regardless of the scale of their participation in this great communion, up to the most indecent selfie taker, could not quite come out unscathed.

However, brothers and sisters, I tell you: it is less urgent to rebuild the stone cathedral than to save the cathedral of the heart. I am astonished to see that those who chase away their neighbours like rascals by endlessly repeating to them that they do not have even one cent to devote to them, thus letting streams of gold flow when it comes to the image of a capital that is populated by selfishness, greed, empty dwellings, the chasing away of the poor and foreign, and frivolous entertainment. I am also astonished by the frenzied activism that has seized them, after the news broke, there where King David would have covered his face with ashes for weeks, there where the Emperor of China would have confined himself to three days of bathing in lustral water. Those who govern us, didn’t they ask themselves whose hand had hit them? Are they so overproud that even the most unexpected catastrophe cannot take the form of an omen in their eyes?

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The truth, brothers and sisters, is that the Kingdom of Heaven is closer, today, to the dislodged inhabitants of Notre-Dame-des-Landes than to the tourists encumbering the forecourt of Notre-Dame of Paris by the grace of “Airbnb”. Victor Hugo said of the cathedral that it was magnificent art produced by vandals: the wonders of the world were all huts at first. Wasn’t Christ born in a stable?

Our world suffers from illness and inextricable pride, that of the refusal to let anything die, to let nothing change. History has for us the rhythm of renovation. But the successive papering over the cracks has only the purpose of freezing true movement, to prevent any renewal and any conversion. Victor Hugo added that the forgotten art of cathedrals was killed by academism. And yet, the peril that surveys us today is no longer that of pedants who are fond of Latin or Greek. It is more serious and more urgent. It has at its service an army of sound engineers and cameramen, it unleashes storms of camera flashes and the sirens of special convoys, it reunites the powerful, the rich, and the masters of the show in a lugubrious conspiracy. I want to talk about the tetanic impulse to conserve what captures souls, stunned by the dazzling evidence of the catastrophe. In short, there is no need at all for something to happen, the triumph of the sinister Viollet-le-Duc, master of architecture in fake, must be eternal!

Brothers and sisters, what really embodies for us the cathedral of Paris, which yesterday was finally returned to us, is the possibility of thinking and inhabiting this world, a possibility that those who rule us are completely deprived of. Yesterday, the cathedral has for us ceased to be that vague architectural mass that is sometimes outlined at the corner of the streets, this umpteenth museumified old thing registered in the “patrimony of humanity”, which we only visit through our phones. If the hearts of all Parisians are strangled at the sight of the fire, it is not to helplessly contemplate the disappearance of a jewel of French tourism, but to have never lived or lived with the cathedral they were brushing past every day. Every heart murmured, “So what! here you go, this majestic building is taken away from us, this abandoned house of God, this legacy of the ages, delivered to the lowest exploitation by looters in their Sunday best, even before it could have belonged to us, even before we paid even the slightest attention to it, when we even couldn’t make use of it!” What we were deprived of, in the clutches of flames, became again common, an object of common lament and of common anger.

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As I strolled along the narrow streets of the Huchette quarter, the vast sidewalks of the Tournelle bridge, I wove between the crowd stopped by the blaze of the fire. I heard a voice exclaim: “It’s beautiful”. And another: “I wish that they would never rebuild it”. I am not far from giving them reason. The heart sometimes needs to find the roughness of a desert. Wouldn’t this edifice be more alive if the firewood of its transept serves as fertiliser for the shoots of honeysuckle, the Île Saint-Louis to live a little less in the rhythm of the tourists, the beings to really gather on its forecourt in order to speak on it about their condition, while the dry hearts of the foot soldiers of the sentinel mission would distance a little and that these places, then, would perhaps rediscover something sacred? Notre-Dame, finally snatched from her profaners by the fire, could then return to the people, who would use it to shelter the poor and the exiles, to take care of the sick and unfortunate, to serve the healthy revolts and worthy fury, in short – to restore a semblance of divine justice in this world.

The ruins of the cathedral, given for the people’s use, would remind us that things pass in time, would explain to the powerful, however imposing or ridiculous their reign, that it comes to an end, and that their world will end in a conflagration. without crying or moaning, a fainting that will gladden hearts like a bonfire.

If the cathedral moves us, my brothers and sisters, it is also because it reminds us that thoughts, life, and work have not always been distinct things, that there was a time when the ruins that people produced were not underground car parks, millenary aluminium cans, and the insides of the metro. As Victor Hugo says, human intelligence perhaps one day abandoned architecture for printing, the latter killed the former. But for those who already thought yesterday to take advantage of the disaster when the fire had not yet accomplished its work, the book has long been a space of emptiness, all intelligence has ceased to exist, while a vain Ambition serves as a Bible. The cathedral does not call for a patrimonial rescue worthy of a Sisyphus, doomed to finish lacerated by the tartufferie of its patrons, but testifies to the urgency of relearning to think and live on our own, to leave the prison of information and images that separate us, and find the expressive power of a collective, manual, and sustainable production.

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