Sunday, April 21
The tragic fire that severely damaged Notre Dame Cathedral de Paris certainly has captured the hearts of many people. I was at my parents’ house last Monday afternoon when the ‘breaking news’ happened on the television. As you can imagine, for the next several hours the various news stations had ongoing coverage of this unfortunate fire that was engulfing one of the world’s most beautiful sanctuaries located in the heart of France. As many of the commentators recognized during the live coverage, no matter what religious tradition you belong to, Notre Dame of Paris is one of the most highly regarded cathedrals and places of worship in the Western World, welcoming upwards of 12 million a year into its threshold. Because of my role here at Old St. Patrick’s (Chicago’s historic and oldest church!), I was contacted twice for interviews on WGN Radio 720 A.M., once on Monday evening with Anna Davlantes and Richard Roeper and then again on Tuesday morning with Steve Cochran.
Admittedly I was a little nervous doing the interviews because I am not an astute authority on pretty much anything in this world, and I am definitely not “up” on my knowledge of all-things-related to the great cathedral of Paris, France. So, to somewhat prepare myself, I had to quickly check Wikipedia just to give me a little factual information about Notre Dame Cathedral in case they asked me any tricky questions! Thankfully, the conversation with the hosts was pretty easy and most of the questions had to do with just the overall significance of places like Notre Dame and the sad irony that this fire would occur during the holiest week of the church year.
Though I have been to Paris only once in my life and I have visited Notre Dame Cathedral, as previously mentioned, I only really know about as much as Google could offer me last Monday. And while I can’t quote you anything in French about the brilliant artwork, statuary, or relics that adorned the once magnificent Gothic cathedral, I can tell you this incredible edifice, constructed nearly 850 years ago, was the result of generations of families who dedicated themselves to building not just a structure, but a powerful vision! Think about it for a moment. History tells us that it took almost 200 years, from start to finish, to construct the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. If my math and my assumption are correct, we are talking about three generations of people who carried a powerful vision of what they hoped this church would look like and ultimately say to the world. And not only Notre Dame, but if you ever have the opportunity to go to Europe, make sure to go to places like St. Peter’s in Rome or the Duomos in Milan or Florence. You will not only be awestruck by the brilliance and beauty of these churches, but I bet you will be captured by the historical details of what went into putting these places together. At the heart of these incredible houses of worship was a passionate vision of faith and how a culture of disciples wanted to pay homage to the God of all creation.
There are some who might say critically, “it’s just a building.” But I would strongly suggest that it is something so much more than brick, mortar, timber, and relics. It is a sanctuary, a holy place created to express a deep and abiding Faith that people of one generation kept handing on to the next.
Just like Old St. Pat’s, which opened its doors here at Adams and Desplaines back in 1856, this place is more than just an old building. It is a sanctuary where people come to carry on the vision of the Risen Lord. Churches are not museums and they are not just tourist destinations. Rather, they are places that capture the faith and passion of a people dedicated to the mission of the gospel. Although expressed in different ways according the “signs of the times” (thank you Pope John XXIII), generations of believers gathered together to create sanctuaries, windows, statuaries, mosaics, sculptures, and communities of people to express in tangible forms the life and vitality of the Easter message.
Welcome to Old St. Patrick’s Church today! Thank you for being here and for helping us celebrate well the Easter mysteries of New Life and New Hope! May that vision, bestowed upon those first followers 2,000 years ago and handed on through the ages, be the same passion which causes us to keep building and renewing a Church that we can be proud of and one that expresses the mission of mercy, healing, and hospitality. Happy Easter!
Father Tom Hurley