The image of the golden cross, which remained untouched by fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, speaks to the
whole world. (CNS photo)
The image of the golden cross, which remained untouched by fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, speaks to the whole world. (CNS photo)

Sometimes trusting in God is extremely difficult, especially when we do not understand what He is doing. In difficult times, amidst disaster, death, disappointment and discouragement, I have found myself thinking as Simon of Cyrene must have thought, ‘Whose Cross is this, and why do I have to carry it?’ However, virtues like faith, hope and charitable love mean little if they are not challenged. It is in times of difficulty that these virtues matter most and bring people closest to God. 

Last summer, I and two other seminarians visited Notre Dame de Paris. I have always admired the regal beauty of gothic cathedrals.  From the first moment I entered, I was overwhelmed with her beauty and scale.  Her slender spires and vertical vaulting reminded me of upside-down icicles. She was filled with people, bathed in colorful light shining through the stained glass, the pleasant aroma of incense and hauntingly beautiful chants as vespers began. More than a building, her art, relics and overwhelming beauty speak to something deep within us. Her history connects us with generations of Catholics who have worshiped there for centuries. Everything about that Cathedral lifted my soul to God. 

However, on Monday of Holy Week, we all saw an empty, cold, cavernous church, like a tomb, bathed in darkness, dripping with water, ashes hovering in the air, and smoldering rubble still coughing out smoke. But, in the midst of it all, shining brightly, unmistakably, was that huge golden cross. It seemed to rise above the ruins. Images of this scene of the interior of Notre Dame were displayed on television and computer screens the world over at the beginning of Holy Week, and the symbolism resonated everywhere. 

That cross was and is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice; Christ’s love. That night, the Cross spoke to the whole world from inside the charred remains of so great an edifice.  There we saw that Christ is the answer, the triumph over all. There is a lesson for our own personal lives here. Whatever wreckage is in our lives, whatever wounds we have, we can leave them at the foot of the cross.  It may be painful to approach the Cross, but in few places are we closer to Christ than in the shadow of His Cross. That cross is a reminder that Christ is in the brokenness in our lives and that faith, hope, love and trust in God matter most when they are most difficult to live. 

There is something else that really stood out that day.  In the midst of an often aggressively secular society, people stopped, knelt in the streets and prayed. They could be heard singing the Hail Mary in French. A great act of devotion taking place on the same streets where the French Revolution took place. For me, this brings hope. Christ is still drawing people to Himself. The firefighters and their chaplain rushing into the cathedral to save the relics, artwork, and the Blessed Sacrament showed me that even in this secular world where God is often ignored and excluded, people are still drawn to Him.

The triumph of the cross also made me think of St. Blandina. A teenager who suffered persecution and martyrdom at the hands of Roman authorities in France in the second century. After suffering unimaginable tortures for days and having to watch others be tortured and killed for their faith, she refused to deny hers.  Eventually, she was beheaded in the local arena and her remains were left there as a warning to other Christians. It seems so hopeless. But, in that moment, God turned power on its head. The Roman authorities had armies, weapons and every tool of torture and imprisonment at their disposal, but they could not make this teenage girl renounce her faith. In the end, the faith spread, and her remains were a reminder to the authorities that their power meant nothing and her faith triumphed. They had her body burned and the ashes swept away so that nothing would remain of her, yet she is remembered, and they are forgotten. Even in the darkest of times, when we don’t understand, God is at work and Christ is our light. Trust in Him.