Shortly after word spread today that Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was being ravaged by fire, the hashtag #PrayforNotreDame began trending on social media.
At first, that struck me as odd.
Why pray for a building — even a church building? (Don’t we always say the Church isn’t a building; the Church is its people?) When human tragedies occur, we understand the hashtag, #PrayforX, to mean praying for the people who are affected in that location.
But then I realized: To pray for Notre Dame is to pray for the millions of lives that were touched by her life.
The hundreds who felled trees or hewed stone or dug earth during nearly two hundred years of construction.
The hundreds who contributed art and sculpture, stained glass and ornate metal to her beautification.
The thousands who lifted their voices in word, prayer, and song from between her walls.
The men and women, boys and girls who called this church “home.”
The multiplied millions from generation upon generation who lived and loved in her generous shadow.
To pray for Notre Dame is to pray for all the marriages united there, all the children christened there, all the kings crowned there, all the lives given a holy farewell from within her hallowed bosom.
To pray for Notre Dame is to remember those who swept her floors and scrubbed her walls and cast up scaffolding to heal her wounds.
To pray for Notre Dame is to gaze upon the multitudes that flocked to her presence year upon year.
To pray for Notre Dame is to remember that God requested for His people to build a house that He might dwell among them. That first house, made of cloth and animal skins, was the center of a community of freed people, much as Notre Dame is the soul of her city.
To pray for Notre Dame is to remember that a bloody, sinful man laid plans for a second, more glorious house in which God would dwell. This time, a house of gold and cedar and ivory. A house with which God was so pleased that He sent His glory to abide in it.
To pray for Notre Dame is to remember that Jesus entered the rebuilt Temple and vehemently declared, “This is My Father’s house! A house for my Father’s people!”
I am of the belief that a building has spirit — some essence that remains no matter how many times it is renovated, or torn down and rebuilt, or left to lie in ruin. No matter how many tired, weary feet track dirt and debris over its polished floors.
Thank God, Notre Dame still stands. Paris would have been the lesser if, as had been feared, she was totally lost. Still, she’s been severely battered and bruised. Her beloved city is reeling in pain. And it’s okay to grieve over her terrible wounds.
But, it’s worth it to remember that the Gates of Hell will never prevail against Our Lady.