Mgr Éric de Moulins Beaufort, Auxiliary Bishop of Paris
|Tourists watch as Mass is celebrated in Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris|
Whether one will allow himself to make the connection between the awe they feel in the face of such an encounter , and the need for religion and God in his live will of course vary from person to person. Unfortunately, in an increasingly secular world in which we find ourselves, especially here in post-revolutionary France, such epiphanies are few and far between. So is the incoherence of the modern mind. But even if full conversion does not occur (and many times they do; there are countless accounts of people being converted after a visit to theses churches), one cannot but be challenged to think of things beyond this world, that is the divine, even if just for a moment in places like Notre Dame. With its imposing statues of Christ, the saints, Mary, along with breathtaking stain glass windows and soaring ceilings, one's mind cannot remain "in this world" for long. Nor can one remain spiritual unaffected, even for a moment, at the sight of witnessing a beautiful Mass, draped in all the pomp and circumstance one would expect to accompany a Cathedral Mass, not to mention coming face to face with a bishop imparting his apostolic blessing as he passes by, so humbly, lovingly-- and confidently.
Of course, an encounter with the divine is what all these cathedrals, churches, and monasteries were first created to provide. They are supposed to give us "a glimpse of heaven." They endeavor to raise the eyes of the souls of those who work in them, visit them, pray in them, are nourished by the Eucharist in them. While times are different, and the society in which we find ourselves does very little to cultivate an appetite for beauty- for God- as it often did when these places were first built, efforts to erase the yearning of the heart for that which they have always symbolized have always failed. I've heard it said that "modernism will fail for the same reason why tradition will prevail. Beauty endures." What is it about beauty that makes it endure? Beautiful things are but a reflection of the ultimate beauty we long for, beauty itself, that is God. Structures, images, pictures, and ceremony that reflect the divine will never cease to attract onlookers, will never cease to move the soul. While this search exists inside all of us, it is often mis-placed. We often look to ambition, money, sex, and prestige to satisfy this desire. Yet, we find in each one of these that they fail to satisfy man's search for meaning. With so many lives in disarray in our society today, suffering the malaise that comes from an absence of God and deep and fulfilling relationships, places like Notre Dame, and experiences of a beautiful Mass and the moving sight of a bishop blessing his people, have the potential of being all the more impactful. The confidence exuded by so many of these churches in Europe, of the Mass, and of the bishop, however, is intimidating to modern man, who believes, and who is told that nothing and no one is above him. But, at the same time, it resonates with the yearning one has for a leader, a father-- for God (we never cease to be like little children. We want the security of a good parent, without the restrictions they impose for our own good).