Three French temples
On my way to Notre Dame the first time, I got into Paris late and disoriented. I walked a good long time, then gave up and stopped at a hotel. Oops, no – it was a brothel. I figured it out after the fourth or fifth guy came in, met a girl, and went upstairs laughing. I left there, and went on to see Pere Rene Bel, my host, a canon at Notre Dame. He was a very precise thinker, like Germain Grisez; but underneath his brain and brow lurked a warm and hospitable heart (also like Germain Grisez). I don’t remember much of what he said, except my name – with a strong English “J” – followed by a richly intoned French/German/English vowel or three resembling an “O” that no one outside France will ever recapture – and ending with a firm and finite but still musical “N” song.
We were concerned about the destruction of fetuses – tiny sanctuaries of the Lord. How can we learn to be more gentle and respectful of each other? And about chastity: an orphaned notion, a form of love that builds rapidly past physical attraction toward a dozen more durable facets of a relationship.
O Marie, notre dame, in whose body the transformation of the universe began to unfold, can we build (or continue to build, or rebuild) a society in which the bodies of women are respected, and the lives of the unborn are cherished – and maybe even our glass and stones can be re-imagined?
The first time I visited the masjid (mosque) on New Hampshire Avenue alone, a dozen people went out of their way to make me feel welcome. I was deeply moved by the careful questions of one man who wanted to understand what I thought about Mary, or Maryam. Did I think about her? Did I love her? How did she pray? And was this love for her a bond between us? The Quran says more about her than the Bible does. Christians and Muslims disagree about some things we say about her, and perhaps we can fight savagely about it. But why should we? I think she can figure out who is sincere. I think she can take care of herself, and explain herself without my help.
Notre Dame was not a pilgrim site for Muslims, as far as I know. But when it’s re-built, maybe it will be. In our age (nostra aetate), we are learning better how to share the joys and hopes (gaudium et spes) of all mankind.
Catholics are an odd bunch. We treasure bits and pieces of our heroes – not just their crowns or books or homes, but bits of their bones and such. (It’s not just us. I treasure a gift from a Muslim friend, a relic: a small scrap of black cloth that was once part of a cover for the Kaaba in Mecca.) Notre Dame had a collection of relics, and many people were immensely relieved to hear that the relics weren’t in the basilica when it burned.
Cool. But God constructs his own temple, in the hearts of his people. The bodies of his beloved children matter. I think of the children and the mothers and the families of fugitives at our border and in “temporary” refugee camps all over the Middle East. I want the stones and glass in Paris to be rebuilt. But far more, I pray that widows and orphans and strangers will find a welcome and a home among God’s people. And I am certain that this is the Lord’s priority too. Quite certain.
I pray also that a new scourge of a new age will be addressed in the rebuilding – even if it takes a change in canon law to make it happen. When the relics of ages past go back into the rebuilt Notre Dame, I pray that the bodies of some unborn children – rejected neglected dismembered and discarded – will join them in places of grief and honor.