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Nicolais: A Holy Week miracle at Notre Dame

Through the smoke and the flames that enveloped the cathedral, the church stood

Fire ravaged the grand cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris during Holy Week, but when the flames receded to smoldering, wet mounds of wood on its floor, the church still stood. To me that is a Holy Week miracle filled with a message of promise for us all.

The news about Notre Dame reached me as most breaking stories do nowadays, through social media. Pictures and posts and shared videos of the fire burning against the night sky, all accompanied by mournful missives and lamentations.

Christian or not, we watched helplessly as something sacred slipped out of existence.

Mario Nicolais

Fear gripped our collective attention as timbers nearly a millennium old burst into flame, scorching the walls and swallowing the vaulted ceiling. The entire roof glowed an angry, otherworldly red even as hundreds of firefighters dwarfed by the great building’s stature sprayed achingly small streams of water into the inferno.

When the spire that seemed to climb from the Seine River to Heaven collapsed, hearts dropped along with it, watching it fall into a pyre indistinguishable from countless portrayals of Hell.

Only after night turned to day did the fire recede, quelled by the tears of the world and the efforts of hundreds of brave firefighters.

And the church still stood.

The stone bell towers and flying buttresses still stood against the Parisian sky. Artifacts stored within the cathedral had been saved, timeless religious remnants were rescued from smoke and flame, and relief only granted by hope flowed through our despondency.

Even if it had all burned, though, the church would have stood.

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For Christians, Holy Week reaches its nadir on Good Friday with the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. However, before his death He had promised in the Temple in Jerusalem, “Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it up in three days” (John 2:19). And when he drew his last breath, “the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:50-51).

Three days later, on Easter, He rose again and defeated death and sin.

The liturgical lesson for Christians is that God and faith — and the church found within Christ — cannot be bound by any structure, no matter how large or grand. Not the Temple in Jerusalem nor Notre Dame. His love is, in point of fact, unconditional and boundless.

And that lesson brought me back to the fire and the church and why it represents a miracle for all of us on Easter, Christian or not. As I mentioned, my first notice of the fire in Notre Dame came via social media. Specifically, it came from a Facebook post on the shared account of married English teachers I had in high school.

In her class we read the short story “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” by J.D. Salinger. It’s the narrative of a wedding ruined by a groom who did not show up because his love for his bride made him too happy to marry before a large crowd in a small building.

Instead, he waited for his devastated bride at the reception and they eloped. Paraphrasing what my junior year teacher told our class, “his love simply could not fit in the building where the wedding was to occur; no roof beams could ever be raised high enough to fit the happiness that came from his love.”

So as the roof from Notre Dame burned and finally fell, and people around the world began sharing their own pictures and photos and memories of the cathedral and beauty and inspiration it bestowed upon them, I saw through the devastation to a miracle.

God had removed the roof beams from the grandest of His buildings to make room for the only church that matters, the love that burns within each of our hearts.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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