A few words as we enjoy this season of Easter.
The recent fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame unsettled millions, and for a good reason. It’s hard to look a monumental structure, centuries old, at the heart of one of the world’s great cities, and not feel that something foundational is being lost. It’s even harder to watch the inferno televised live. What will be destroyed? What will survive, if anything? I was glad to hear that art and relics were rescued, and that copper statues on the destroyed and fallen spire had been removed the week before. But even that kind of news delivers its own problem: a moment-by-moment analysis gives every new development particular urgency, even causing anxiety.
And buildings as old as that cathedral, aren’t supposed to be examined moment by moment. When we think casually about them or the mountains or the seas, they seem eternal, a thought that doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. Instead, the damage reminds us how fragile material things are, even great ones, carefully built and maintained. I suppose that’s what makes news of the shrinking and unstable icecaps in Antarctica and Greenland — objectively more important than Notre-Dame — so difficult to rally mass response: close scrutiny is too frightening, particularly if it means our homes (or our children’s or grandchildren’s) are washed away and are no more.
Next Sunday, the first after Easter, is often called Low Sunday, and historically Quasimodo Sunday. Quasimodo (“as if…”) from the Western Church introit, proper to the day:
Quasi modo geniti infantes, Alleluia, rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, Alleluia. Exultate Deo adjutori nostro: jubilate Deo Jacob.
As newborn babes, Alleluia, desire ye the rational milk without guile, Alleluia. Rejoice to God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob.
Thanks to Victor Hugo, the name Quasimodo — he was discovered abandoned on the Sunday after Easter and so named — is a byword for a tragic figure, shunned by society, and few understand his courageous nature. Though fictional, no figure is better identified with Notre-Dame, even if (like me) you have never read the book and only have a sense of him from films or other elements of popular culture.
So pardon me taking the literary allusion and pointing it back to the original, the introit. As those reborn, given new life by our Savior, we put away guile and self-deceipt. They are false friends, and keep us from living life fully and richly. Easter fills us with emotional warmth, a sense of awe and loving tenderness. But it also bids us to sharpen our mind, train our discernment and contemplate our duty to one another. Rejoice, therefore: the cathedral was not destroyed and someday will be rebuilt. Rejoice more for the presence of mind that guides us to vital, the precious, the good and the eternal; and that will to overcome tragedy, adopt courage, take on needful work, and bring it to its goal. Such living makes our mind, body and soul a cathedral before the living God.
Please tell your friends and associates about the Universalist Christian Initiative. They can sign up for these updates at universalistchristian.org/join/.
(The Rev.) Scott Wells