Notre Dame burning is not simply shocking but tragic. A cathedral which stood for more than 800 years ends up being tinder and in a few hours the iconic steeple has fallen and the roof has caved in to leave it a shell of its former self. There is no way to speak of this profound loss to Roman Catholicism, to Christianity, and to France. That said, what Notre Dame stands for was long ago lost to France and it's fire burned image only highlights the sad state of affairs for the Christian faith there.
I am confident that my words will be echoed by those who grieve not simply for the loss of a building but for the faith in a nation where history had woven together the fate of the people with a Christian identity. Europe has been on a deliberate march toward a post-Christian society that has been remarkably successful according to research that has shown a majority of young people in a dozen
countries have no religion. Majorities of the young do not attend religious services or pray or even identify as religious and France is among the top 8 most secular nations according to recent surveys.
Though there is some anecdotal evidence of a religious revival in France, 53 percent of citizens identify as Catholic, less than 5 percent regularly attend Mass, according to a recent poll conducted by Ipsos and reported by the Catholic newspaper La Croix. Priestly vocations are pathetic though some would suggest that they are not declining like they once were -- hardly much of an encouragement in a nation in which many priests are still actively serving even into their late 70s. How will renewal happen without priests to lead? Even with those who identify as Roman Catholics (culturally, at least), the distance between these and their Church on Sunday morning does not encourage the idea of renewal. Christian identity remains stronger outside of France (in Italy, as one example, where nearly a third of the population believes the faith is very important to their national identity).
The most interest in religion is France was sparked by politics more than theology. Since 1905, the government is supposedly neutral toward religion. Since 1912, Islam has been legally recognized though no one would dare to suggest that Islam has received a warm welcome or instant acceptance among the French, whether they are religious French or not. Only 120 some priests were ordained across the whole of France last year and about a fifth of them ordained belong to traditionalist communities. Half of the dioceses did not ordain even one priest in 2018.
So if you grieve a building, you must first of all grieve the loss of Christianity and if you are sad to see such an icon be destroyed then you must also grieve the loss of what was iconed -- orthodox Christianity. It will be a monumental task to rebuild Notre Dame but the restoration of a building is still easier than recovering the faith and restoring a deep and profound Christian character to the nation. So if we pray for a building today, let us pray even more fervently for the renewal of orthodox and catholic Christianity or we will be left with a monument to what was -- instead of a voice and a community in testimony of what is and will be. . .