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What Notre Dame Means to Me, a Lifelong Catholic

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Unread 04.16.19, 07:55 PM
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What Notre Dame Means to Me, a Lifelong Catholic

On 04.16.19 12:58 PM posted by Monica Burke

I almost didn’t go to Paris.

We were only a few weeks into our semester abroad inItaly, and I was still struggling with culture shock. Even though Europe wasjust as beautiful as I had always hoped, I was still frightened to venture toofar from the comfort of our quiet apartment complex atop one of Rome’s manyhills.

We had a free weekend coming up and I still hadn’tmade any plans to travel like the rest of my classmates. My two roommatesinvited me to come with them to France—a brief trip to Paris and Lisieux. Idon’t know why, but I said yes.

I will be forever grateful that I did.

When our early morning flight touched down in France,I was completely disoriented. Between the three of us, we only knew enoughFrench to order food and ask for basic directions. I tried to order coffee at aStarbucks in broken French while we waited for a shuttlebus. Somehow I ended upwith hot chocolate instead.

We boarded our bus and made our way to Paris. Our firststop: Notre Dame Cathedral.

As a lifelong Catholic, catching sight of the loomingtowers of Notre Dame was almost unreal. This cathedral, for me, had always beena place from a long time ago in a land far away. Yet here it was, in all itsglory.

It was early morning, so we had to squint in thesunlight and crane our necks to observe the towers and striking steeple. It wasalso cold, early winter, off-season for tourists, so the square was relativelyempty. It felt like we had the place to ourselves. We took a few photos andresolved to go inside later.

After walking along the Seine River, exploring the Shakespeareand Company bookshop, and sampling some authentic French pastries, we returnedto Notre Dame for Mass. Tourists had to pay money to access the museum part ofthe cathedral, but since we were there to pray, we were able to go inside forfree.

Walking beneath the huge Gothic arches and past the stunning stained glass windows, I could not believe this church was made of tangible wood and stone. I was so used to encountering the cathedral as a painting or pixelated image on a computer screen that I could not fathom its scale and detail in person. It was resplendent. It transcended everyday experience and evoked the eternal.
It was resplendent. It transcended everyday experience and evoked the eternal.
As Mass began, my roommates and I realized we wereseated behind a young French family—father and mother, daughter and son. Thelittle ones could not have been more than a few years old. I observed themthroughout the Mass, as these parents lovingly showed their children how tomake the sign of the cross and showed them when to sit and stand and kneel.

For the first time in months, I felt at home. Thisimage of love, which could just as easily have been found in any other churchin any other part of the world, felt so personal. I smiled at this familyduring the sign of peace and thanked God for them.

Immediately after Mass, my roommates and I knelt tosay some prayers of thanksgiving after Communion, and we were surprised thateveryone else around us was staying too.

What we didn’t realize is that, during Lent, pilgrimsat Notre Dame have an opportunity to venerate the Crown of Thorns, a relicbelieved to be the true crown of thorns worn by Christ during his Passion.Suddenly, we were enveloped in sweet incense, and the priest brought out thecrown.

I immediately began to cry. I had frequently meditatedon Christ’s crowning with thorns that semester as a prayer for a specialintention. And here it was, the very crown! I could not believe it. It had tobe Providence.

Soon thereafter, security ushered us out of thechurch. I distinctly remember casting a final glance at one of the glitteringrose windows, and thinking to myself, “I have to come back.”

I thought Notre Dame would always be there, waitingfor me. I still cannot fathom what we have lost after this devastating fire.

Yet there is hope.

The medieval stonework preserved the most sacred partof the church, the sanctuary, and a brave chaplain accompanied firemen torescue the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament. Even after the fire, themost essential elements were preserved.

Even from the ashes, Notre Dame reminds us which direction is home. We do not spend hundreds of years building grand cathedrals “just because.” These sacred spaces bring us closer to God. They remind us where we come from and where we are going.
Even from the ashes, Notre Dame reminds us which direction is home.
The overwhelming sense of grief shared worldwide afterthe fire is a testament to this truth. Notre Dame is more than a landmark. Itbears spiritual meaning. How fitting that this should have happened during HolyWeek, when we meditate on death being overcome by new life.

That is why we must rebuild—not out of nostalgia, but forthe sake of what really matters.

I will be forever grateful that I had the chance toexperience the beauty of Notre Dame. Yet I am even more moved by the projectthat lays ahead of us.

To rebuild is to refocus our lives on what is mostimportant, what I found at the cathedral—family, friendship, and most of all,faith. I, for one, am eager to begin.

The post What Notre Dame Means to Me, a Lifelong Catholic appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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