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The 'witness' Of Notre Dame Cathedral Remains

By Father Tyler Tenbarge
Father Tyler Tenbarge

Editor’s Note – Father Tenbarge provided The Message with the text of his homily from the April 15 Mass for Vocations at St. Boniface Parish’s Sacred Heart Church in Evansville. He spoke just a few hours after the tragic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

In John 12:1-11 people come to Jesus because they want to see Lazarus. Why do they want to see Lazarus? What might seeing Lazarus do for them? 

This afternoon the great Cathedral of Notre Dame went up in flames. Arguably the most beautiful Cathedral in the world, and certainly the finest example of French Gothic architecture, this massive stone structure took nearly 200 years to build. In 2013 it celebrated its 850th anniversary. Some of the trees used in her ceiling were seedlings some 1,000 years ago. Her 300-foot-tall spire was the tallest man-made point in the whole city of Paris. Today, it burned. 

As news anchors asked art historians, churchmen, authors and government leaders about what will happen next for Notre Dame, most of them instantly said, “we will rebuild it.” Some say, “Imagine how expensive that will be.”

“Imagine how expensive”…. Sound familiar?

In tonight’s Gospel people come to Jesus and not only because they are interested in him, but because they want to see Lazarus. Why? Because Jesus did something for him. Because God’s power was on display in the person of Lazarus. Because Lazarus was dead and is now alive. If they can come see Lazarus, then they might believe in Jesus (John 12:11).

Likewise, one of those people who was with Jesus that evening is Mary. She took a jar of costly perfume and used it on Jesus’ feet. Not his head or his hands, but on the dirtiest part of his body: his feet. She wasted it, Judas chided. 300 days wages was for nothing, says Judas. 

But was it for nothing? Was it wasted?

It is estimated that 50,000 people walk through Notre Dame every day. That is 1.5 million every month. If we just take a conservative number from that, like 1 million per month, that is 12 million a year. And if we make that more conservative as well, 10 million per year is 1 billion every century. And since Notre Dame has presided over Paris for some 850 years, it is possible that 8 billion people may have passed through her doors. That is more people than are currently on the planet.

Countless faithful women and men have visited her altars. Countless tourists have seen the immense and fragile Rose window. Countless pilgrims have fallen to their knees and lit candles, not to mention how many sins have been forgiven, and how many marriages been witness and souls baptized in the soaring cathedral’s heart directly below the now-formerly towering spire. How much money will it cost to rebuild it? I don’t know that it matters if even just one more soul steps into that building and finds God there.

Judas gets angry because a follower of Christ decided to spend money on the Lord while people are milling about the same place trying to see Lazarus and come to believe by seeing the sign. How many have come to believe because their eyes were lifted at Notre Dame? 

Because of the great sign of Lazarus, some followed Christ, the Son of God, and when a person truly finds God, he or she gives the Lord everything. Just like Mary did. 

We do not need buildings to have faith, but history proves that they sure do help us believe. In the days to come, I hope we see lots of gifts being given back to God as we continue to show forth God’s power and glory in our Church, and May Our Lady once again help us – and the billions who may come in the centuries after – to enter once again under her roof.

Fr. Tenbarge serves as Chaplain and Director of the Father Deydier House of Discernment, and Associate Pastor at St. Boniface Parish.