Dying and Rising – A Tale of Two Marian Shrines

Fr. John Freund, C.M. | April 22, 2019

This Holy Week the world has been shocked by two horrific tragedies – the fire at Notre Dame and bombings during Easter Sunday celebrations of the eucharist in Sri Lanka. Today I would like to reflect with you on a tale of two Marian Shrines and the process of our dying and rising.

Sri Lanka

First, I would like to share with you a request for your prayers from a Vincentian seminarian from Sri Lanka where 8 simultaneous bombings took place less than 24 hours ago. A few years ago he spent a year with us prparing for vows with us here in Germantown, PA. He is now in the final stages of preparation for ordination in the Austrian Province. He knows well the place of one the bombings – an area called the “Little Rome” of Sri Lanka. Two of his aunts were spared because they were at the vigil the night before. But he also knows a family that was totally wiped out. Please pray and all the victims of religious violence throughout the world!

Notre Dame

This puts into perspective the tragedy of the fire at Notre Dame. No human life was lost. There is an iconic picture from the still smoking debris of the clearly illuminated cross over the main altar.

The cathedral was not always fared well. It was desecrated in the French Revolution and rededicated to the goddess of reason, for time even serving as a wine cellar. It survived secularization and other sandals of those days. It was not until 1801 that it was rededicated.
Since then it has seen coronations of Kings and beatifications of holy people. The bells of the church rang for the liberation of France after World War II. People gathered to pray there after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Notre-Dame was also the obvious place where people met to grieve the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, where prayers morphed spontaneously into the French national hymn, “La Marseillaise.”

Notre Dame – A special place for Vincentian Family

Notre Dame is also a special place for Congregation of the Mission and the entire Vincentian Family.

It is barely a 20-minute walk from the rue du Bac where Mary appeared to Catherine Laboure and rue du Sevres, the current home of the Vincentian mother house. Not only was it well known to Vincent, Louise and the early Daughters would have attended major feasts there.

Sr. Rosalie and Fredrick Ozanam, whom she mentored, also worshipped there. Blessed Frederic was responsible for pestering the Archbishop of Paris to have the great preacher, Lacordaire, preach Lenten sermons for youth seeking meaning in those days. Frederic was beatified there just two decades ago.

Holy Week

In its 8 centuries Notre Dame has experienced its own cycle of Holy Week. First, a quick look at the stages of the journey of Holy Week.
Holy Week began with the misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission on Palm Sunday.

Then Jesus spelled out and indeed acted out who he was on Holy Thursday. He was not the political savior but the suffering servant to come to show us the meaning of the new covenant of a God who became one of us to show that his kingdom was a kingdom of radical equality and service of one another. Washing our feet and saying, “Do this (wash one another’s feet) in memory of me.”

He went even further by living it to the limit on Good Friday.

Then there was the emptiness of Holy Saturday, a world seemingly without hope.

Finally, came the amazement on Easter when it dawns that he has literally shown us how to conquer sin and death by serving one another in memory of him.

Pentecost empowered them to live as he lived, boldly proclaiming the Good News of this Kingdom no matter the cost. This awareness of a new covenant illustrated by Jesus teaching and sacrificial example changed their lives.

They wanted to hang on to the body of Christ beyond the Ascension. But they were challenged to go even further into this mystery and find Jesus in his new body, the people of God. The angel, in effect, told them “Don’t look up. Look around you. See the people who get it and live like them.” See signs of the Resurrection in them. In them, he would be with us until the end of ages.

The Acts of the Apostles tell us of their growing understanding of the mission of Jesus… and their mission. That mission changed their lives and the world we live in to this day. But it was a process whereby they “grew in wisdom, age and grace”.

Notre Dame has seen its share of this process of dying and rising in its life.

Notre Dame is not the only shrine to rise again.

We can look to another Marian shrine on the other side of the world, this one in Nagasaki, Japan.

Twenty years later, on Aug. 9, 1945, the cathedral they were so proud of was full of Japanese Catholics attending Mass in preparation for the Feast of the Assumption. At 11:02 a.m., only hundreds of feet away, the plutonium core of a U.S. atomic bomb exploded. In an instant, it laid waste to Nagasaki; the cathedral was flattened, killing everyone inside. The pride of Japan’s Christians, the monument to their triumph over centuries of persecution, was a smoldering pile of rubble, swallowed by the surrounding post-atomic hellscape and tens of thousands of the dead.

Yet, there was indeed something beautiful in store for Nagasaki’s cathedral. Digging into the debris, the faithful made a miraculous discovery: One of the French bells had survived. On Christmas Eve1945, believers hung the bell from a tripod of cypress logs and rang the Angelus. As Father Paul Glynn writes in “A Song for Nagasaki,” the absence of any tall buildings made the song “all the clearer.”

Reconstruction of the cathedral began in 1959 and, in 1980, it was remodeled to match its original appearance. The scars are there — statues of saints broken and burned, chalices and monstrances melted and twisted. A stained glass panel in the new church depicts the ruination of the old. The famous “Madonna of Nagasaki” — a blackened and irradiated statue of the Virgin Mary — watches over the chapel..

Today, Nagasaki can give all Catholics guiding inspiration from their dying and rising. What do you do when your world goes up in flames, and the places you seek God are reduced to a smoldering ruin? Look for glimmers of grace where they can be found — and nurture hope for what remains.

What are the lessons for us?

Holy Week is not one week out of the year.

Holy Week is a cycle that sometimes spans years and indeed centuries. Holy Week is also encapsulated in the weeks and days of our lives. Dying and rising is not just something that happened to Jesus the Christ who lived and died 2000 years ago. It is something that we first enter into in our Baptism. We also undergo this process in the painful realities of our dying to our selfishness and rising to a life of service to one another.

“Do you understand what I have done? Do this in memory of me! Love one another as I have loved you.”

We are called to enter into the process of dying and rising with Christ as a church community in our darkest moments.

We are called to recognize this process as individuals in the midst of our confusions and disappointments.

We are called to honor this mystery in the events of our lives.

May Our Lady, Notre Dame, inspire and guide as we daily enter the process of dying and rising which she knew so well in her own life.

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