Running into a Burning Church

Saturday night, I sat in the pew waiting for the Easter Vigil to start. Without a doubt, the liturgy of Easter Vigil is one of my favorites throughout the entire liturgical year. Gathered with anticipation, we await sunset and with it, the rising of the Son of God.

Staring at the flame of my small, dripping candle reminded me of the fires that attempted to consume Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this week. But that tiny flame also reminded me of the fires that engulfed the Catholic Church over the past year.

We’ve been rocked by scandal after scandal, and betrayed by those we trusted. Fear, chaos, and abandonment only begin to describe the heavy weight in the hearts of the faithful around the world.

Headline after headline describes the atrocities, and even today, the flames seem to grow ever higher. What will be left after the blaze dies down? How do we even begin to sort through the charred brokenness?

So this year, as each Catechumen walked towards the Baptismal font during the Vigil Mass, I stood in awe of their courage.

It’s never an easy decision to follow Christ in today’s world. But the headlines and pain from the past year haven’t made that decision any easier.

But they loudly proclaimed their belief in the Catholic Church on Saturday night - a broken, bloody, bruised, burned church that still stands.

Their conversion stories remind me of Caryll Houselander, who refers to herself as a “rocking horse Catholic.” She converted to Catholicism when she was seven. But after an emotionally difficult childhood, she left Catholicism during World War I and explored religious alternatives. However, she returned to Catholicism in 1925 and set to writing.

Without any formal theological or religious education, Houselander’s Reed of God gave flesh and spirit to the Catholic understanding of Our Lady. She reflected on Mary’s “yes” to God’s will, and our subsequent opportunities to say “yes” to God, despite the lack of clarity that sometimes accompanies his invitations.

We know perfectly well that there are often scandals in the Church, that despite her pure heart, her children sometimes grow worldly and base and dress her up with tawdry golden garments which they have woven with black and cunning fingers; sometimes we see nothing but ugliness in her,” she writes.

Yet, even so, she is the refuge and hope of all sinners, the joy and hope of all saints, the life and hope of every living creature; and this is because under this aspect the Church is still Christ, Christ in his passion, Christ crowned with thorns, his face covered in blood and dirt and the dust of the road on which we flung him down.

He still remains the one ultimately irresistible Person. This is why the Church is sometimes hated - ‘Wonder not if the world hate you’ - sometimes feared; it is the mystery of utter love which is recognized, if not by the head, at least by the heart, and which no wounding and no disfiguring can hide. ‘He has no comeliness whereby we shall know him.’ But we know him without comeliness.”

Why run into a church that blazes? Why find refuge in a church rocked by scandal and open yourself up to the ridicule from those who simply can’t understand why anyone would choose to become Catholic these days?

Because there’s beauty, truth, and goodness inside that's worth running in for - treasures more precious than even those rescued from the flames of Notre Dame.

Not just the crown of thorns, but the head that bore them.

Not just the relics of saints, but their intimate friendship.

Not just the beauty of age-old structure, but the sturdiness of a church who the gates of hell won’t prevail against.

Lord, this Easter, help us reveal no more your bloody, but your glorious face. Save and sanctify the Church and raise us up from the flames and ashes for a share in your glory.