I am a Catholic Christian. I was raised in a Catholic home and went to Catholic school from Kindergarten through high school. In college, I became involved with evangelical and charismatic groups and eventually became an Episcopal priest. After a few years, I returned to the Catholic Church where I have remained the past 22 years and I have no plans to leave.
I write this in order to give the reader some idea of my theological beliefs (orthodox and conservative). I am not given to readily accept signs from God or prophecies–although I believe God does send them sometimes. For example, in the mid-1980s, when I was a young man, I was teaching at a Catholic high school in a well-known southern city. A friend who taught with me was from a mid-sized midwestern city–I’ll call it Peoria, though it wasn’t Peoria. His parents were aging and wanted him to return home and take over the family business. He was torn. He was a serious Catholic Christian and very much wanted to do whatever God wanted him to do. He prayed for God to give him wisdom; he needed to make a decision, but he wasn’t sure what course to take. One day he opened the newspaper and there was a full-page ad that read “Come Home to Peoria.” That was it. He was sure that was God’s message for him. That was more than 30 years ago, and it seems that it was indeed “what God wanted.”
I’m wondering if the burning down of Notre Dame in Paris is a message from God. I do not insist on it. Bad things happen in this vale of tears. Nothing lasts forever in this world. But I have an idea that there’s something more here. Notre Dame is a symbol of the West–the Catholic Faith, Western Civilization, the rule of Law, the dignity of human beings made in the image of God, the knowledge that we are flawed sinners who cannot save ourselves–“poor, banished children of Eve”–yet objects of God’s love and mercy and grace, who can experience redemption and live lives of love, purpose, meaning and sacrifice. When I watched the steeple fall I felt like weeping; I had a sense that it was symbolic of some greater fall–a collapse, almost an apocalypse.
In the late 1970s, I used to go to a meeting on Monday nights in Washington DC. It was called “Take and Give,” or TAG. There was glorious worship of God followed by some of the best Bible teaching I have ever heard. I remember one night the speaker saying “Folks, it’s madness!” referring to the deteriorating social situation in those days. There were indeed troubles 40 years ago, but who could have imagined the lunacy we face today? “Same-sex marriage” and transgenderism top the list perhaps, but the lemming-like march to socialism and the continuing breakdown in social discourse are perhaps equally alarming. It seems likely that what someone has recently dubbed “The War on Reality” will continue unabated.
Today I was reading the recent message from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. His account of the sexual revolution is horrifying, but it shows us how we got to where we are now. Also, over at First Things, there is an article by a writer named Jacob Williams–an English-born former Anglican–who tells why he became a Muslim. I suspect you’ve never read anything quite like this piece. I think he has made a big mistake becoming a Muslim, but he has tremendous insight into the emptiness of our dying culture. It is definitely worth reading and pondering.
Is the burning of Notre Dame a warning from God? I don’t know, and we have enough warnings of the consequences of rebellion against God’s ways in the Bible and in the writings of popes and saints and the great writers if we will only heed them. But it sure looks to me as if our society is coming apart. The burning of Notre Dame seems somehow to illustrate the catastrophe that is engulfing us.