Construction for the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was begun in 1160. Eight hundred miles away and twenty one years later, in 1181, Giovanni Pietro di Bernardone (later known as ‘Francesco’) was born in Assisi, Italy.
We all know the story of Francis as a young adult, trying to discern what he was to do with his life. Wandering around the outskirts of Assisi one day, he happened upon San Damiano, a little church in need of repair. He gazed upon the Byzantine style icon of the crucifixion and the eyes of Jesus seemed locked on him. Francis asked, “Lord, what do you what me to do? Show me what you want me to do with my life.” As clear as day, a voice responded, “Francis, go and rebuild my church which, as you see, is falling down.”
It took some time before Francis realized that Jesus wasn’t asking him to physically rebuild San Damiano. He was called to rebuild the church, the human institution that was dangerously close to falling apart.
It took close to two hundred years for the completion of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Meanwhile, during his brief 44 years of life, the influence of Francis of Assisi had already swept across Europe, transforming the lives of thousands of women and men.
On Monday of this Holy Week, a horrendous fire swept through the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, destroying major portions of the gothic landmark. Within two days, donations for its repair had already totaled more than a billion dollars.
It’s extraordinary to think that financial contributions for the Cathedral are accumulating so readily and to such a significant amount. Just weeks ago, many leaders were encouraging people to “not give a dime” to the Catholic church, in an attempt to force the Bishops to do something exceptional in response to the scandal of clergy sex abuse and its cover-up.
The question comes to mind: Do we care more about repairing a damaged 850 year old cathedral or the protection of children, the healing of those who have been wounded by the sex scandal, and the “rebuilding” of a new form of church governance, a way that is grounded in truth, authentically transparent, and spirited by the compassion of Christ?
Or, do we simply need a new Francis of Assisi?