It’s not every day that someone performs an act of bravery that simultaneously expresses the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, but Father Jean-Marc Fournier, did just that. As the flames engulfed the Cathedral of Notre Dame on Monday, Father Fournier—who serves as the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade—ran into the cathedral with a team of firefighters to save the Blessed Sacrament and Jesus’ Crown of Thorns.
As MSN reports:
‘Father Fournier is an absolute hero,’ a member of the emergency services said.
‘He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.’
There is a popular narrative going around about the Catholic priests of the world that paints them in a very bad light, as though the crimes of some are the crimes of all. But as I read this account of Father Fournier, one thing kept coming to mind. I truly believe that every priest I personally know, when put in that same situation, would have done exactly the same thing. That is not to discount the heroic actions of Father Fournier; quite the contrary, it is to exalt the very dignity of the priesthood itself and the quiet heroism of those who live up to their callings.
To be sure, watching the fire of Notre Dame will go down as one of those “Where were you when?” moments, and each of us Catholics will have a lasting impression. And in addition to Father’s act of heroism, there was something else that struck me about these events that will remain with me.
There are those who believe that the Catholic Faith has been abandoned by both clergy and laity alike. They are wrong. There are still priests like Father Fournier. There are French children who tearfully said the Rosary outside their beloved cathedral. There are those who sang songs in prayer to their Heavenly Mother. There are Catholics, not only in France but around the world, who prayed for the safety of the brave fire fighters as they attempted to save their nation’s precious treasure.
There are reports that the Catholic Faith in France has been lost. That’s not what I saw yesterday. Rather, yesterday’s events served as a reminder that Our Lady has a special love for the people of France that fire cannot destroy nor diminish, and that many Catholics in France return that love.
There were many news outlets that claimed that Notre Dame had been destroyed—that the terrible fire would finally erase the place of worship for many Catholics. There may even be those who are so hostile to the Catholic Faith that they celebrated the destruction. But, especially as pledges of millions of euros are made to rebuild the cathedral, we have every reason to believe the events of this terrible fire will serve instead to strengthen the faith of Catholics in France and around the world.
On Sunday, Catholics everywhere will celebrate Easter once again. Once again, we will be reminded of how Jesus conquered death with His Resurrection. As First Corinthians puts it, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
If death cannot claim a victory, neither can fire. And in this light, with our eyes continually focused on the death and resurrection of Our Lord and Savior, we might ask, Fire, where is your victory?