Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
France’s greatest tourist attraction?
France’s premier museum?
France’s top UNESCO World Heritage site?
In secular France, the land of the Revolution, you’d think these descriptions would be enough. But clearly they are not. Not even for the French, the resolutely secular French, who knelt in the streets and prayed as she burned.
Notre Dame. Our Lady. Through whom, at the Annuciation, our Saviour took flesh. At whose intercession Our Lord performed his first miracle at Cana, turning water into wine. Who stood with Him at the Cross. Who cradled his body in her arms, that her soul too was pierced. Whom He made mother to the lost and fugitive disciples.
Our Lady: her powerful ministry of love quiet, unnoticed, downplayed.
Forgotten in the turmoil of the Protestant Reformations, when God was made all power and sovereign will, all masculinity and muscle, unfettered from a mother’s love.
Forgotten in the violence of the French Revolution, when tens of thousands were executed brutally for daring to perpetuate her love; when to be a “real woman” was to be more warrior than mother.
Forgotten now, as our young men die in the cities by each other’s blades.
Even in these times when a mother’s love for her sons is most needed, it is downplayed, degraded, ignored. And yet it persists, unseen: until some act of violence makes us realise what we have been missing.
Notre Dame. Our Lady.
Not some tourist attraction, some museum, some bit of heritage. But House of God; Ark of the Covenant; Gate of Heaven; Cause of our Salvation; Throne of Wisdom; Morning Star who shows the way: now that’s more like it.
That’s Our Lady. That’s Notre Dame.
If only, this Easter, we could have a faith like hers.
Persistent in adversity.
Persistent when forgotten and derided.
Persistent even through centuries of scorn.
Quietly discerning and reaping the fruits of the Resurrection, gently offering them to all who seek refuge.
Can we have a faith like Mary’s?
Maybe not. Maybe there is too much evil in this world. Too much darkness, too much scorn. Maybe we do not want to be noticed or known in a country where Mary’s faith in her Son is written off as superstition, reckoned as evidence of bigotry and ignorance. Maybe we do not want to be associated with the evil the Church itself has perpetuated through the ages and the abuses it continues to this day. Maybe we fear being discredited, put to shame.
But listen again to the words of the Exultet, that ancient Easter Preface, which Deacons of the Church have sung for 1500 years.
Felix culpa: “happy fault.”
The Exultet proclaims the sin of Adam “truly necessary,” even “happy;” just as we proclaim the darkest Friday of the year as “Good.” For without Adam’s theft from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the wood on which the New Adam hangs would never bloom into the Tree of Life. The Cross would be just an instrument of death; Our Lord, just a dead rabbi.
There is no Easter without Good Friday. The Christian story is not a Sunday school tale of happy endings. God makes good come from evil, yes: eternal life from an instrument of death. But the darkness does not just go away.
For as Christ awakens from the tomb, the Deacons sing, the “dark is itself radiant.” This echoes the Psalmists words to God, when he too sings:
“Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day. The darkness and the light are both alike to thee.”
The darkness begins to dazzle with new light.
Even our most awful sins reveal the boundless mercy of that Shepherd who, on Easter Eve, would plunge as far as Hell to save his sheep.
A happy fault.
The faith of Mary is the faith which sees this clearly.
When He rises, Jesus is changed.
Seeing him again, alive, in his new form, knowing that she will forever live with Him, brings Mary joy: but what could ever take away the soul-piercing pain she knew from watching him suffer and die, from holding her Son’s body, stabbed by a spear, mangled by the Cross?
The pain and the joy coexist.
Christian faith does not take all your pain away, does not turn all the world into bunnies and bonnets and chocolate eggs. You meet people who think that it does, that they’ve won a one-way ticket to heaven, but you can see straight through the smiles they force.
True faith does not take the darkness away: it makes the darkness dazzle.
So perhaps with eyes of faith, we might see the devastation in Paris in a different way. Perhaps we might see the people kneeling, praying, questioning – noticing.
And not now, but in time, maybe we will be able to say that after all, it was a happy fault.
Christ is Risen.
Death is conquered.
But the victory was not easy, and we do still feel the sting.
So let’s rejoice, but let’s not make the joy cheap. Let’s not take the Sacrifice for granted.
The austerity of Lent may be over, but our new life in faith has just begun. And so, I urge you: deepen your prayer life, don’t drop it.
Learn to pray the Rosary, to see the Lord with Mary’s eyes. Dwell deeper in the dazzling darkness and learn in it to see the light.
If you are not baptised, be baptised! Join in Christ’s death and let His Resurrection liven you.
If you are baptised, prepare for Confirmation if you haven’t already, and receive the Eucharist, often and with faith, learn to see more clearly the Body and Blood of the Saviour here, and taste the bittersweet fruits of eternal life.
As you participate in the divine mysteries today, may the darkness become as light for you, death as life, water as wine – and all your faults be happy.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.