Easter Vigil Homily, 2019
What was it that impacted us so powerfully when we learned that the Cathedral of Notre Dame was on fire? I had never even been there, but it was as though someone had told me my house was on fire. I remember when, a good number of years ago now, a member of my family told me that the house in which I grew up was on fire. My family had moved out a number of years prior. The property had to be cleared so apartments could be built. Local firemen decided to burn the old farmhouse for practice. It still hit me right in the gut. This was the place that housed part of my childhood. It held my memories. In some way it was part of my identity going up in flames!
I suspect that might be at least part of what we were feeling as we heard this news. To some extent we all, whether Catholic or not, believers or not, saw this as part of our identity, our heritage. If it had been instead the Eifel Tower or Parliament in England or even the US Capital we would have felt the loss. But this was a church, a Catholic church. It lies in the center of Paris, one of the world’s great cities and had served as the beating heart of that city for more than 850 years.
No other building could have served the same purpose and done it so well because this church speaks to the history, the meaning and identity of the French people in a way that transcends any other factor that could tell them about themselves. Even for those who attempted to put their identity aside and go off on their own as people without a living faith it served as a tenuous but important cord that spoke to them of home. The French, and really all of us, are in many ways like toddlers who feel brave to wander away from the grasp of mom but who become fearful if she is out of sight.
I suspect we have all had moments like this in our life of Faith. Some of us have wandered, searching for a home that we have somehow longed for without even being able to put a finger upon what it was for which we were hungering. Some of us grew up knowing where home was but we nevertheless struck out on our own like the Prodigal Son, thinking there must be something even better over the next hill. We set out on our own only to soon discover that we were lost.
Tonight we have gathered in our beautiful Cathedral. We have gathered with our Catechumen Elect who will find themselves on this night in the home they now realize is the place, the Faith, they have searched for, longed for. We who are already Baptized, fully initiated members of the Church, have come together with them to celebrate the event in our history that brings meaning and identity to every aspect of our lives, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We rejoice to welcome those who will also be adopted into the family of God.
We have heard through the Scriptures in summary form how God created us and formed a People whom he called His own. We listened as we recognized his merciful love revealed to us through the ages. Our hearts have filled with joy once again as we sing our Alleluias, praising God for His victory over sin and death and we rejoice to know that His victory is ours as well.
Yes, brothers and sisters, we are home! Our home is no passing building of bricks and wood, but the very Body of Christ, made up of feeble sinful members like ourselves, but which at the same time is the holy and undying Body of the Risen One, who lives and reigns forever and ever! AMEN! ALLELUIA!
Bp. Mark J. Seitz
April 20, 2019