The Cathedral is Not the Church

by Rose Marie Berger


The Notre Dame Cathedral reflected in the sunglasses of a Parisian.

Less than a day after fire destroyed much of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, donations have flooded in to fund the rebuilding of the iconic 850-year-old church and world treasure — including nearly $1 billion just from a handful of France’s financial elites and corporations.

As flames consumed 900-year-old oak latticework on Monday, Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain to the Paris fire brigade, ran into the church to rescue the Blessed Sacrament held in reserve in the tabernacle. Along with others, he formed a human chain to rescue priceless works of art, including the crown of thorns believed to be worn by Jesus.

In our Holy Week pilgrimage to Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, we can meditate on his crown of thorns and the sacred Eucharist redeemed from ashes.

But we must also look deeper. The magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris is indeed a monument of living praise in stone, glass, and wood. It sits on the birthplace of Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It rises as a work of art built by human hands to the greater glory of God.

But, glorious as it is, the cathedral is not the church.

The church is not the architecture, artwork, artifacts, or sacred objects. 

The church is the living body of Christ found in the wounded, migrant, friendless, and exhausted who live on the streets of Paris. That is the church that Our Lady, Notre Dame, folds into her cloak.

Only in reaching out to these abandoned ones do we rescue what is most sacred. Only in rebuilding this incarnate church can Notre Dame be restored.

To rebuild Notre Dame requires reweaving France’s communal heart and making a human chain to rescue those lost and left behind.

To rebuild Notre Dame calls for a social and spiritual project that even the most secular French can support.


Makeshift refugee camp near the Stalingrad metro station in Paris, France.

Can the wealthy of the world support a Notre Dame project that starts in each French neighborhood, each European neighborhood, each American neighborhood? Can each neighborhood commit to providing housing, healthcare, and friendship to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers living on the streets, living under threat of legal persecution?

Remember, the church is not the building.

For each dollar donated to raise Notre Dame once again, let 2 dollars be donated to bring the body of Christ into a loving family. 

The new Notre Dame must be both an architectural project and a social process that sparks love for the “other,” treasuring the gifts of the other in our hearts, as Our Lady did (Luke 2:19).

The new Notre Dame – both project and process – must make it easier for the overfed to have a meal with the underfed, for the stressed and overpaid to rest with the exhausted and overworked, for the children of wealth and the children of poverty to plant vegetables together and play in a fountain and fly kites. The new Notre Dame must have open green spaces where the Earth and Creation can sprout forth.

Remember, the church is not the building. 

The church is the people of God – believers and nonbelievers, French and foreign, housed and homeless, artisans and CEOs – working together to rebuild France’s communal life.

We will know that Notre Dame is rebuilt when there is housing for the more than 16,000 people, primarily war and economic refugees, living in 497 informal settlements in France. One third of whom are located in Greater Paris.

Out of these ashes a new magnificent cathedral can be built that truly reflects the glory of God.–Rose Marie Berger

Rose Marie Berger, author of Bending the Arch: Poems, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.

Joseph Ross: Nelson Mandela’s Legacy of Forgiveness & Reconciliation

Photo taken by Joseph Ross
Photo taken by Joseph Ross
“Nelson Mandela is a hero to me. Back in 1985, in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, I was part of the Anti-Apartheid Network, a student group opposed to South Africa’s policy of racial separation. We were part of the international movement, largely of college students, urging divestment from firms doing business in South Africa. Mandela himself, after becoming president, said the divestment movement played a key role in bringing down the apartheid government. At Notre Dame, we used to gather every Friday at noon on the Main Building’s steps. We learned about the week’s events in South Africa from Professor Peter Walshe, a South African teaching at Notre Dame. I also became friends with Rev. Malusi Mpumlwana, a South African Anglican priest studying at Notre Dame. Malusi developed my understanding of systemic violence in ways no book could have taught me. I learned a great deal from him over endless cups of coffee and loud laughter. We students were somewhat naive, but we brought a passion to the divestment cause. It was my first experience in such a political movement and I learned a great deal about my own responsibility for those who suffer around the world. The lessons I learned from Malusi and others in the Anti-Apartheid movement guide me still. …”–Joseph Ross

Read Joe’s whole blog post.

Thomas Merton: Person Before Prophet

merton1

“So before we can become prophetic, we have to be authentic human beings, people who can exist outside a structure, who can create their own existence, who have within themselves the resources for affirming their identity and their freedom in any situation in which they find themselves. This means people capable of creating a life for themselves who are not identified with a structure.”–Thomas Merton


The Springs of Contemplation: A Retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani
by Thomas Merton (Ave Maria Press, 1972, p. 109)








‘We’re all Fishermen Now’

6a010535dbab09970c01156e53958a970c-320wiI love this story below that Obama told at Notre Dame yesterday about Fr. Hesburgh creating “common ground” among members of Eisenhower’s Civil Rights Commission. What held them together was fishing.

The way Obama turns the image at the end is phenomenal and not without some Christian resonance. Lovely.

And years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered they were all fishermen. (Laughter.) And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.

I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade happily away — because life is not that simple. It never has been.

But as you leave here today, remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of Father Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small. Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family, the same fulfillment of a life well lived. Remember that in the end, in some way we are all fishermen.

Read the full transcript here.

Obama at Notre Dame: Read it Yourself

6a010535dbab09970c01156e53958a970c-320wi1I’m posting the full transcript of Barack Obama’s excellent speech yesterday at Notre Dame.

This is the level of adult discourse that I’ve come to expect from Obama. It’s rich, deep, wide, and deals with things that are true. This speech models a quality of discourse that seeks and makes for “a more perfect union.”

Transcript: Obama’s Notre Dame speech
May 17, 2009

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, congratulations, Class of 2009. (Applause.) Congratulations to all the parents, the cousins — (applause) — the aunts, the uncles — all the people who helped to bring you to the point that you are here today. Thank you so much to Father Jenkins for that extraordinary introduction, even though you said what I want to say much more elegantly. (Laughter.) You are doing an extraordinary job as president of this extraordinary institution. (Applause.) Your continued and courageous — and contagious — commitment to honest, thoughtful dialogue is an inspiration to us all. (Applause.)

Good afternoon. To Father Hesburgh, to Notre Dame trustees, to faculty, to family: I am honored to be here today. (Applause.) And I am grateful to all of you for allowing me to be a part of your graduation.

And I also want to thank you for the honorary degree that I received. I know it has not been without controversy. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by. (Laughter.) So far I’m only 1 for 2 as President. (Laughter and applause.) Father Hesburgh is 150 for 150. (Laughter and applause.) I guess that’s better. (Laughter.) So, Father Ted, after the ceremony, maybe you can give me some pointers to boost my average.

I also want to congratulate the Class of 2009 for all your accomplishments. And since this is Notre Dame —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Abortion is murder! Stop killing children!

AUDIENCE: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: That’s all right. And since —

AUDIENCE: We are ND! We are ND!

AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

THE PRESIDENT: We’re fine, everybody. We’re following Brennan’s adage that we don’t do things easily. (Laughter.) We’re not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes. (Applause.)

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