Notre Dame in Flames: Its Image Evokes the Resurrection Our World Requires

It was religion in flames. It was a reminder of the conflagration engulfing our very planet. It should have clarified the relevance of the resurrection story that Christians across the world defiantly celebrate this Easter Sunday. It made me think of female prophets like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.

Notre Dame in Flames

Of course, I’m referring to the recent conflagration within the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Everyone’s heart went out to the people of Paris as they sang hymns to Mary while helplessly watching her beloved basilica burning on the other side of the Seine. We’re told that even the fire-fighters sang to the Grande Dame while dousing the inferno and risking their lives to rescue relics of Jesus’ true cross and crown of thorns. The spectacle brought the world to tears.

How like the rest of us, I thought, as we witness the Catholic church (and religion in general) hopelessly ablaze! Pedophilia, patriarchy, the antipathy of our children towards the faith that we elders once embraced so fervently have all contributed to the disaster. So has the successful counter-revolution waged by two reactionary popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) against the hopes enkindled by the ecumenical movement and Vatican II. Then there’s the heresy of know-nothing religious fundamentalists attempting to counter the creative ferment of liberation theology and of science itself . . . They’ve all done their parts to bring down the new church that John XXIII (and so many of us) once hoped for. Instead, the institution now lies in ruins, in putrid irrelevance. The strewn ashes embody our bleak despair. Only a miracle on the scale of Jesus’ resurrection can save us now.

A World Burning

But the combustion of Notre Dame presents only the palest reflection of our despondency before our very world in flames. That too was imaged forth in the cathedral’s conflagration. The climate chaos caused by our mad consumerism and worship of mammon, weapons, and war has set the planet ablaze. So, we stand there on the opposite shore of our own Seine, our mouths agape, the flames flickering against our mirrored eyes as we stand witness in hopeless impotence and despair. The stench of the ruins, the loss of our treasure, the cost of rebuilding . . . It’s all too much to think about. Mary help us!

And she does! She along with her sister prophetesses bring news of resurrection – just as they did for the male followers of Jesus’ who wallowed in the despondency following that first Good Friday. Yes, the women are here once again to save us with their news of resurrection and its impossible future!

What seems dead can return to life, they all insist. Another America is possible shouts the infant terrible, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Another world is possible Sweden’s teenaged Greta Thunberg repeats for all with ears to hear. Yet more: another God is possible proclaims Marianne Williamson with her invitation to a New Age characterized by the miracle of revisioning EVERYTHING. Naomi Klein, Maria Lopez Vigil, and (from their graves) Dorothy Day, Harriet Tubman, all those suffragettes, and Rosa Parks echo the message. In fact, an entire army of latter-day Jean D’Arcs broadcast the Good News that despite what the world tells us, resurrection – radically new life – is indeed possible. It’s the redivivus message of the goddess Miriam herself – of our Lady, of Notre Dame in flames.

If you want to actually see the hopeful vision of resurrection for America, watch again Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s video published just last week. Through the fascinating art of Molly Crabapple, AOC calls us to face head-on the sad facts of our planet’s Good Friday. Nearly 50 years ago those facts were researched, but cynically obscured and denied by Exxon and its supporting cast of male politicians. All that time they foresaw that without resurrection, disasters like Puerto Rico (devastated by a Hurricane named Maria!!) inevitably represents our common future.

AOC reminds us that devastation caused by an entire system requires systemic reform. That includes a new economy with decent salaries and the type of benefits the industrialized world once took for granted and aspired to – affordable schooling, healthcare for all, meaningful work, comfortable retirement – all in a context where polluters are assigned responsibility for the destruction caused by their decades-long denial allowing them to privatize profits while socializing costs. They owe us! Reparations are due!

Yes, the crisis of climate chaos changes EVERYTHING!

Moreover, it’s all been done before just as our young prophetess insists. In the face of the Great Depression’s and World War II’s lesser crises, FDR put together the original New Deal.

It changed the entire economy. It recognized that unions, full employment, environmental protection, decent jobs, recreation, art, music, dignified retirement, and strict regulation of greedy corporatists were all part of the clean slate the country and world needed to survive.

And it worked!  Our nation and the western economies prospered as never before, as countries across the industrialized world implemented what came to be called the welfare state.

Religion Flaming Out

For her part, Marianne Williamson calls us to re-vision the God of resurrection who makes fundamental change possible. Like no other presidential candidate, she puts her finger exactly on the spiritual transformation required to change everything. We need another God, she says in effect. Not the imperial one foisted upon us since Constantine in the 4th century. That’s an idol. What we need is the God of Jesus: the champion of working people, widows, orphans, and immigrants. We need the God reflected in the teachings of the one who taught that whatever we do to the least of the brethren, we do to him.

Yes, that’s the God of the Bible – a divinity who remains foreign to most. It’s as if we have all been imprisoned in Plato’s Cave. Nothing that the world (and very little that the church) tells us is true, especially about God. Another God is possible, Williamson insists. That God’s vision is 180 degrees opposite that described by our desperate politicians through their media minions. It’s the direct opposite of most of the drivel we hear from the pulpit.

And it’s here that Williams joins Ocasio-Cortez. Insisting that the resurrection we celebrate today is indeed real, Marianne calls us to support something like the Green New Deal. It promises new life for us here and now, including Medicare for all, gun control, higher minimum wages, the overhaul of public education, criminal justice reform, raising taxes on the rich, and repairing damage done by our history of racism.


“Impossible!!” the world shouts with one accord. “It’s too costly. Making changes like the GND proposed by our prophetesses would take decades. Such alterations could never be accomplished by 2030.”

And yet, when the world saw Notre Dame in flames, the money poured in. Already more than a billion dollars have been pledged. Artists and artisans from across the world have pledged their labor. And whereas initial estimates were that it would take 100 years to rebuild Notre Dame, France’s President Macron now assures us that the cathedral will be back to normal, even more beautiful than before in only five years!

That’s what happens when human beings commit themselves to achieving the impossible. As Marianne continually repeats, “There is no order of difficulty in miracles.” And she’s right. Miracles – fundamental changes in perception – are indeed possible. Our times demand them.

Yes, resurrection can happen. Easter calls us to make it happen to save our planet – and our church.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

3 thoughts on “Notre Dame in Flames: Its Image Evokes the Resurrection Our World Requires”

  1. Most will suffer and die
    and not know why
    they swallowed the lies
    that made them cry
    and by and by
    their deluding lullabyes
    will usher in
    their sad demise

    The hope of Utopia we sing of is real, everything else is lies and delusions.


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