The fire started accidentally. However, there are no accidents.
“Accidents” are what we call concupiscence: a lack of vigilance over our thoughts and actions, or simply not caring enough about them to try and moderate them. All “accidents” have a culprit, because nothing can happen on its own. Each thing in this world has its cause and will cause something else in the future.
Was it a spark from an outlet, malfunctioning equipment, or an unheeded cigarette that caused the fire? However it happened, someone was at fault – someone should have been more vigilant or careful, and the “accident” would never have happened. Whoever committed the tiny fault could not have known the monumental consequence to follow. Who would intend to burn down Our Lady? No one can predict what a small error can cause, and that is what makes small sins more dangerous than large, obvious sins. When we make a small error, it’s easy to brush it off as no big deal and forget about it later, but we should never forget any of our sins, even the smallest, because what happens in the past may indicate worse sins to come.
Vices begin small. We are all born with a tendency to one or more of them that we struggle with throughout our entire lives, and they can become better or worse over time, depending on how we treat them. If we ignore vices when they are small, they’ll spread like a fire and become larger, and soon they’ll threaten the whole structure of our lives. That’s how an insignificant “accident” can burn down a whole cathedral.
Our church is still smoldering from the sex abuse scandal that threatened to burn it down last summer. The scandal didn’t come out of nowhere. At first, it was a tiny spark: a young boy’s mistake. Maybe by an accidental glance, or by curiously lifting the cover, he sees an adult magazine for the first time. He quickly looks away, but underneath the initial fear, curiosity grows. He doesn’t know what he does; he doesn’t understand that this small temptation he feels will lead him to seek out these images more and more frequently. He pages through the magazines ravenously, nervous excitement turning into hunger that yearns for the real-life version of these fantasies.
This boy is not a worse sinner than any of us. His life is like an average boy’s: he goes to school, enjoys sports, and maybe he plays an instrument or has some other hobby. He gets good grades, has friends, and goes to church with his family every Sunday. No one could predict that one unchecked sin, one overlooked spark, haunts the young man’s life and makes him burn with hateful sexual fantasies. This boy becomes a priest, and his sacred office is hindered by that small mistake from years ago. His interior life is consumed by the flames of lust, and the priest commits a grievous sin.
If the victim reports the abuse, a bishop is faced with an uncomfortable situation. Why does he cover up the deed? Again, an “accident,” lack of vigilance, carelessness: he didn’t think one sin would cause any further harm, or he knew that this sin could cause lots of harm and tried to avoid it at all costs.
How many times did this chain of “accidents” happen in the Church? There were dozens, even hundreds of malfunctioning pieces of equipment and discarded cigarettes left carelessly on the scaffolding of the Vatican II reforms, which smoldered unheeded until the scandals sprang up into an inferno, too late to be stopped.
I despaired. While I watched the fire raging, desecrating the cathedral I love, I could only think, who did this? Who would do such a thing? I thought of a terrorist attack, some hateful person who wanted to destroy my religion and targeted Our Lady, the great emblem of Catholicism. I saw it like a nightmare: the hellish flames bellowing out from the delicate structure, tearing the roof to pieces, and the great spire trembling, struggling, then folding over and crashing, crashing down. Our Lady – who stood for hundreds of years, who took centuries to be completed, who is the pinnacle of gothic architecture, the heart of French Catholicism, and an ode to the glory of God – burning down.
But I was wrong. Our Lady did not burn down, because as soon as the blaze was spotted hundreds of firefighters came to save her, working through the night of that long passion. Before the fire had grown too strong, a fearless crew rescued all the priceless artifacts they could, and because of the renovations under way, many treasures are safe from the fire, including the Crown of Thorns and the robe of St Louis. The walls, the two great towers, the still-burning church candles, the stained-glass windows, and even the sign asking for silence are intact. Out of the pile of charred rubble rises that gleaming golden cross, purified by the long struggle.
Even before the smoke had cleared, hundreds gathered in prayer. The secular world, despite its best intentions, found itself united to the Church during that awful fire, rallying around Our Lady and pledging millions to rebuild her better than ever. Tragedy stings, but it unites us.
No “accidental” fire will cause the fall of Our Lady, and neither will a scandal burn down our Holy Catholic Church. The Lord allowed this tragedy to remind us that no Inferno will triumph over His Bride – she will rise from the fire renewed, stronger and more beautiful than ever.