Opinion: Notre Dame reminds us of our faith

Dick Purtan
In this image made available on Tuesday April 16, 2019 flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. An inferno that raged through Notre Dame Cathedral for more than 12 hours destroyed its spire and its roof but spared its twin medieval bell towers, and a frantic rescue effort saved the monument's "most precious treasures," including the Crown of Thorns purportedly worn by Jesus, officials said Tuesday.

In a fractured world where differences in opinion are cause for name-calling instead of respectful “agree to disagree” acceptance, there came a moment this Holy Week that caused us to stop — or at least pause — and brought us humans back to… well, humanity.

News broke Monday afternoon that Notre Dame was burning — the Notre Dame of Paris! The Cathedral — whose foundation stone was laid in the heart of Paris in 1163 by believers whose intent it was to build a monument to God — it seemed like the world ceased turning and held its collective breath. 

And it wasn’t just Catholics who were stunned and saddened as parts of the iconic church were collapsing to the ground. People of all faiths seemed crushed and heartbroken as the wooden roof and the majestic spire fell, broken in the blaze. 

As the flames from what now appears to have been a renovation-related accident tore through the centuries-old house of worship, people in Paris and across the world cried. 

And we did something else. We prayed. 

Was it just the centuries of history we feared losing? After all, the grand structure had stood witness to over 850 years of it.

War and peace and revolutions. Invading armies and liberation. Love and loss. The reverential wonder of millions who over the many years traveled from every corner of the globe to bear witness to its architectural majesty, spiritual significance and precious religious artifacts. The Gold Cross. The Rose Windows. The Wooden Crown. 

But I think it was more than that that brought the lump in our throats and tears to our eyes. 

I think the reaction to the devastating fire at Notre Dame tapped into something deeper. Something we feel in our hearts rather than just know in our minds. 

No matter what our religious views — no matter how secular our 21st century life has become — we all deep down share one thing in common: An unwavering belief that there is something or someone out there infinitely greater than ourselves.   

And Notre Dame is a symbol of our innate human desire to reach up. To pay homage. To show our respect, to testify to our gratitude and our awe. To show our faith.

And in that gut-wrenching moment, something remarkable happened.

We came to remember the solemn importance of having more faith in each other as well. 

Dick Purtan is a longtime Detroit radio personality.