Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bonjou, mes freres et mes soeurs en Jesus Christ

I blog today from Neuilly sur Seine, a stone throw north of Paris, where by an accident of modern air travel, I am spending an extra day en route to the Abbey of En Calcat; where the superiors of the English Province of the Subiaco Congregation are having their Provincial Chapter. Paris has long held a dear place in my heart and indeed holds a central place in the history of my community. It was here, at St. Gervais, that our founders spent one year in a second novitiate; learning how to live a contemplative life in the modern city. I hope to visit St. Gervais today for prayer. As it happens, I visited Paris for the first time myself around that very time, though merely as a shy high schooler hoping to see something of the world and permitted to do so by a very generous French teacher: merci Mlle Collins ou vous etes!

I returned yesterday to Notre Dame for the first time since 1986, having stayed from entering on my previous visit in 2004, fearing the overly commercialized atmosphere that prevails in the surrounding neighborhood would carry over inside. Well, c'est vrai un peu; the noisy tourists were occasionally a distraction, but I happened to arrive just in time for Mass and was pleased to join a considerable crowd inside. The priest, of course, was African and offered the prayers in perfect French, though the faithful seemed to me to be largely French, and not only old ladies, which was the case in the other churches I have attended here, with the notable exception of St: Gervais.

I was particularly struck by the exquisite beauty of the interior, the astoiunding harmony of the fluting okn each pillar and the overall effect of the perfectly shaped arches. It was particularly ironic to hear an American near me at one point complain because none of the floors are flat! Several observations struck me as I prayed my office after Mass. One is that through the Romanticization of the 'Gothic', thanks in part to personages such as Victor Hugo, we have come to think of the Gothic as dark and mysterious. The effect on contemporaries of Gothic concstruction was quite other. Abbot Suger is quoted in one display at ND noting the incredible luminosity of the new style, and students of architecture will tell you that the goal of the builders of the Gothic was to permit the maximum light into the building, in effect to lay transparent the heavens, to join heaven and earth. The decorations did eventually morph into something more grotesque, at, say, Rheims, but this was at least one hundred years after the initial inspiration and occurs under pressures we would recognize as more modern: for example urbanization and its attendant woes of disease and poverty.

In a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, I was encouraged by the presence of a large number of very young women, devoutly at prayer.

This was a heartening visit, amid the persistent ennui of the larger French and European culture. Sarkozy was quoted in a headline emblazoned across Le Mode yesterday: Europe, je vous dis, Reveillez vous! Reveillez vous! Europe, I say to you; Wake up! Wake up! I ended up staying in the 'suburbs', so to speak, and though this is apparently not one of the fearsome banlieu wherein reside the hoardes of angry Arabs, I noticed that this is the first hotel in which I have been offered Al Jazeera as one of the standard channels. While I would not want to take a stand on the immigration issue, especially with regard to the controversial M. Sarkozy, certainly the beauty that has been France is in danger of going the way of other old and tired cultures, but could be reinvigorated by a healthy memory of her Christian past. Let us pray that this can happen throughout Europe.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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