Reflection by Aidan Troy
Holy Week is sacred for all Christians and God’s gift to Creation. This is my 11th Holy Week at St Joseph’s. In those years I have not seen Palm Sunday Masses with such numbers. God is blessing us in a special way. In some places I have met fellow priests and the parishioners who are saddened by the sharp decline in numbers of worshippers at Mass. Let us remember their challenges and pray with them.
Why God is blessing us by the numbers who come to worship Him at St Joseph’s, is only known to Him. Also, there is joy and a sense of community at which I marvel all the time. You, dear parishioners are responding to God’s call in a most generous, holy way. What happens is not due to me; I am privileged to walk among you on the way to the Resurrection every day and especially this Easter weekend. The Tomb beckons. We breathlessly reach it, knowing it will be empty. He is Risen.
God’s ways are not our ways. Last Monday evening as the Pastoral Council began to assemble, images of Notre Dame on fire were emerging. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was hard for us to take our eyes off the phones in front of us. Yet, this Pastoral Council meeting continued and produced fruits that will benefit us as we move forward to live the Resurrection.
Late on Monday night, I went to Notre Dame while the fire was still burning. I stood on the bank of the Seine with my head bowed in homage. I was not alone; there were thousands of others gathered in a spirit of silence and disbelief.
As midnight drew close, I heard words of prayer as the only response to our shock. A young couple held each other as tears streamed from their eyes. The ground on which we stood is Holy Ground. For over 850 years, the church of Our Lady of Paris has been the seat of successive Bishops and the heart of the Catholic Church in Paris. On the return to St Joseph’s after midnight, the Metro seemed quieter than usual. The City was beginning to mourn.
That night I did not sleep well and I got up early the next morning. I offered Mass and then began to receive many requests from radio, television and newspapers to share what was happening as the church, the city and world began to absorb the burning of Notre Dame. Throughout the day, I was able to speak with audiences about the place of Notre Dame as I knew and loved it over the past ten years since coming to live at St Joseph’s.
Truthfully, I could say that Notre Dame besides being a place of worship and of prayer, is a place that welcomes people of all religions and none. There was never an entrance requirement or a payment. It provided, as Mary always does, a place of welcome, a refuge and a respite in the midst of the great city of Paris.
For me, Notre Dame was my church where I went to Confession, often prayed Evening Prayer before the Mass and sang the final hymn of the day in honour of Mary. Each year at Notre Dame class after class of Priests were ordained. Every year I looked forward on the first Saturday of Lent to going with our RCIA Candidates to the Appel Decisif. The reading of the Gospel in English was my privilege each year. On the 90th Anniversary of the foundation of Marymount School, Mass was celebrated there at which I was asked to preach; Our St Joseph’s Parish pilgrimage during a Year of Faith had Mass at Notre Dame. [Perhaps for the only time in its history, the microphone system was not working!]
Other great moments like last November when I led prayers at Notre Dame to mark the Centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War; yearly Mass of Chrism and the sad funeral of our beloved Mgr. Francois Fleischmann who for nine years each Pentecost Sunday conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation on CCD and Marymount School Paris candidates.
This is my history of the past decade. The previous centuries are rich in great events at Notre Dame. But I believe that it was also in the little miracles of grace that are not recorded that made Notre Dame, Jesus and Mary’s gift to the World.