Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Je suis Notre Dame…

“To know her, is to love her!”

The Beatles

Thank goodness, this isn’t a eulogy and has become more of an appreciation of our beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. Indeed, these words are the outpourings of a heart which almost broke yesterday, as the blazing orange flames all but consumed her like a savage beast.  Yet, we’re not grieving her death, but are now grateful that she miraculously survived.

Like so many of us who have survived horrendous infernos of this magnitude, Notre Dame is still standing, yet all but destroyed.  I am a survivor myself and know that seemingly bottomless grief. Indeed, I have asked these very same questions myself…How did this happen? What has been lost? What is left? What can be done? I have also known that very same, fierce determination to get back on my feet and overcome like so many survivors. We will rebuild. Yet, it still hurts and the pain feels like it has no end. However, somehow you suddenly reach the other end of the rainbow and your ordeal seems like a bad dream, although the scars remain.

Personally, Notre Dame has never just been somewhere I went in Paris. Indeed, our connection has always been personal and it wasn’t just about the building either. No doubt, it’s the same for millions around the world and throughout history and we each have our own story to tell. Indeed, in a strange way and no doubt encouraged by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she’s almost come to life.  We can almost feel her pulse, her heartbeat and believe she knows and understands us in ways beyond human understanding. Indeed, as I watched those infernal flames blaze with such fury, I could hear her gasping for breath unable to discern whether she wanted to live or to die.

Of course, by now I was also walking through the streets of Paris crying and singing the words of the Hail Mary in solidarity with the people, although I didn’t know the words in French or in English. I didn’t need to. Notre Dame was in my heart. As Notre Dame burned, Paris might have been one of the largest cities in the world, but she was a village once again.

However, who was I kidding? I wasn’t out on the streets with the people of Paris. Rather, I was still stuck here on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same sense of anguish you feel when a loved one is dying and you can’t get back. When you desperately want to hold their hand and say your “I love yous” and goodbyes and miss out. Yet, I still felt the need to vent. Respond. Do something.

So, I did what I could.

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Yesterday, on the way to the Art Gallery of NSW with my daughter, we detoured via Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to pay our respects to the smouldering remains of Notre Dame and her extended global community. Indeed, I needed to pray and being there was the closest I could get to being near Notre Dame.

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Our daughter sitting on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday. Not quite the same effect as Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal but there’s promise. 

 

Back when my husband first told me the news, I jumped straight out of bed and switched on the TV expecting some kind of mistake. Yet, there she was right before my very eyes…a blazing, orange inferno. Brutal, cruel and almost evil, she was trapped in the flames with no way out. Yet, the valiant fire fighters of Paris, just like those of New York on 9/11, were there fighting to put out the flames and save her from eternal destruction.

Notre Dame! The name says it all, even for me as an Australian.

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My backpack and I just before I left. 

On the 13th July, 1992 I arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord with my backpack and I found my way to the Hotel Henri IV in Rue Saint Jacques only five minutes’ walk from Notre Dame. I stayed there with friends for a few weeks, exploring the city of light and romantic turmoil, while Notre Dame stood seemingly unmoved and her bells chimed.

Being immersed in all that history and architectural grandeur, was an incredible experience for a young Australian experiencing Europe for the first time. We had nothing like it. Unfortunately, the City of Love also turned out to be the City of Heartbreak and despair. Indeed, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many philosophers, writers and artists have gathered there. I definitely sensed a dark undercurrent to Paris, and perhaps in this context, Notre Dame needed to be the light.

Rowena Notre Dame

My parents met up with me in Paris and we not only went to Notre Dame, my father and I also had our portraits sketched out the front. While I don’t particularly remember the interior, I still remember going inside and experiencing the most incredible sense of peace…the peace which surpasses human understanding. I also remember feeling it was much cooler inside with a distinct temperature drop. Being July, it was boiling hot outside and perhaps it was a few degrees cooler inside the cathedral. I don’t know. However, this combined with the stained glass windows and subdued lighting did create an ambiance.

Yet, quite aside from that, I could really sense the comforting presence of God. Only a few weeks’ beforehand, my mother’s aunt had passed away. She and Mum were particularly close and brought closer still by Mum’s strict upbringing. So, although we’re not Catholic, we lit a candle for her. Lighting that wick, has always been special. However, it’s felt even sacred since the fire. It was such an incredibly poignant moment. I think we also lit a candle for Mum’s younger sister, Lyn, who’d suddenly been ripped away from us at 36 with double pneumonia. Lyn’s death was one of those wounds which never seemed to heal. Lyn was beautiful, vivacious and so young. Naturally, her death rocked everyone who knew her. It didn’t make sense and we just had to get used to living with our grief.

No doubt, over the last 856 years, millions have also had such moments where they’ve been  touched by God’s love and this indescribable peace at Notre Dame. Of course, I know this experience isn’t unique to us, although it certainly felt that way. People have prayed for the living, cried for the dead and wrestled with everything in between and Notre Dame has stood as solid as a rock through the French Revolution, two world wars, and hoards of visitors. Indeed, even that blazing infernal couldn’t destroy her completely, but it’s been too close a call.

Yet, she has also suffered terrible neglect, which has taken its toll. As Victor Hugo wrote in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

 “(I)t is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.”

So why was it so difficult to raise the money to restore and maintain this stunning, historic and sacred cathedral, which has always been at the very heart of Paris? It is hard to understand.

However, as we move forward as a global community, we now have the chance to show her the love we’ve always felt, but haven’t sufficiently expressed. She has given us so much, and now it’s our turn to give back in whatever way we can. For some of us, that will be in words or paint while others have been financially blessed.

Notre Dame needs to be that phoenix rising out of the ashes. We need to see that you can rise up from near total destruction, and start over not only as a building but also as individuals and communities. We can get better. Moreover, we also need to restore Notre Dame for future generations who will also be reaching out for God’s love and the peace which surpasses human understanding in an imperfect and often turbulent world.

Have you been to Notre Dame and would like to share your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Thursday Doors – St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.

This week, we’re heading off to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Somehow, St Mary’s has managed to remain a striking architectural and spiritual beacon, despite the urban jungle’s concerted efforts to smother and suffocate architectural relics beneath  with its towering canopy.

 

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My grandparents on the steps of St Mary’s on their wedding day.

With my usual propensity for ending up in seemingly random places, I ended up at St Mary’s on Tuesday afternoon when it became the central point for me to meet up with my Mum and her brother and sister. Mum’s sister was visiting from Fremantle in Western Australia and for a brief moment in time there, all our roads led to St Mary’s Cathedral.

This was strangely more in keeping with my Dad’s family who is Catholic and his parents actually got married there in 1940 during WWII and the first Curtin to arrive in Australia from Cork, County Cork got married in the original St Mary’s Cathedral in 1855. My Great Grandfather’s funeral was also held at St Mary’s in 1936.

However, we are Christian and as far as we’re concerned, those old boundaries don’t matter anymore. We have one faith and being inside St Mary’s Cathedral with it’s incredible stained glass windows and reverence to God, was incredibly spiritual. Of course, you don’t need all of that to hear and talk to God, but it can be like putting on a beautiful dress. It doesn’t change who you are, but it lifts you up.

Our visit to St Mary’s was more of a time of reflective prayer and gratitude, than being there to do the touristy or photographic thing and admire all the architectural details. I did that a few years ago and am currently cursing my photo filing system, because I can’t find the photos anywhere and I wanted to share them with you.

However, what I did find, was the aerial perspective above which was taken from Centrepoint Tower.If you look carefully out the front of St Mary’s you’ll see a funeral cortege and I was reminded that the State funeral for Australia’s most successful and iconic horse trainer, Bart Cummings, was in progress at the time. Our daughter was auditioning for a role as one of the young Von Trapp children in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Sound of Music in Sydney that day, and I took her up Centrepoint Tower afterwards as a treat. For better or worse, she didn’t make it into the next round but even getting to the audition stage was an experience of a lifetime.

Map Showing Location of St Mary’s Cathedral

By the way, before we move inside the Cathedral and I do understand that I’m supposed to be showing off a few doors, and not just giving you the grand tour of everything but. However, I’d also like to point out that Sydney’s famous Hyde Park is in the foreground of that photo, and you can also see the striking Archibald Fountain by French sculptor Francois Sicard, which commemorates the association between Australia and France in World War I.

We all arrived in the city a bit early. So, I ended up meeting Mum and my aunt at the Archibald Fountain. We are all renowned for running late, and just when we thought we might be able to sneak in a quick coffee and raspberry tart at a French Cafe at St James Church in Macquarie Street, my uncle was also early and those ambitions were put on hold.

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St Mary’s Cathedral.

As the Cathedral’s web site explains:

“Today St Mary’s Cathedral is one of Australia’s most beautiful and significant buildings but it did not happen overnight. The Cathedral evolved through a long and patient timeline following a fire which destroyed the first St Mary’s Cathedral in 1865. As Australia’s largest Cathedral building, this English-style Gothic revival building constructed of honey-coloured Sydney sandstone, is regarded as the Mother Church for Australian Catholics. Its central Sydney location ensures a strong and visual presence of the church in Australia’s largest city. Architect William Wardell was commissioned by Archbishop John Polding to design a new St Mary’s following the devastating fire in 1865 razed the original Cathedral. According to Archbishop Polding to Wardell in a letter dated 10 October, 1865: “Any plan, any style, anything that is beautiful and grand. I leave all to you and your own inspiration”. Despite the building’s European origins, Wardell used Australian native flora throughout as a decorative element to ground the Cathedral in its local setting. It took close to 100 years to finally complete St Marys with the first stage constructed between 1866 and 1900 and stage two between 1912 and 1928. However, the original Wardell design was only finally completed in June 2000 when the metal frames of the imposing Southern Spires were lowered into place by helicopter and then sheathed in Gosford sandstone. According to the former Archbishop of Sydney George Pell: “This beautiful Cathedral Church is many things: a historic building, an architectural wonder, a monument to the role which Christianity and especially the Catholic faith has played in Australian life from the first days of European settlement and a magnificent tribute to the faith and commitment of generations of Catholics.” Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, the Cathedral will celebrate its Sesquicentenary in 2018, 150 years since the laying of the foundation stone of the new Cathedral by Archbishop Polding.”

 

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Door St Mary’s Cathedral.

While we were visiting St Mary’s on Tuesday, I spotted the ancient-looking doors to the cathedral and thought they’d make a very respectable contribution to Thursday Doors. Moreover, with only five sleeps til Christmas, it’s quite apt to visit a Church this week and in addition to the Cathedral’s doors, I also wanted to share the nativity scenes and other Christmas decorations.

Side door St Marys

I also spotted these doors for confession:

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I couldn’t help wondering what was being concealed behind this door. It looked rather mysterious.

Before we leave St Mary’s, I would like to share both the indoor and outdoor nativity scenes out of interest, but also to give our visit a touch of the Christmas spirit.

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Lastly, when it comes to Churches, I also think it’s important to talk about them having their doors open and welcoming people in, as well as them being closed for whatever reason. When I was a child, the doors to Catholic Churches were always open. However, that is no longer the case. The doors to St Mary’s Cathedral are open from 6.30am to 6.30pm and longer around Christmas.

For those of you interested in the musical side of things at St Mary’s, here’s a few links:

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to St Mary’s Cathedral. This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Before I head off, I’d like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonder-filled and happy New Year.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Speech Day 1928: The Life Lessons My Grandfather Heard.

As a woman, it’s already difficult to put myself in my grandfather’s shoes and know what it’s like to be a man. Moreover, not having a contraption like the Tardis to travel back in time, it’s also hard to rewind the clock back to 1928 when my grandfather left school as an 18 year old.My grandfather was also Catholic and attending Waverley College in Sydney, which is run by the Christian Brothers. Back at this point in time, there was a great divide between protestants and Catholics which I find hard to imagine these days, although its still rippling away under the surface.

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My grandfather and I. 

Yet, almost 60 years later, I was also sitting at the back of the school assembly hall not paying much attention to what was being said. So, despite all these glaring differences, we were probably not all that different and had very much in common. The transition from the cloister of school into the next chapter has always been a big step.Yet, generation after generation, has gone before us. We were not alone. We have never been the first generation stepping out there trying to find out way, which I now find largely reassuring.  and I guess you just have to hope that most of them eventually found their way and as George Bernard Shaw said:

Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.”

Being a by-product of my own generation, these attempts to walk in my grandfather’s shoes, have taken me back to one of the greatest movies of all time: Dead Poet’s Society, (Indeed, it would be my favourite if Casablanca hadn’t got there first!)  For those of you already replaying the movie in your heads, I’m reminded of that scene where English teacher John Keating played by our very much loved friend and mentor, Robin Williams, is looking at the portraits of ex-students on the wall and says:

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it?… Carpe… Hear it?… Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

-Dead Poet’s Society

As it turns out, I have been able to read the words my grandfather would have heard courtesy of the old newspapers which are now online. Eerily enough, these words actually have a Dead Poet’s Society feel about them, as most of these end of school speeches do. By the way, my grandfather had attended Waverley College, Sydney run by the Christian Brothers and the Address was given by Archbishop Sheehan:

Archbishop Michael Sheehan.

“Your years of youth, my dear boys, are very precious. It is the time in which you build for the future. The opportunities which are now close to your hands will, if neglected, never come within your reach again. Your greatest enemy is the spirit of ill-will and idleness; your best friend is the spirit of obedience and industry.

Your whole life from childhood to death is a warfare, a struggle against temptation. Every victory you gain over yourselves and over the powers of darkness brings with it a strengthening of your will, a strengthening of your character. 

The process of building therefore of which I spoke a moment ago means more than piecing together the divers kinds of knowledge. Let us put it in this way: your task is not only to build for your-selves the house of knowledge, but also and much more to build firm and strong the fortress of the will.

‘How will you take these few words from me? I know boys too well not be be conscious that they listen to old people like myself with a certain amount of patronage, and with a secret feeling that we are out of date and possibly suffering from a touch of dotage, and that therefore any advice of ours is to be taken with a good grain of salt.

Well, it may shake you a bit to hear that the boys of every generation have had exactly the same thoughts, and that when they grew up they found their mistake. One of the chief temptations of your time of life comes from a kind of pride, from a tendency to underrate the advice of the more experienced.’ His Grace concluded by again congratulating the Brothers and the boys on a most successful year, and wished all present the blessings of the Christmas season.” Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 5 January 1928, page 25

Whether you agree with the Catholic ethos or not, I found good wisdom in there. The Archbishop, who’d been born on the 17th December, 1870 at Waterford in Ireland, did a pretty good job of crawling into the boys’ shoes, seeing himself through their eyes and hopefully captured their attention. In his roundabout way, he first encouraged the boys to listen to their elders and hopefully thus avoid some of life’s predictable potholes. He also wanted them to have a heart, a love of God and be living breathing humans. He didn’t want them to be walking encyclopaedias, robots or money-making machines.  He wanted each and every one of those boys to have a rich and complex life. Catholic or not, there’s a lot of good advice to hold onto there and you can adjust it to suit your personal creed.

There’s one thing I’d particularly like add.

That is the importance of family, close friends and having meaningful relationships, which you carry with you throughout your life. Having lived overseas and travelled, I know what it’s like to be that random atom drifting through space where no one knows you, your history, or your family. Moreover, as an Australian living in Germany, there was only the odd person who knew what an Australian was either and I got away with a bit under that heading too.

While there can be real freedom and liberation in flying away from all those ties, I felt quite lost without them too. There’s a lot to be said for having shared memories within a close community where you can bump into an old friend down the street and have those shared experiences, insights and memories. We have been living in our home for something like 18 years. That’s really crept up on us and initially, it took a long time to get established. However, I now have a genuine, informed interest in the people around me. This has nothing to do with career, paying off the mortgage or even putting food on the table. However, there’s food we don’t eat and we also have to cater for our souls.

What would your advice be to a young person leaving school at the end of 2018? Any regrets? Anything you did or observed that worked well and you’d like to pass on? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought I’d better point out that these young men left school the year before the 1929 Fall of Wall Street. The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or the Great Crash, started on October 24 (“Black Thursday”) and continued until October 29, 1929 (“Black Tuesday”), when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed. The crash, which followed the London Stock Exchange’s crash of September, signalled the beginning of the 12-year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialized countries. Wikipaedia These same men could well have fought or enlisted in WWII having had their own fathers serve in WWI. They didn’t have it easy.