Making Sense of the False Outrage Over Notre Dame's $1-Billion Restoration
Having just finished this Holy Week of 2019, we've been hearing a lot of hypocritical and selective moral outrage from people regarding all the money that is going to be spent to restore Notre Dame Cathedral.
While I think it would be tragic to update it into a more modernistic and godless design due to its rich 800-plus-year Catholic history, the concept of spending lots of money to restore a cathedral does not bother me at all. In fact, it should bother us if people were unwilling to pour lots of money into a cathedral.
Does God not deserve our best? Fr. Ben Johnson that had a great quote in a recent article he wrote for the Acton Institute: "Christians built cathedrals as earthly embassies of the kingdom of heaven."
People who complain about how much the poor will be neglected if funds are diverted to rebuild a cathedral rather than feed or clothe them are actually ignorant of history and also of pretty much everything else that goes into building cathedrals. Throughout the history of Christendom, the glorious cathedrals of Europe and elsewhere were actually built by the poor and for the poor!
For example, it took over three centuries to build Notre Dame Cathedral. Think of how many poor people had secure employment during that time, who otherwise would not have been able to feed or clothe their families.
The same can be said about all the cathedrals in the United States. The majority of them were built by immigrants who took great pride in having a hand in building their places of worship that they knew would the spiritual anchors of their communities that their descendants would be able to enjoy for many generations. And they were able to feed, clothe, and provide shelter for their families in the process.
Cathedrals were not built by kings, queens, popes, and emperors. They may have been commissioned by them, but these glorious embassies of the kingdom of heaven were built by the hands of poor and humble peasants, who were more than willing to do the job because of all the spiritual and financial benefits they received from doing so.
People complaining about this are creating a false dichotomy between glorifying God through the building up of His temples throughout the world and caring for the poor. It does not have to be an either/or issue; rather, it is both/and. To those who are creating and spreading memes of criticism and outrage regarding how quickly $1 billion was raised to restore Our Lady of Paris Cathedral, I have some questions for you:
How have you used your time, talent, or treasure to help the poor and needy in the last 90 days? How about in the last 6 months. In fact, how about in the last 18 months?
If you cannot answer this question with anything other than "I haven't," then your outrage is nothing more than self-righteous virtue-signaling deployed to get the instant dopamine hits that come from likes, comments, shares, and retweets on social media. It's frighteningly easy to be a recliner-chair quarterback and tell the world how other people's money should be used to help the poor, but this is something we must rise above through taking action rather than barking our suggestions at those who actually are taking action and not just talking about it or complaining.
We can also celebrate the fact that many acts of copycat generosity for rebuilding churches are being inspired here in America and elsewhere. For example, three historically black churches in rural Louisiana that were deliberately burned down were able to raise $1.8 million overnight due to the example of generosity shown toward the restoration of Notre Dame.
So before we go stirring up an angry internet mob about all the money being raised for the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral rather than being used to help the poor, step back and ponder this fact: Judas said the same thing to Jesus about how money could have been better spent on the poor rather than using it to glorify God, which is what expensive cathedrals do.
We know from scripture (John 2:18–22) that Jesus is the ultimate Temple, therefore it was fitting to use expensive ointment to anoint and decorate Him:
Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, "Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." (John 12:3-8)
Bobby Hesley lives in Metro Detroit and is a 38-year-old Catholic speaker, writer, and conservative political commentator. He has done TV, radio, and podcast appearances for various media outlets over the years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.