No Ordinary People: The Weight Of Glory And What C.S. Lewis Can Teach Us About Notre Dame

From “The Weight Of Glory,” by C.S. Lewis

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind… which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

I was thinking similar thoughts to this as I considered the destruction of the Notre Dame cathedral over the past two days. The loss of that incredible piece of art is simply unfathomable. And I was very glad to hear that the loss is not as bad as first reports led me to believe. I will be very glad if it is confirmed that the cause of the destruction was indeed accident, because I hope no one would wish to commit such a terrible act, or that those who do wish it would be prevented.

The Notre Dame Cathedral, like any incredible work of art, is not a person. In some ways, in fact, it is more than a person, because it has added to, inspired, and provided comfort for people in ways that another person simply cannot do. What art does is not what people do. If people could do what art does for people, then we would have no need for art. So it is not wrong to mourn the loss, nor to be shocked and saddened by it. Hardly any person could mean what great art means to so many people.

And yet, in the end, the Notre Dame Cathedral is so much less than a person. It is unique, and complex, and storied, and ancient. But speaking as an educated man, I know that it is less, not more complex than a single human being. Speaking as a Christian, I am bound to profess that not all the works of art on the planet can be equal to the story of a single unique human soul wrought by the Creator. And as Lewis reminds us, its ancientry is nothing measured against eternity.

The real tragedy is not that Notre Dame has burned. Not even if it burned to the foundations and was lost as utterly as the Library Of Alexandria. The real tragedy is that all of us not only assent to, but actively participate in, burning and destroying each other’s souls every day. Social media is only the most obvious battlefield.

I do not think that in our fallen world we can do otherwise. Scripture itself tells us that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. So many of our temples are desecrated, by others and by themselves. Some of us seem determined to burn ourselves down. Our problem is that we live amid an embarrassment of riches: there are eight billion of us, and so many die, or worse, every day, that we can only notice the loss of those that are especially “valuable” (God, what a blasphemy) to the majority or to those in power. Or those who are close to us. Notre Dame we can notice: there is only one of it.

We know we must do better than this. The barest vestige of moral sense demands it. But it is beyond us. To do otherwise than as we do would be to be perfect. It is, in fact, not enough to do “better.” Ten times better, or a hundred, would still leave countless eternal souls burned and destroyed. Would still leave us walking amid the suffering shells of living cathedrals. But this alone should awake us to the terror of our state. To make us cry out for a Savior who can reconcile us to the God whose eternal children we daily destroy.

I suppose that this is why I wrote this. I am under no illusion that a blog post will stop human suffering, nor cause our species as a whole to stop doing what we do so well. But waking up one person? Well, maybe.

Postscript Note: I realize, of course, that not all readers will share my faith. Discussion is invited. Trolling is not, and will be removed or simply not allowed. Thank you.

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