A cathedral of contradictions

PARIS, France — Bonjour! Jinhee and I had enough frequent flyer miles to send ourselves to Paris for week, clearly pointing to the fact that we’re workoholics. Who says there’s no upside to bowing down in front of the idol of productivity? Our chance to wolf down crepes and croques is what many are calling a babymoon: the one last hurrah before little Choungito arrives.

While in Paris, definitely visit Notre Dame de Paris. It’s breathtaking — we took no less than 60 pictures of it or in it. The cathedral stands at kilometre zero — the place where all distances in France are judged from. A paradox: at zero distance stands a monument which speaks of infinity.

And there are more: sincere worshipers partake the communion at the noon mass, while tourists shuttle around them flashing photos. Under the ancient flying buttresses in the sacred nave, flat screen televisions dot the aisles. Sections are set aside for silent prayer, while teenagers flirted loudly with each other on its edges. You could light a candle as a prayer (aren’t they pretty?), but it’ll cost you two or five Euros, which is really the monetary equivalent of my arm and leg since the Euro is so strong. And at some point — in perhaps the largest of contradictions — the mass used to be relevant: it’s in French instead of Latin. But now it’s irrelevant, and older form lost in an after-modern age. Some would argue that it was never relevant. So now, only a dozen of so penitents receive the bread and wine under a cavernous hall that could fit thousands. While in Notre Dame, it’s easy to feel bewildered.

But aren’t we all cathedrals of contradictions? Am I the only one: an almost blasphemous mix of holy and unholy, sinner and saint, secular and sacred, irrelevant and relevant? It’s just as confusing within me as it is within Notre Dame. It’s a good thing that faith isn’t based on me: Easter weekend reminds me that Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of faith. It’s based on him, not me. And as he rises out of death and confusion, he offers brilliant light in my darkest places.

I sat down in one of those silent prayer sections in front of the painted glass, teenagers still flirting behind me. I closed my eyes, and for a moment, my heart was still.

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3 Comments

  1. Jinhee Choung April 7, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    I plead innocent! I’m not a workaholic, and it only took 40,000 miles to fly all the way to Paris from SD (thanks to AA’s off season discount). In any case, blessed Easter, everyone! May all our hearts be still and filled with the love of Christ who died and rose again to save us.

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  2. You are not alone in your sentiments about being holy and unholy. All places of worship which now stand as showpieces for tourists have the same unsettling effect on you..You are only hit by the reality once you sit down in one of those silent prayer sections and close your eyes.

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  3. Jane Forrington August 24, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Not really a paradox if you come to think of it. As all distances originate from here, once it was the origin(symbol) of religion. It hasn’t been a showpiece for tourists as Lucien Grey points out, all its life.

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