Letters from a Pastor to His People- April 12, 2020
Do you remember last year what we were mourning during Holy Week? What the great tragedy of our world was? It was the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Though It doesn't seem as bad now, since the entire church wasn't destroyed, and particularly in light of our current calamity with the Coronavirus, the burning of Notre Dame is still, in my mind, one of the great calamities of mankind.
As I preached last year on Good Friday, a church building's fundamental purpose is to worship and glorify God. Thus, a church—something we produce through our own skills—is humanity's gift to God.
Notre Dame, the most beautiful church in the world, was humanity's greatest gift to God. Our gift to God, the best we could do, burned. It was incredibly sad, both for us and for God.
Interestingly, I read in the subsequent months of that tragedy, as life continued forward, about a small miracle associated with the fire.
On the roof of the sacristy of the cathedral bees in three apiaries were kept. This was to aid the declining bee population. Bees, if you aren't aware, are essential for global plant life and, it can be argued, for human flourishing. It was presumed these creatures perished in the fire, an incredibly distressing fact not just to animal (and honey) lovers, but ecologists.
Well, after the flames were doused, satellite images revealed swarms of bees hunkered in the crevices of the gargoyles on the roof. Bee keepers were able to rescue 180,000 bees that had been miraculously preserved in the fire.
Bees receive many accolades in the Church. They are sung about in the Exsultet, the piece chanted at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. Beekeeping was an art and industry established by monks centuries ago and Pope Pius XII actually gave an address to beekeepers in 1948, speaking about the lessons to be learned by the labors of bees. Bees are seen as symbols of purity, as they were once believed to reproduce parthenogenetically, of cooperation, of industry, and of selflessness (it labors for others and others receive the rewards of its fruit). The bee works hard, yes, but it also has time for repose in the hive, leading St. Theresa of Avila to advise, "Be recollected like the wise little bee." And in the Bible, the promised land is referred to as the land of milk and honey!
Honey is the only food that does not spoil. It may crystallize, but it will return to normal if heated. This is because of its low water content and its acidity, two things inimical to the growth of bacteria.
I'm sure you can draw your own connections to bees and the Resurrection. I'll point out a few, just in case....
Bees are frightening at first. When we come across one, we flee out of fear of being stung. But the honeybee, as we have explained above, is lovely and essential. God and the Church may be scary, but we need them. I think we've realized that over these weeks, being deprived of our regular spiritual activities.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he, in a way, poured honey on our souls. We and the Church cannot spoil. No matter what is happening around us in the world, we will last unto eternity.
Like bees, may we all work together and support and pray for each other during this time. And as we are preserved by God, the maker of all things, may we have hope that our meagre offerings are sweet to him.
Thank you for all you do. God bless you all and happy Easter.
Yours in Christ,