On Notre Dame, the seal of confession, and Esmerelda

Here’s some good news:

The French Senate voted to approve plans to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral and added a clause stipulating that it must be restored to how it was before the fire.

No greenhouses, no swimming pools, no holograms, no disco balls, just back the way it was, because the way it was was good. Even though the dreadful fire helped me remember that all temporal things will pass, and that Jesus is the remedy to all loss of every kind, I’ll be as glad as anyone to see good old Notre Dame restored. 
 
We’re certainly in need of some good news, some restorative news. As someone pointed out on Twitter, you know things are going poorly when America turns to a TV show about Chernobyl for escapism. 
 
As always, good news is where you can find it. As the never-ending misery of the sex abuse scandal never ends, but just keeps compounding and compounding, I’ve thought more than once: How good it is, how weirdly restorative, to be reminded so clearly what really matters. Jesus matters. The sacraments matter. The Gospel matters. Works of mercy matter. Everything else, no matter how entrenched and enmeshed it has become with our experience our faith — anything at all can become a distraction from what our faith truly is. So as painful as the 21st century has been, it’s also been clarifying, painfully restorative. It strips away the things we want so we can see clearly what we really need.
 
That’s what kind of century it is, not only in the Church. This is the year when a Texas woman, Teresa Todd, was driving along a road at night when, NPR reports, a young man ran out and pleaded for help for his sister, who was dying of dehydration and exhaustion. Todd stopped and let the man and his sister, Esmerelda, and their companion rest in her car while she texted a friend, who is legal counsel for the local U.S. Border Patrol, for advice on what to do next. 
 
Todd is now under federal investigation for human smuggling. Her phone was confiscated for 53 days, because of what she did.
 
“I feel like I did the right thing. I don’t feel I did anything wrong,” Todd said. And she is right. She was simply performing a basic corporal work of mercy. But her own government is telling her that, in order to be a good citizen, she should have kept on driving. They’re telling her it was wrong to stop and see what she could do for someone who was begging for help — that Americans obeying American law don’t do that kind of thing. That’s not who we Americans are.
 
 
This kind of law is clarifying. It’s the kind of law you cannot in good conscience obey — not as an American, not as a Christian, not as a human being. These laws help us remember who we are. The politics around immigration is just a distraction, and has nothing to do with your actual obligation when you have a live, dying human being named Esmerelda in front of you. 
 
There’s more. This is the year when laws that threaten the seal of confession may pass from rumor to reality. And dozens of priest and even, hallelujah, more than one bishop, have come out and said, “I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom.”
 
The proposed law is clarifying. It gets us to remember who we are and what we are supposed to be doing. Sometimes good times muddy the waters. Sometimes peace clouds our vision. So we have to have some restorative hard times to clarify things.
 
Can you not get me wrong, here? There are some things more cut and dried than others. Priests can never ever ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances. There’s no nuance, at all. Immigration is more unwieldy, and when we talk about how to manage it, sometimes good people come across as harsh and opportunists come across as merciful. It’s rare that it’s so black and white as a dying person directly in front of you begging for help. And the roof of Notre Dame is . . . a roof. Just a roof.
 

But as I said, good news is where you find it. It’s good practice to ask ourselves, “What would I do, if it were me? What should I do, and why?” If Notre Dame were remade into a temple to modernity, what would it do to my faith? If my son were a priest facing arrest, what would I tell him to do, and why? If Esmerelda’s brother staggered out in front of my car, what would I do?  Would I stop

This is what we’re talking about, when we talk about freedom of religion. It’s not the freedom to give political speeches in church, and it’s not the freedom to be tax exempt. It’s not the freedom to pass the laws we, as religious folk, think ought to be passed. It’s the freedom to follow Christ and to obey his commands, no matter what the cost. 
 
The truth is, we do have religious freedom. We always will. It’s just that we might be sent to jail for exercising that freedom.
 
And that is clarifying. 
 
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19 thoughts on “On Notre Dame, the seal of confession, and Esmerelda”

  1. The Jordanians blew up the Hurva Synagogue, in the Old City of Jerusalem, in 1948. After the city was re-taken in 1967, efforts began to rebuild it. So a committee sat for a decade or so and finally decided to build some super-modern (or post-modern, God help us) building in its place. Thankfully, no one accepted that. So they sat for another decade or so and decided to build a modern building with classic elements (or maybe a classic building with modern elements, who knows). Also no go. So after yet another decade, they said, “Let’s rebuild it exactly as it was!” And everyone said, “What took you so long?” So it’s up, looking as nice as ever. (Obviously the wiring and plumbing and so on is new. And as the building had stood for a long time, they had to decide what “as it was” meant, but they managed.)

    Now the other great synagogue of the Old City destroyed by the Jordanians, the Tiferet Yisrael, is being rebuilt. Exactly as it was.

  2. If America had the same kind of wall and security that Pope Francis and the Vatican have, these sad threats to human life and dignity of these poor migrants would be greatly reduced.

    1. But what’s your response to the catechism passage I showed you? It’s dirextly relevant to my essay, which your comment is not.

      1. Thats a matter of opinion.

        A Vatican-style wall and security apparatus would in fact prevent many of these human trafficking tragedies.

        And re the Catechism, no it does not, nor the provision you provide, require us to stop for hitchhikers.

        (Note: you closed comment to your catechism post below, preventing any reply)

          1. You know, it occurs to me that you have never left an honest or sensible comment on my site, so I guess this is your last comment on my site.

  3. If you get your news from npr am bot surprised of your perspective.

    You omit (accidentally or on purpose?) that the woman in question Teresa Todd is a COUNTY ATTORNEY with a legal obligation to cooperate with the law.

    1. My perspective that we have an obligation to perform corporal works of mercy?

      As I mentioned in the essay, she was literally on the phone with legal counsel to find out what she was supposed to do when the deputy arrived. Are you really going to argue that she did something wrong by stopping to help a human being who was dying?

      1. You do know that Catholics are obligated to disobey unjust laws, right? If the law says she should have kept driving and ignored the calls for help, then she is morally obligated to disobey that law, just as priests are morally obligated to disobey laws that tell them to break the seal of confession.

      2. I’m going to argue it is illegal, and also unjust, to violate laws preventing human trafficking.

        And more so if one is an officer of the law (County Attorney)…

        1. So you are saying that if a young woman were dying in front of you and her brother was begging you for help, you would refuse to stop, because you want to prevent human trafficking.

          1. No. I’m saying that human trafficking causes more death and needless suffering than people not picking up random people on highways.

              1. I made it very clear that I was talking about the choice to either stop and help a dying woman, or not stop and help a dying woman. The woman who was dying was not “human trafficking.” She was a specific woman named Esmerelda who was dying. To refuse to help her, in the name of “not supporting human trafficking,” would have been a mortal sin.

                1. No. The Catechism does not command that we pick up hitchhikers.

                  But condoning the illegal trafficking in human beings (here three of them being transported illegally and their status illegal) is a very serious moral matter.

                  We see it differently.

  4. If I were an American, or otherwise likely to have run into such a situation and fell foul of the laws, I would offer help to such people without question. If I were then questioned about what I had done, I would respond that everyone who knows me well is aware that I take a conservative view of immigration but that help for the sick or hungry is not the same as support for illegal or unsupervised immigration, or unenforced immigration laws. Would that get me out of trouble? I don’t know.

    I do know that I have a Latina counsin by marriage who does live in the US, quite legally, in a very ‘blue’ part of your country. All the same, she has been accosted several times, in the kindest way, by middle-aged ladies who ask her, “wouldn’t you prefer to live among your own people, dear?” They don’t mind immigration, legal or illegal, you see – they just don’t want their own neighbourhoods transformed by it.

  5. I’m glad they are not trying to mess with the original design of Notre Dame. Somethings need to remain. Sad about the lady being under investigation for human smuggling. I’m sure she will be ok if common sense prevails. We keep doing what’s right even when it is bloody hard.

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