Here in Australia it is already Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is Our Lady’s day par excellence. She alone kept the faith in that dark night when everyone else, including all the apostles, had lost it. This is the origin of Saturday as Our Lady’s day.
Yesterday just before the Mass of the Presanctified, a couple of unexpected visitors appeared at St Patrick’s Church in Colebrook. A woman, unknown to me, when hearing that we were “Notre Dame Monastery”, asked if we were the same one that recently burnt down…. When I perceived that she was referring to the cathedral of Paris, I understood that she must not understand the meaning of “Notre Dame”, which of course is French for “Our Lady”. She didn’t, and so I explained it to her.
But this led me to reflect upon our own community and why it is dedicated to Notre Dame. Actually last Tuesday when the news came of the devastating fires in Paris, one of the first messages I got went like this: “We need Notre Dame more than ever now that fire has ravaged ‘her’! Keep up your great efforts to build the Monastery “. Interesting, I thought. Notre Dame Paris is burning, and Notre Dame Tasmania is building. But why do we bear that name to begin with?
Of course, the choice was influenced by my 32 years in France. The expression Notre Dame is one of those traits of French genius that captures in two words a whole universe of grace. Another example is the way the French refer to the feast of Corpus Christi, calling it “Fête-Dieu” literally “God’s Feast”. That innate Catholic sense allowed them to see that Corpus Christi is God’s special day, for on it we honour no longer one of His invisible mysteries, nor just one of his saints, whose relics we might happen to possess, but God Himself in the flesh living among us.
So it is with the title Notre Dame, Our Lady. Mary is a Dame. The word is still used in English, in particular to refer to solemnly professed nuns of certain religious orders. You might hear of Dame Margaret, or Dame Hilda, or Dame Elizabeth… It refers to a mature woman, one who is no longer in her youth, one who has achieved and who lives in accordance with the dignity of pure, compassionate, loving, and strong womanhood. It denotes a woman who is fully conscious of the privilege she has received from God of being a sister of Notre Dame, a sister of that great Woman in whose womb God became incarnate and who stood at the Cross while God her Son was dying. A dame is a woman who, by her gentle but firm command, orders her household with prudence and wisdom. She inspires in younger women zeal for purity, integrity, attentiveness to others. Young women learn, by contemplating a true lady, a true dame, that self-centredness has no place in their lives, but that woman is, by nature, created to nurture, protect, help, guide and save life, and lead it to maturity.
Our Lady, Notre Dame, is thus a model for all women, and that model has never been more crucially needed than today when the world strives by every means to deprive women of their true grandeur, convincing them that to succeed that have to compete with men, or worse, that they must get rid, as soon as possible, of that most precious gift of virginity and avoid at all costs the eminent dignity of maternity. Mary is honoured with the double privilege of virginity and maternity. The modern world would deprive them of both, leaving them barren of both natural and spiritual progeny.
Our Lady, Notre Dame, because of her virginity, her prudence, her prayer, her openness to the divine plan, is also a model for men consecrated to God. That is why, all over France, monasteries were founded that called themselves Notre Dame of…. So sweet it is bear that name of the Great Lady who bore God in her womb, and who inspires to this day legions of men and women to imitate her purity in the religious life.
And so it was that, when this monastery was founded, instinctively it was to Notre Dame that I turned.
On this day of Our Lady par excellence, let us turn to her and ask her to rebuild the magnificent cathedral of Paris and raise to the glory of her Son a much more modest edifice, though truly beautiful and great in its own right, here in Tasmania, where future generations will come to sing the praises of that humble maiden whom the whole world knows under the name of Notre Dame.