Aujourd'hui, nous sommes tous français.

Today, we are all French. Today, we gasp, we ache, we mourn. Today, we feel a nauseating sense of loss. Today, we weep.

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is surely, along with St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, among the three most famous Christian churches in the world. And with good reason. It is — it was — magnificent.

The sheer size of the cathedral was stunning. For it to have been commissioned 850 years ago, and finished, largely, 700 years ago, makes its achievement even more mind-boggling. A person would walk through and say out loud, “How did they do this without motorized cranes, without modern alloys to help lift the stones and beams, before the flowering of knowledge and science that was the Renaissance?”

How did they figure out how to do those flying buttresses? How did they create that astonishingly beautiful rose window? What remarkable sense of devotion, of faith, inspired them?

Words fail at the tragedy that is this cathedral’s destruction. The mind wonders how authorities could have failed to have firefighting assets pre-positioned to respond immediately to a nightmare like this. Then guilt sets in for thinking of assigning blame in the midst of a disaster that hurts so badly, so deeply, especially to the French people who rightly were so proud of the glorious edifice.

Growing up in New Orleans, I and other students at Trinity Episcopal School had the same French teacher, Mme. Marcelle Feraud, for eight straight years. She was so, so very French. As a young woman, she had carried occasional messages for La Résistance against the Nazis. And she loved, loved, loved La Notre Dame. I think we were in first grade when she first began trying to explain flying buttresses to us.

Mme. Feraud finally passed away last year, just months before I finally visited her beloved cathedral. I’m glad she never had to see it burn. But while it stood, it was, like her, the epitome of what was best in France and best in Christendom.

Aujourd'hui, nous sommes tous français.