The outpourings of emotion and remembrances at the scenes of the Paris terrorist massacres are quite telling — piles of flowers and candles marking the specific spots where people gather to reflect. It all looks and sounds incredibly Catholic. But the question is: Just how Catholic is it?
It has all the outward signs of Catholicism, after all. But just how authentically Catholic is it? It is a curious thing when a nation which has officially abandoned Catholicism still has an almost instinctual Catholic response. But Catholicism is merely a shadow of its former self in the nation known as the Eldest Daughter of the Church. It's a strange balance between rejection and acceptance. In a kind of scaled-down way, it's kind of like the Catholics who show up only for Christmas and Easter. You wonder: Why are they here? It isn't theological or really even spiritual, beyond the most superficial understanding of the term "spiritual."
The point to note in Paris, as mourners bring by their dying flowers and soon-to-be burnt-out and blown-out candles, some vestige of truth remains, however obscured and lost on the mourners themselves. It is a curious pity; you feel sorry for people who still respond on some foundational level to a tragedy, still respond out of a long-forgotten sense of Catholic identity. These scenes of Paris mourning are a cause of mourning in and of themselves.
When you see them in poses resembling prayer, you wonder: What are they praying for; do they even know what to pray for? Do they have and hold a conscious thought that some of the souls of the victims may be in excruciating need of prayer in Purgatory? Are they showing up because of some melodrama playing out in their own individual psyches or personality types, the types drawn to drama or tragedy? They are memorializing an event, using Catholic signs and symbols to do so, yet don't really understand why, and have no lasting purpose to what they are doing because they do not understand.
This is what happens when Catholics forget the Faith; they respond out of it when the moments of intensity arise, but they are not able to climb to the greater heights of that Faith because they have been deprived of it by those charged and consecrated to keep it alive in them. The scenes we are witnessing in Paris are tragic and sad on more than just the obvious level. And this truth is present in more than just Paris. It's true in our own families. It's true in our workplaces and our college dorms and our circles of friends.
Catholic truth is present in every soul, every person, because the founder of the Catholic faith created every person for the Catholic faith. And it is present, not in the crazy "anonymous Christian" ramblings of Karl Rahner, but in a real tangible way. The soul is created for Christ, as St. Paul so beautifully reminds the Catholics of Colossae repeating the words of an ancient hymn: "All were created through Him, all were created for Him."
When we see the scenes of mourning and memorializing being demonstrated in Catholic ways with Catholic signs and symbols, our hearts should break for the mourners, not so much because they feel a sense of human loss, but because they are living in a continual state of spiritual loss. The Church needs to come to the aid and comfort of Her Eldest Daughter, and not just Her Eldest Daughter, but all Her children who are in such great need. Faithful Catholics must keep these sad images in their minds so they can begin or continue the work of fulfilling Our Blessed Lord's words: "Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted."