Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dies Irae

I rewatched "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" last week, and I am impressed with how well the story is told. The music is Broadway-worthy, and the tale (as Victor Hugo intended) is a marvelous work of Western literature. Disney does a great job of rendering that story in the film. What struck me the most was how well the Church is portrayed in it. Rather than the typical out-of-touch, tyrannical institution that the Church is often caricatured as, She comes across as a defender of the outcasts.

In particular, after we meet Judge Frollo, we find the Archdeacon of Notre Dame intervening on behalf of a doomed child. Having already spilled blood of the mother, Frollo is going to drop the baby (whom he calls "a monster") into a nearby well. The Archdeacon stops him, asking if he would "add this child's blood to [his] guilt?" The woman - whose only "crime" was being a gypsy - suffered the judge's wrath - which did not allow for "inconvenient" people like her kind. Now, the child would suffer his prejudice as well. When he is forced to spare the child - and to care for it as atonement for his sin - Frollo names him "Quasimodo," meaning "half-formed."

During the entire sequence, as the woman seeks sanctuary, as Frollo pursues, as he takes the baby and attempts to kill him, and as the Archdeacon intervenes, the Latin hymn, "Dies Irae" is chanted. This hymn, composed in the 13th century is translated "The Day of Wrath," referring to Judgment Day. One line stands out to me here:

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

In English:

What fear there will be
When the Judge will come
(and) carefully examine all things.

It is here that Frollo "fears for his immortal soul." And it is wise of him. We are answerable for our actions, and however small or insignificant we judge our acts, however small or insignificant we believe those who are affected are, God sees it all - and it matters to Him. This is why the Church must advocate for the outcasts, the marginalized, the weakest, the poorest, the least. It is just these folks, with whom Jesus identifies, and our treatment of them that determines how we are judged.

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" carries many lessons on begin aware of those who are different, maligned and discounted; and we do well to learn those lessons. They are also the lessons of the Gospel. Before we discount or judge others who are different, remember Judge Frollo, who "saw corruption everywhere - except within." It takes a close look to see "who is the monster and who is the man," but in the end, the lesson is clear. Jesus comes in "distressing disguises," so our eyes must be open to recognize our Lord in the faces of those whom we meet.

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