AT the start of Holy Week amidst the blackened and ancient timbers of Notre Dame de Paris the cathedral’s golden cross, untouched by fire and shining defiantly, seemed to convey a message of hope and redemption. As dusk descended across Paris hundreds of Catholics, old and young, gathered to sing Ave Maria, the beautiful old prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It seemed to provide solace even as the flames consumed the church that was built in her honour.

In these dark hours it might even have seemed that secular France, once considered the diadem in the crown of medieval popes, had returned to the old faith and that the Notre Dame fire had been the act of a sorrowful God intended to remind his children of His presence and His power. To most others it was a modern tragedy born of mere happenstance. And to grateful newspaper editors it was a gorgeous picture that would carry a poster front page beneath a serif font and look magnificent the next day on a thousand news stands.

More than one billion euros have been pledged to the cost of rebuilding this stricken icon of France. Among the offers of help came one from the custodians of Glasgow School of Art which has encountered its own trials by fire. Presumably, this kind gesture did not include advice on how to fit a sprinkler system.

Some of the quantums were eye-watering and included 200 million euros from the L’Oreal cosmetics house as well as donations from Nissan and Prince Albert of Monaco. The world’s most anointed people were rising, almost as a single organism, to come to the aid of Notre Dame, this ancient icon of timeless beauty and an emblem of all that they have tried to capture in their global brands.

It would be churlish and cynical to talk of tax-breaks and virtue-signalling here but the decision to spend a few hundred million euros for the privilege of being forever associated with the repair of such a grand place will not have encountered much resistance from their marketing directors. If you required proof of how quickly very rich people can be parted with their money for the right kind of cause then you had it right here. That re-roofing a church administered by the Catholic Church, one of the richest organisations on God’s earth is the ‘right’ type of cause remains open to debate.

The Catholic Church has lost so many of its adherents over the last few decades that it now finds itself the custodian of some highly desirable, but very empty real estate throughout western Europe. In my own neighbourhood, just north of Glasgow, a single priest administers three different parishes, each with a house that ranks among the grandest in the vicinity. There are thousands of these barren properties across the continent, desolate tokens of lost power and authority. If sold on the open market they would raise a sum not far away from that required to undertake the task of repairing the roof of Notre Dame (though there would be many more pressing human projects deserving of the money than the roof of an ancient cathedral).

The residence of the archbishop of Edinburgh in Morningside sits amidst properties owned by JK Rowling and the most affluent scions of the capital’s establishment. I visited it once and couldn’t tell you what purpose it serves beyond maintaining a pastor of a church that purports to represent the poor in the style of a prince. You may even wonder if the great whited sepulchre of the Vatican was what our saviour had in mind for the successors of Peter.

Pope Francis has urged his clergy to adopt a much more austere and frugal lifestyle as befits the successors of Jesus, a man born into poverty and persecution and who died unjustly, a wretched and forsaken man. In Scotland, as in other countries across Europe, the message of Pope Francis appears to have fallen on stony ground when you observe the splendour in which some of these princes of Rome reside. In the wake of the decades-long evil of clerical sex abuse and the iniquitous cover-ups that followed the pews have emptied but you couldn’t mark some of the necks of those who acquiesced in this with a blow-torch. Thus, appeals for them to live a more stripped-down existence and one closer to their flock are hardly likely to ruffle the folds of their gold-stitched vestments.

In the empty space once occupied by the roof of Notre Dame and in its charred remains below it’s possible to see a metaphor for all that’s befallen the Catholic Church. It has caved in on itself, brought down by the weight of its own arrogance and corruption. It needs reformed and re-constructed but not in the way that Notre Dame will be re-built; to restore power and glory. Its renewal must result in a simpler, more humble church: one that will welcome the poor and the outcasts; embrace sinners and not judge them. Those who will use it to denounce and to seek power and money should find this place to be a hostile environment.

When Easter Sunday dawns tomorrow the faithful will proclaim that Christ is risen and that he is a real presence in the world today. We will also remember the 245 million Christians around the globe who, according to the Dutch charity Open Doors, are persecuted, suffer and die for their faith. This is a Church whose central message has prevailed over 2,000 years and which continues to be a force for great good in the world. Its humanitarian work in those places where governments fear to tread or consider beneath their concern is incalculable. It will always be hated and held to be contemptible by the ignorant; the conceited and the materialistic. Its tragedy is that it has come to embrace these vices rather than abjuring them.

It must re-discover unconditional love, humility and charity, those virtues that changed lives and improved nations. The world has never needed it more to be like this; to resemble more closely the life of the messiah. This cannot happen though, until its priests and ministers take a long overdue vow of poverty, humility and obedience to the simple truth of the Gospel of Jesus.