With the murder today of 86 year old Fr Jacques Hamel while he was offering Mass in the small church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen in Normandy, the persecution of Christians in foreign lands, especially the Middle East, has come a lot closer to home. A lot closer. The Church of the west in now directly caught up in the plight of the persecuted Church abroad.
A small church on the edge of a sizeable city in a politically unremarkable part of France, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray could be St Anywhere. What priest in France, or Germany, or Belgium, or Holland… or Britain, heads into his church on a weekday to offer Mass and has even the slightest conception that he could possibly be murdered by enemies of Christ?
After today, that has become a much more conceivable possibility. Who is to say a small suburban or rural church might not be targeted in Britain? Churches are soft targets. So are rural monasteries.
So, take the warning that Fr Hamel’s murder offers, and go to confession. Be prepared spiritually at least.
There is little doubt that Fr Hamel is as much a martyr as the priests and faithful in Syria and Iraq, and Libya and Egypt, and elsewhere, who are being persecuted even unto death. His murderers have assured him heaven, and unless something miraculous happened in their last milliseconds of life, they have assured themselves of hell.
We might pause to let that sink in.
Death, judgment, heaven and hell: these remain the four last things we must all confront.
We might offer a prayer for Fr Jacques Hamel, that the Lord might receive him quickly into the promised land.
Then, we should pray to Fr Jacques that he might intercede for us. Martyred offering Christ’s sacrifice, he died truly in persona Christi. In the midst of all this tragedy, there is glory for Fr Jacques. Small comfort for us perhaps, if our faith is a little weak at the moment, but great comfort now for him if we could but see.
While we must resist these infidel assassins and the demon they serve, and do all that we can to stop them, we must not hate them. If we do, they have won. So charity says we offer a prayer for the murderers, in the faint hope that in their last feeling moments of life they recognised the demon they served for who he is, and repented. Logic says we need only offer one prayer for them. But charity outranks logic.
There is another victim today who also suffered a slit throat and is clinging to life. Prayers for that person. And for the nuns who were used as human shields by the cowards of Daesh: they must be quite traumatised.
When persecution is approaching, it is vital more than ever that we pray often, and worship right. And if that means priest faces East at the altar in solidarity with the congregation, as we did for 1900 years until the conciliar reforms, then I would hope bishops and ordinaries would not be so petty as to try to obstruct it; nor that those who are zealous for God’s house would act without consideration for those who find such a move incomprehensible, or worse. This is not the time for internecine strife. Yet it is the time we started getting back to Christian basics.
What other weapons do we really have?
PS Jacques Hamel – santo subito! Let’s start sainting martyrs; the popes can wait a little longer.