Fr Jacques Hamel, Martyr

For the first time in my life, I have said Mass in honour of a Martyr the very day of his death. Until this morning, this retired priest of the Archdiocese of Rouen was helping out in his local parish, and was saying Mass for two religious sisters and two lay people. His name will now be one of the noble army of Martyrs praising thee as I paraphrase from the Te Deum. There is no need for a beatification or canonisation, which will certainly happen in time. I was inclined to commemorate him as a Martyr at today’s Mass of St Anne rather than remember him at the memento of the dead like any deceased person.

I live in the territory of the Rouen Archdiocese, but I never met Fr Jacques. He was born in 1930 and was ordained in 1958. This morning, he was elderly and known to his parishioners and the clergy of his diocese, an ordinary priest going about helping out in an ordinary parish. Why was he chosen by the two drug and ideology crazed terrorists this morning? They could have taken out a whole congregation on a Sunday morning! They started “preaching” in Arabic near the altar of the church, made Fr Jacques kneel and then they cut his throat with a knife.

Martyrdom is all the difference between Christianity and Islam. In the Christian Gospel, victory is won through weakness, through the sacrifice of the victim and not the strength of the executioner. Many would like Christianity to glorify wealth and strength as the reward of success, and this is a question I have already discussed. In Islam, the victims are always the guilty ones – raped women, victims of a massacre, the conquered. For this reason, the executioner cries الله أكبر, “God is the greatest”. In his perverted “theology” a sacrifice is accomplished and the strong is vindicated.

In some of my reflections on Gnosticism, Allah is the Demiurge par excellance, the jealous psychopath who kills and punishes, who gasps for blood like a Transylvanian vampire. Gnostic mythology situates the separation between the God above God, the true God, and the creating entities in whom evil had entered. The Demiurge is the ultimate Führer who rules with tyranny and makes the world into a living hell. For this kind of Islam (there are many kinds from the contemplative Sufis to the Shiites and Sunni among others), they take advantage of the “weakness” and tolerance of Christianity.

There are messages coming out of this awful event of a 86-year old retired priest being killed in such an atrocious way. One was that he accepted retirement only as an official requirement of his Church, but that he wished to continue to minister until the day of his death. The priesthood is something we carry with us all our lives. We don’t put it on and take it off like our cassock. This is the way we were taught at seminary, and this is a very important aspect of the French school of priestly spirituality. Therefore, Fr Jacques helped out in a parish on a voluntary basis even though he was officially retired. Many elderly priests do. The priesthood is not something we put on like a garment, or even our identity to make us important human beings – but is Christ within those of us who are ordained. The Church calls the priesthood a sacred character like Baptism and Confirmation. The term is of course an analogy of something that is ineffable and mysterious.

Fr Jacques was killed in hatred of the Christian faith and the priesthood of Christ. He died a Martyr. There is absolutely no doubt about it. The Gospel more than ever shows us that the alternative to the Ubermensch and the domination of the strongest is the teaching of the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

This is the meaning of the Gospel and the priesthood Christ passed to his Apostles and the bishops and priests in their succession.

Blessed Jacques, Priest and Martyr, pray for us…

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9 Responses to Fr Jacques Hamel, Martyr

  1. J.D. says:

    I admit that I am sometimes deeply challenged and repulsed by the “turn the other cheek” message of Christianity and how almost all the earliest saints were martyrs brutally tortured.

    How do we not succumb to rage and anger and even the desire for retaliation when it seems normal, sensible and even reasonable? To just allow people to basically trample you and your culture to death seems insane. The early saints are almost all martyrs. It’s this really the lot of Christians, to be brutally tortured and put to death so they can be painted on icons in the future while here in the real world the strong and the most cunning take the spoils?

    • I too find this question deeply challenging. One illustration of it is in The Mission of 1985, the film about Jesuit missionaries in the lands of the Guarani in the 18th century. When the Portuguese came to make the people slaves, there were two possible responses from the Jesuits: Rodrigo Mendoza who decided to fight – and got killed – and Fr Gabriel who processed with the Blessed Sacrament – and got killed.

      Perhaps humanity is a failed experiment – whichever way you turn. Do you want to be the strongest and most cunning, racing your way to the top in business, politics – or crime? Is this what God wants? As Fr Gabriel in the film said, If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that, Rodrigo.

  2. Jim Russo says:

    I can not imagine a more glorious death for a parish priest than that which was granted to Father Hamel. Having completed the Holy Sacrifice, and still ministering to his people, he confirmed with his blood the Faith he had always preached. A true and blessed martyr!

  3. ed pacht says:

    It doesn’t show courage or strength to take another’s life or seek to injure another. A coward can do that. Rage is a sign of surrender, allowing someone else to determine one’s mood. St. Paul said, “When I am weak, I am strong.” What strength of will it takes to love one’s enemies, to pray for one’s persecutors! JD is correct that “it seems normal, sensible and even reasonable” to react with rage, with anger, with a desire for retribution. It’s only natural, but that’s the point: It’s ONLY natural, but, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christians are called to be supernatural. As the prophet said, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” “Turn the other cheek.” is not merely a “message of Christianity,” but, more importantly it is a word from the Christ, as is His comment about laying down one’s life for one’s brother. His saving act is one that looks like defeat, and to follow Him is to take up a cross as He did. In the Blood of Christ is our victory. a victory written clearly in he blood of the martyrs.

    Fr. Jacques Hamel, pray for us. Pray that we be not transformed by hate to become haters, but that by the love of Christ we overcome the dreadful works of Satan.

  4. J.D. says:

    On reflecting on this further it makes me see that fundamentally Christianity is “otherworldly ” and puts Christians in between this fallen world and the Kingdom which somehow interpenetrates this world but which lies fundamentally beyond it. Christianity, like Buddhism, is world and life denying,or perhaps I should say “life transcending”. It is ultimately about dying and going to spend eternity in heaven with an interlude here filled with deliberately bearing insults,tortures and death as a “sign” of the ultimate insufficiency of life in a world tainted and marred by sin and evil.

    I guess it takes radical faith to live this way because, as I said, it is wholly against nature to do so. If it’s true it also seems to make sense that a strict pacifism and resignation in the face of all insult and evil is the Christian path. I don’t know if I have the stomach for that to be honest.

    It also seems to show that the crusader ethos the inquisition and any other violence done in the name of Christ whether in self defense or otherwise is a mockery of Christianity regardless of whether giants within the tradition like Aquinas may have erroneously argued otherwise.

    • Dostoievsky seemed to have understood this tension well in his Parable of the Grand Inquisitor

      The issue here is not the Roman Catholic Church converting people by force but the wider issue of weakness and strength. If you want to be strong, then Christianity does not fit the bill. The choices today are radical Islam and the various forms of Nationalism that will be provoked to fight against it.

      If might is right, then love has no place in this world…

  5. Gerard Fagan says:

    Merci pour votre service, fr. Anthony. Your reflections on this sad, yet glorious, story make good reading amid the secular coverage in the press. Thanks again.

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