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…