The Church of the martyrs comes closer to home

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.


18 thoughts on “The Church of the martyrs comes closer to home

  1. Yes, a small suburban town of Rouen… who would in their wildest dreams have ever imagined the murder of an elderly priest offering Holy Mass, and on a weekday.

    May Pére Fr Jacques Hamel, rest in peace. May he pray for us, as you say.

    Terrible for us all; terrible for France, a one-time Home of the Popes!

    This whole episode doesn’t bear thinking about, but we must and as you say, learn our lesson from it: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell. Now, where did I once upon a time hear of those ‘frightening” things before???

    I was struck by the press communiqué this morning of Most Reverend Dominique Lebrun, Archbishop of Rouen:

    “I cry out to God, with all men of good will. And I invite all non-believers to unite with this cry … The Catholic Church has no other arms besides prayer and fraternity between men.”

    I’m reminded of the motion picture “Of Gods and Men” depicting the life and martyrdom of the community of Cistercian Monks in Algeria loving their neighbour at gunpoint. “And who is my neighbour?”


  2. Tears, so many tears Father…
    that the West, our leaders, our people will wake up to what is happening..
    Your words Father…”Death, judgment, heaven and hell: these remain the four last things we must all confront.” that humankind would realize it is time to heed them…
    A long sigh and heavy thoughts this evening as my country is caught up with the latest media fiasco—the democratic circus, I mean convention…..Fr Hamel’s murder received only a cursory mention on the evening news—where are our priorities as a people–I just don’t understand this world of ours…..
    Prayers for all of Christ’s followers—that our hearts may always be ready to fight His fight…..against the forces of darkness….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Maybe the press did not care to notice much, but the people out here in the world, including the west, weep. A sad reflexion on the state of the world right now, as Satan recruits the few, to attempt to weaken the many. He will not win. Prayers for the souls of those headed in the wrong direction, and prayers to the martyrs.


  4. Just a little question, a bit difficult to raise due to the very emotional dimension of all of that.

    I do sincerely believe that Fr Hamel is in his way to heaven, but is he a martyr, strictly speaking ? He has been killed “in hate of faith” (“en haine de la foi” ?) ; but I do not think that he confessed the faith, that he was offered the perspective of rejecting Christ and that he rejected this perspective to embrace death.

    From what I understood, a martyr is someone who persist even if he could have fled, even if the perspective of being a “lapsi” was offered. The classical example is that of the Decian persecution : offer the sacrifice to the gods or die.

    I don’t think that Fr Hamel was offered any alternative. So my point is not to deny at all his sacrifice or the fact that he was killed because a was a christian and because he was a priest ; but I am just not sure that the word martyr is totally appropriate. But maybe it is my definition which is wrong.


    1. Pax!

      The deeper and original understanding of Christian martyrdom sees that the martyrs dies not firstly in hatred of the Faith, in odium fidei, but in hatred of Christ, in odium Christi. So the marry dies witnessing to Christ within the context of the Faith. Thus Matthew 16:25: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

      The offering of an alternative is not required for martyrdom. Fr Hamel will murdered precisely because he was a Catholic priest, an alter Christus, offering Mass in persona Christi. Fr Hamel’s situation is pretty much textbook martyrdom.

      Though we read many examples of martyrs who were offered the opportunity to renounce their faith in Christ, or to sully it with compromise, such a choice is not formally essential to martyrdom because ultimately martyrdom is not about personal merit but conformity to Christ.

      So yes, your definition was faulty. Or rather, it was the popular definition which has become a little divorced from its foundations.

      I hope this helps.



      1. Thank you very much for these elements, father.

        Just to clarify things, let’s imagine a bad priest, unbeliever, simoniac, and everything… killed celebrating the sacrifice of the mass. I think we would both agree that he would not be a saint. So where the decisive criterion is located ? I believed it was in the “alternative”, the “confession” of martyrdom. If it is not that, it must be something else.

        I just looked at the CCC :
        2473 Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude. “Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God.”271

        So the “thing”, the “criterion” seems to be about witness(ing Christ). There is also this “act of fortitude” thing.

        I just don’t know. But what bothers me is that if the martyrdom is purely “negative” (like a brutal assassination), if it is pure determinism, well, not much separates the martyr from the one who dies instantly in another manner. Basically, if Fr Hamel died brutally of a natural cause, there would have been not much difference from the perspective of “positive” sanctification. Maybe what I write is not very clear.

        Anyway, all of that sounds a bit like cold reasoning. Should I ask these questions ? I don’t know. I’m just a bit uneasy about the “deterministic” aspect of this kind of sainthood, if it is one. Of course, sainthood is “determined” by grace, we are not pelagians… But here I do not see the cooperation to the grace offered through (of course, not by) the horrific act of the “jihadist”.

        In any case, thank you for having answered me. God bless you and your work.


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