This one seems especially horrific: a Catholic priest, robed in his vestments, was offering the celebration of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, the sacred liturgy of remembrance, forgiveness, love, and compassion for all. According to a nun who was present at the early morning Mass, “He was standing in front of the altar, they made him get down on his knees and then he started to resist.” Those attending the liturgy cried out and begged the men to stop, but the assailants were shouting: “You Christians are wiping us out!” They made a speech at the altar in Arabic and then video taped the slitting of Fr. Jacques’ throat.
This devoted 84 year old man, who grew up near Saint Etienne and was beloved by all, was described as an “extraordinary priest,” always on the go here, there, and everywhere, always full of life and concern for his parishioners, always bearing witness to the faith he loved so dearly. And he was struck down in the middle of the holiest act of Christian worship, as were Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury in the 12th century and Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador in the 20th. Fr. Jacques’ blood was poured out for his assassins at the altar even as Christ’s blood was poured out on the cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He died a Christian martyr. Four hostages were taken, two nuns and two laypeople. One is seriously injured and is in intensive care. The attackers were both killed by the police.
How Do We Respond?
Of course, we pray for all the victims of such senseless acts of violence, and for their families and friends. In this instance, we pray in gratitude for the life and holy death of Fr. Jacques. We may pray to Fr. Jacques to comfort his people now more than ever, for we believe he is truly blessed with the saints at the Heavenly Banquet.
Further, the French bishops have designated this Friday, July 29, as a day of fasting. By offering our acts of penance, we signify our deep hope for the conversion of all those who would do us harm, for healing and forgiveness, for world peace.
What would Julian advise us to do? She, too, lived in an especially violent age, a time of endless wars, maimings, killings, plagues, destruction, and death. They disturbed her deeply:
That there are many evil deeds done in our sight and such great harms suffered, that it seems to us that it would be impossible that it ever could come to a good end. And upon this we look, sorrowing and mourning therefore, so that we can not rest ourselves in the blissful beholding of God as we should do. And the cause is this: that the use of our reason is now so blind, so low, and so simple, that we can not know the high, the marvelous wisdom, the might, and the goodness of the blissful trinity.
Even amidst the worst violence, Julian reminds us that God can and will and must bring good out of evil: eventually "all shall be well." Of course we cannot see or imagine how or when or in what way. But we must hold fast to our belief that the blood of martyrs of every nation and time is never, ever wasted. As Tertullian wrote in the second/third century: "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." We must not lose hope that this evil, like every evil, will eventually be overcome by the love of God.
Acts of Peace
At the same time, we must be willing, in some definite way, to act for peace. Every hour of every day. May I suggest that if you wish to become living witnesses of peace, not war; of love, not hatred; of healing, not retribution, that you make three acts of peace every day? It’s a simple practice and it doesn’t require enormous effort. But it can have far-reaching consequences.
Simply set your mind every morning to find three specific opportunities for creating a little more peace in the world: do a kind deed for a neighbor or fellow worker; listen attentively to someone’s struggle or pain-filled story; respond to an angry outburst with a word of kindness; go out of your way to offer encouragement to someone in need. If this idea intrigues you, please visit: www.onethousandactofpeace.com where you’ll find loads of ideas for committing Acts of Peace in your home, your business, your community, your place of worship, even in the classroom (check it out: kids love Kids TAP!).
Think about it: your three Acts of Peace a day will add up to more than One Thousand Acts of Peace every year. And if everyone committed three daily Acts of Peace, can you imagine what a world we could create? I am sure Julian would heartily approve.