ISIS Martyrs Priest Saying Mass. The Front Lines Aren’t Where You Think They Are.

She would have to be a saint because that was the occupation that included everything you could know; and yet she knew she would never be a saint. She did not steal or murder but she was a born liar and slothful and she sassed her mother and was deliberately ugly to almost everybody. She was eaten up also with the sin of Pride, the worst one. She made fun of the Baptist preacher who came to the school at commencement to give the devotional. She would pull down her mouth and hold her forehead as if she were in agony and groan, “Fawther, we thank Thee,” exactly the way he did and she had been told many times not to do it. She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.

She could stand to be shot but not to be burned in oil. She didn’t know if she could stand to be torn to pieces by lions or not. She began to prepare her martyrdom, seeing herself in a pair of tights in a great arena, lit by the early Christians hanging in cages of fire, making a gold dusty light that fell on her and the lions. The first lion charged forward and fell at her feet, converted. A whole series of lions did the same. The lions liked her so much she even slept with them and finally the Romans were obliged to burn her but to their astonishment she would not burn down and finding she was so hard to kill, they finally cut off her head very quickly with a sword and she went immediately to heaven. She rehearsed this several times, returning each time at the entrance of Paradise to the lions. Finally she got up from the window and got ready for bed and got in without saying her prayers.

From “A Temple Of The Holy Ghost” by Flannery O’Connor

These days it’s hard to wake up in the morning. I know that once I sit up, I’ll have to get dressed; once I get dressed, I’ll have to engage with the world; and once I engage with the world, I’ll see the most recent calamity to befall mankind. It seems that every day offers a tragedy more horrendous than the last.

This morning I fearfully pressed my thumb to the biometric sensor on my phone. As it sparked to life, its brightness scarring my retinas, I read that Father Jacques Hamel, an 86-year-old French priest, has been martyred by ISIS adherents as he offered the mass.

Father Jacques Hamel - Photo by Diocese of Rouen
Father Jacques Hamel – Photo by Diocese of Rouen

To look at his picture, you might immediately be able to see your own local priest in his face. We have an idea of what this quiet Tuesday daily mass would have looked like in the increasingly secular France. An 86-year-old priest, two Nuns, and a small handful of faithful mass-attendees gathered for what was likely a very quiet mass. The sound of shuffling feet echoed off the centuries-old walls and floors. A muffled cough here and there. Likely no one was in any kind of a hurry. This was an event that they could have done in their sleep (and some may have attempted). This was routine. From the outside perspective, it likely took on an ‘Eleanor Rigby’ vibe.

But something far more profound was going on here, and while sometimes we are unable to see it; the devil sees it clearly. Where we see tired eyes, stiff joints, and rehearsed responses; the reality is quite different. They that attend daily mass are wise warriors, placing themselves in the presence of God himself. Something very vibrant was occurring in that dusty church, but we’re too blinded by the screens on our phone to see it. God was made manifest. He came and met with them and ate with them and fed them day after day after day after day. Father Jacques knew it, the nuns knew it, and the attendees knew it.

These two ISIS adherents weren’t attacking a meaningless target. They didn’t get sidetracked with some frivolous mission. They were attacking the front lines. They were attacking the special forces.

Here is perhaps the most important thing for us to remember. They’re coming for you next. When is the last time you went to confession? When is the last time you participated in the mass — not just with a good speaking voice and nailing all the responses in the right places — but with your prayers? When is the last time you prayed, other than mealtime and bedtime? Are you prepared to face death simply for going to mass? Living the sacramental life will give you all the strength you need to face whatever comes your way.

This blog is called “A Belief Observed” because belief, true belief, manifests itself in visible ways. Belief isn’t merely internal, it can’t be. Once belief is truly appropriated it always affects action. Do you believe that Christ is manifestly present in the Eucharist? If so, the mass cannot ever be dusty or boring. If so, you would gladly lay down your life for that belief.

You will likely never be asked to lay down your life. Maybe you’ll only have to deal with discrimination, or with being labeled a bigot. Maybe you’ll only have to endure the slings and arrows of the internet combox. But maybe, just maybe, one day at daily mass your life will be required of you.

May today’s martyrs pray for our souls, may they pray for our courage, and may we – through their intercessions – come to more fully understand the presence of God that meets us and nourishes us at every mass. May we be willing to endure everything to become saints.

I don’t know about you, but tonight, I’m saying my prayers.

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