Last Tuesday morning, July 26 in northern France an elderly priest was leading morning prayers when two followers of the Islamic State stormed the church, and to the worshipers’ horror they forced Father Jacques Hamel to his knees and mercilessly slit his throat.
Upon hearing the news of this story I was overcome with sadness. I began to think about the priest who was killed and wondered who he was and what he was like. Was he a quiet man or was he outgoing? What sort of things did he like to do and how would people remember him?
Then I wondered how the men who took his life could do so without even knowing him personally. But then I realized that they did know him, or at least they knew enough about him. He was directly targeted because they knew he was a priest and thereby a follower of Jesus Christ.
For a Catholic priest the Mass is the central act of divine worship. Father Jacques Hamel was leading the congregants in prayer and was acting in the person of Jesus when they took his life on Tuesday. We need to remember that Christ had the last word and the ultimate victory in our own salvation story.
This priest gave his life for the faith and is a witness and reminder of the leader we believe in. Every Sunday when we go to Mass we are mystically standing at the foot of the cross, but last Tuesday those congregants saw just how real the battle between good and evil is in this world.
So what are we to do when this violence is inflicted on our community?
In honor of Father Jacques who was killed during Mass and all the other Christians who have been martyred for the faith we need to pick up where they left off. We need to go to Mass as often as we can and we need to pray unceasingly.
When I began to think beyond the priest personally and at the larger picture I saw that this story for Catholics and Christians is not one of defeat but one of triumph. We need to remember that Jesus Christ’s love is the news that we have to share with a world that is bleeding to hear it.
Kim Griffin is a writer in Philadelphia.
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