Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The quality of Christian martyrdom

The past twelve days since the Nice terrorism outrage has seen several more dreadful incidents of deadly violence in Germany, and this morning, another in Normandy, involving hostage taking in a church in Normandy, with the murder of a priest Fr Jacques Hamel (84), by men claiming the inspiration of Islamic State ideology. And this the same day as mass murder of disabled people in a Japanese care home by a man declaring the disabled have no right to life. The news of both these happenings again kept me close to broadcast media for much of the day, praying, and wrestling with the outrageous nature of these assaults on our common humanity.

Six years ago in my home diocese of Llandaff, Fr Paul Bennet was killed on his Aberdare vicarage doorstep by a mentally sick man. Ten years ago, Brother Roger of Taize was killed in church by a mentally sick religious follower. Forty years ago, Archbishop Janani Luwum was killed as he appealed to the dictator Idi Amin to halt the persecution of Ugandan people. Thirty six years ago Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered while saying Mass in El Salvador, in a vain effort to silence his protest against human rights abuses. Twenty seven years ago Fr Ignacio Ellacuria and his companions were also murdered by the Salvadorian Army in an attempt to silence their challenges to the record of human rights abuses. 

There is nothing new about the murder of clerics as they celebrate Mass or teach the faithful about the saving power of the Gospel of Christ. As clerics are public figures, it's a risk that goes with the job, that one might be called upon to surrender one's life, perhaps more likely to the arbitrary evil appetite of those whose minds have been perverted, so they can no longer tell good from evil, evil from good, rather than from an organised persecuting power, like Nazism or Atheism or Soviet Communism. The so-called islamic state has an apocalyptic ideology driving its outrageous tactics, derived from perverted sectarian islamic thought, and is no less dangerous in its idolatrous addiction to violence than any previous expression of totalitarian rule. In the end its actions will prove futile, but at great cost to the rest of humankind.

A malicious individual or collective ideology, spells ill-will either way. It expresses power to divide and destroy community through the fear of violence. Of its very nature, this is diabolical, in the ancient sense of the word - divisive, unleashing chaos. The reality of the 'devil and all his works' depends not on whether it exists in the same sense as God exists, but on the power ill-will has to influence reality. Human beings make diabolical acts happen out of malice, but also by indifference and neglect. Evil has the potential to take on a life of its own beyond our ability to resist or control. Understanding this 'mystery of iniquity' seems much diminished in social awareness today, so people are less than ready to cope with it. St Peter's vivid wake up call twenty centuries ago still applies.

'Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil walketh about as a roaring lion; whom resist, steadfast in the faith' (1 Peter 5:8)

In the end, Christians are not called upon to believe in the absolute existence of the devil, but rather to proclaim the victory of Christ over the devil - He who was in all things reconciling the world to Himself by the power of love, not dividing the world against itself, leaving us helpless facing chaos.

An active, faithful elderly retired priest in Normandy has been taken out by the power of unbridled evil having its way because people of good will have not yet done enough to prevent or protect innocent and vulnerable people from getting hurt. This isn't a criticism of security services. This is a matter for every member of each community that declares a faith conviction.

Those 'diabolical' forces thrive in a world where not enough interest is taken in those alienated from the ordinary affairs of life, those who separate themselves and seem threatening, so that it takes an effort to hear what they honestly have to say about themselves. Every social group has separatists and extremists in need of engaging in dialogue, in an effort to understand and address what causes their bitterness and anger to thrive. Minds are perverted by propaganda and lies long before evil choices are made. Only a constant struggle to ensure that truth and justice are done for all people, can counter the poisonous destructive effect of ill-will.

Fr Jacques Hamel kept the faith, and was killed because of the faith he lived by and represented as a priest, serving people through the church his entire life. We will struggle to recall his murderer's name, but this priest's name and his story will live on.

'The noble army of martyrs praise thee O God.'

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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