BY SEAN FITZPATRICK, JULY 27, 2016
On Tuesday July 26, the day after the feast day of St. James and less than two weeks after a rampaging Islamic terrorist killed 84 civilians with a truck in the south of France, Fr. Jacques Hamel was celebrating Mass in a quiet Normandy church in Sainte-Etienne-du-Rouvray. Two militants backed by ISIS burst through the doors. The attackers forced the 86-year-old priest to his knees. They stabbed him in the chest and slit his throat. After praying aloud in Arabic around the altar, they stabbed one of the petrified and pleading congregation of five, two nuns and three laypeople. When police arrived, they attempted negotiation for the hostages but, in the end, the murderers were gunned down by sniper commandos.
All along, as the Normandy killers carried out their bloody crimes in the name of the Islamic State, they repeatedly cried out “Allahu akbar,” meaning, “God is great.” Though their cries do not proclaim the greatness of the true God, they do proclaim a great warning to the West. The threat of Islam is come again, as it has in ages past, and it is sounding a warning to the Western nations to cling to the God of life and love in the face of death and hatred.
The Normandy tragedy and the martyrdom of Fr. Hamel is only one of a horrifying string of recent bloodbaths. This attack, though, is somehow more horrifying than the indiscriminate death of 84 people under the wheels of a truck in Nice. It is more horrifying because it is more symbolic. Instead of mass murder, it was murder at Mass. The war against the West is a war of religion. It is a war between Islam and Christianity. But when faith is lost, as it largely is in the West, in both Europe and America, the brash confidence of ISIS strikes is discouraging and disarming. The bold acts of brutal Muslim terrorist extremists are a disheartening blaze of barbarism in comparison to the lukewarm melting-pot of values at the end of a glittering LGBTQ rainbow. It is a terrible truth that jihadists are willing to die for their religion. It is an even more terrible truth that Westerners barely have a religion to die for. There can be no confidence in comatose lethargy, contentious communities, concentrated materialism, or collective atheism. In the wake of the Nice attack, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls alarmingly said that France had better get used to living with terror, and that is the only conclusion for a civilization that has surrendered, and surrendered to a falsehood posing as the truth—and forcing itself upon others as the truth.
Islam is not so much religion as it is paganism, for both fail to understand the true nature of the Divine. God is a God of life, love, self-sacrifice, and self-revelation. He is a God of condescension. Islam bases its faith not on the familiar interaction of God and man, but on the prophets, the “warners,” as the Quran calls them, who call all men to the contemplation of the distant unity of God. Though they are prophets, they are not intercessors or intermediaries. In Islam, there is nothing that unites man and God. The warners are nothing more than guides, as removed from God as any other mortal. There is only one source of illumination and that is from God—not from any man, however holy he may be. The God of Islam is an isolated God, illuminating the spiritual world by his light alone as he reigns on high, alone. This is the God of Islam—and he is forbidding and far away. It is the reverse image of the Holy Trinity, which is diffusive, light-giving and life-giving. It is the opposite of what men’s souls naturally desire, and what God, in his benevolent mercy and care, has given to his creatures. The blind rage of Islamist extremists is, in fact, a warning against Islamic blindness—a religion that is content with a terrible distance between God and man and, therefore, deals in terror. The rise and rage of ISIS bespeaks this misconception of the God who gave his life for man and unites his life to the lives of men every day.
Fr. Hamel bled at the altar where God’s blood was shed. It is this intimate majesty and mystery that the Islamic State wishes to destroy more than anything, for it is the polar opposite of what they have given themselves to—and their actions are a warning for the world. Though the horrors seen in France, Germany, the United States, and elsewhere can be a profound deterrent and a discouragement from trusting blindly in God and his will, it is a challenge to accept that, even in permitting evil, God can and will bring about the good. God is great, and that means he will not leave his creatures to the devices and divisions of death and evil. To all whose minds and hearts are open, the universe clearly bespeaks the action of such a God; a God of love and of life; a benevolent Being whose goodness is reflected in the works of charity, not the works of hate.
This is the God of the Christian West and the Catholic Church. It is not the God of Islam. The fear that such murders and mindsets ignite are warnings that they are not of God, and its perpetrators are the warners. The God of Islam is an isolated and isolating god who dwells apart on a lonely star. The God of Israel is a Friend and Father who reveals the secrets of his Inner-Life with his creations in acts of beautiful assimilation. It is never his will that terror be brought upon mankind. Be warned of those who speak and act otherwise. Though atrocities such as the ones perpetrated in Normandy are meant to be terrifying while glorifying the God of Islam, they actually serve to give Christians warning and a greater cause to rejoice in the true God, finding solace in his Nature which is life-giving and not death-dealing. This is the Catholic peace that can and should arise out of the duress of Islamic terrorism.
As the Quran says, “There was no nation but that there had passed within it a warner.” With every terrorist attack, the warning sounds. ISIS is the new warner of the nations. Faith in the Church must re-enkindle and gain strength. As Fr. Hamel has shown, the crown of martyrdom hovers over all. All uncertainties and hardships, though there are many, pale in comparison to confidence in Christ the King. Nothing good can be accomplished without travail, as the Cross has shown. Nothing worth doing is free of peril. Accepting persecution is the challenge of this age. Fr. Hamel has shown the world the way. May his soul rest in peace.
Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.