Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 7, 2016
The martyrdom of an elderly French priest in Normandy, France, during morning Mass on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, was all but ignored by our press. Totally obsessed with the day-to-day drama of the political conventions and the upcoming elections, the desecration of a Catholic Church simply wasn’t that newsworthy. The few details that were broadcast about the slaying of Fr. Jacques Hamel used words like “murder,” “assassination,” and “act of terror.” Although technically accurate, these words fail to capture the full significance of this shocking act of violence which occurred on the holy ground of St. Etienne-du-Rouvray Church during the most sacred of moments…The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Even as he entered into the Paschal Mystery through the Eucharist, offering up the most innocent of victims…the most perfect Sacrifice…the priest became a victim whose life was sacrificed. What an honor to be martyred during Mass…literally standing at the foot of The Cross. What an honor to have your life’s blood mingled with the Blood of Christ. Unfortunately, even in France, where, undoubtedly, the story was widely reported, the spiritual significance of this horrifying act of violence quite likely escaped most people, who simply saw the terror but were ignorant of the sacrifice.
The question is, did the spiritual significance of his impending death escape Fr. Hamel?
At the moment that the two hate-filled and deranged teenagers stormed the Altar and forced him to the ground, did he comprehend that he was to be sacrificed with The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world? Was his last thought…Lord, I am not worthy…not worthy to place my life next to Your Divine Life on this altar? Did he appreciate that he was doing far more than remembering Calvary as he stood at the altar where he had prayed so often? Did he understand that, for him, that Tuesday morning Mass had become Good Friday?
Or…was he afraid?
Even those who were eyewitnesses to the horrific event cannot be certain what was in the mind of the sacrificial victim of Normandy. But we do know that he was a human being, and that fear is very much a part of being human. And that is exactly why our Readings on this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time are profoundly “newsworthy”…GOOD NEWSWORTHY!
The Gospel begins with the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples, and, through the Gospel, speaks to us…words He spoke to Fr. Hamel as he lay at the foot of the altar where, moments before, he was merely praying the Eucharist…not living and dying it…DO NOT BE AFRAID!
All three Readings enable us to better appreciate that while fear might be part of our human nature, we are much more than flesh and blood. We are spiritual beings, created in the image and likeness of our Eternal God, and that part of us is totally fear resistant. Whether death comes to us by the hand of a terrorist…or by a cancer cell…or a natural disaster…or a traffic accident…it is NOT the biological event that is “newsworthy.”
The spiritual significance of death escapes many people, who only see the end of something, and remain ignorant of the new beginning in Christ. Our Readings speak to the spiritual significance of passing over from this world to The Promised Land…”a better homeland…a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11).
In spite of a life committed to Christ and the Church, no one can say with certainty what the final thoughts of the martyr of Normandy were, but the Good News proclaimed this Sunday allows us to know the first thing he heard as he entered into eternity…BE NOT AFRAID!
And, if we take these Readings to heart…and prepare ourselves for our own moment of Passover…we won’t be.