Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fr. Jacques Hamel--His Blood Is Speaking

Several years ago while vacationing in Italy, I visited a church (whose name I have since forgotten) in the area of Bergamo.  What was most striking to me about the church was its sacristy. Very large in size, the walls of the sacristy were lined with beautiful wooden vesting cases.  At the top of the vesting cases, carved into them, were beautiful, albeit graphic, depictions of various martyrs of the Church.  There were carvings of people being burned, flayed, mutilated, drowned . . . , you name it, it was depicted.  And of course, like all good sacristies, there was a crucifix.

I remember thinking that whoever designed that sacristy had a profound sense of the priesthood and the Mass. It is in the sacristy that the priest prepares for Mass. The sacristy is not simply a place to store things and to get vested. It is a place to become recollected before offering the Holy Sacrifice.  Whoever designed the sacristy for that church wanted the priest to remember exactly what he was doing when he offered the Mass. The Mass is the Sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the Cross. The martyrs who surrounded the priest in that sacristy before Mass each day would remind him that he--like all of us--are called to take up our cross and to lay down our life for the Lord. The priest is called in a particular way to imitate the Mysteries that he handles. He who daily offers the Sacrifice of the Mass is called to become increasingly conformed to that same Sacrifice.  That sacristy was the liturgical equivalent of a billboard.  It practically yelled to the priest who was about to offer the Mass, "Hey, this is serious and important stuff! People have given up their lives for the Faith! The Mass you are about to offer is the most important thing that will ever happen!"

I do not know if Fr. Jacques Hamel ever visited that sacristy in Bergamo, Italy, but he now joins those whose images are carved therein.  Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 84 year old priest from France, was attacked this morning while he offered the Holy Mass. ISIS terrorists slit the elderly priest's throat as he offered the Sacred Mysteries.  Fr. Jacques, in a way that he probably never anticipated, became more perfectly conformed to the Sacrifice which he had offered for the past 56 years.  Like the images carved into the wood of that sacristy, Fr. Jacques' death and his blood now serve as a reminder to all of us--especially priests--of the seriousness of the Holy Mass and the need to become ever more united to that Sacrifice. Fr. Jacques' blood calls out to us and reminds us of the seriousness with which we ought to take our Catholic Faith and the Holy Mass. This is what the martyrs do. They witness to us and they testify to what is truly important.

So often, sacristies--like our very lives--can become places of distraction. Instead of being places where we focus on the great Mystery of the Cross and of the Holy Mass, sacristies can become filled with chitchat and distraction. So too, our lives can become filled with too much foolishness, buffoonery, and banality.  Like that sacristy in Bergamo, designed to reawaken the priest to the seriousness of his vocation and life, Fr. Jacques' martyrdom this morning ought to awaken all of us to the seriousness of our Catholic life. Fr. Jacques' blood calls all of us to be renewed and strengthened in our Catholic Faith, to reject sin, to follow Christ, to love the Holy Mass, and to take our eternal salvation seriously. Fr. Jacques' blood speaks eloquently. Listen.


  1. May his soul rest in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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  3. I used this reflection for lectio this morning. I was drawn closer to Christ because of your words, Fr. David. Thank you and may God bless you.

    Fr. Jacques, pray for us.

    1. Thank you for telling me this. It made my day. God Bless!

  4. If you wait for ISIS to become a Martyr you are doing it wrong. We commonly think that martyrdom is about a dying but it is really about the way we are living. As so many pilgrims gather in Poland, they remember Max Kolbe who laid down his life countless times in loving service to others before receiving his lethal injection. Think of St. Lawrence who was so bold in ministry, faithful to the Pope, and a friend of the poorest of poor. He poured himself out in love long before they put him on the gridiron to burn. He could make jokes because he was free to lay down his life, because it was already laid down. He was following his friend the Pope into death just as he was following his Lord into death with confidence of the resurrection of the dead and life of the world to come.

    I don't know much about the life of Fr. Jacques' life, only what is portrayed in the media. However, his martyrdom is a witness to all parish priests, young and old, that the time to love greatly is now! Priests of God, please celebrate the Mass each day with the sense of awe you had at your first Mass and a sense of awe that it could be your last; all but for the grace of God.

    Martyrdom is not something that happens to us, martyrdom is the daily choice to love others at our own expense. It is to broaden out your confessional hours to more than just 45 minutes on Saturday afternoon, but throughout the week, so that even if you are left to suffer in silence; that suffering is a gift for the salvation of the soul who might yet come when otherwise he would not. Martyrdom is putting time and practice into each homily so that like St. John Vianney your words, maybe not elegantly spoken, still lays bare the heart of someone who loves his parishioners with a zealous passion. Martyrdom is to take the daily arrows, like St. Sebastian, of betrayals and annoyances knowing that the Lord will see you through in order to give witness. Martyrdom is loving those who nobody else does, that is the weird gentleman or lady who gives nothing, or worse annoyance, in return. Martyrdom is loving the obnoxious.

    Fr. Jacques, I am guessing based on his end of life graces, was a martyr long before he was killed. Remember the next time you serve mass, that the stripe that runs down the front and back of your chasible is to represent Fr. Jacques chasible. It is there to represent the blood that would flow from the priest should he be beheaded. I pray for the soul of Fr. Jacques who wore his chasible well, who witnessed to a pastor's love in the face of evil, who witnessed to a lifetime of priestly service, and who was washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb.

  5. Thanks for posting this, Father. I was horrified when I read of this atrocity, not least because the victim was an elderly priest. I hope and pray his martyrdom may result in many people espousing the attitude and actions you speak of.