Priest's killers took his body, but could not touch his soul
Vanity of vanities, says the preacher. All is vanity!" These sobering words, declared at the beginning of the Book of Ecclesiastes, direct human beings to the central truth about our existence and ultimate destiny.
It is challenging, even for those rooted in Christian Faith, to make sense of some of the realities in the midst of which we live daily. The whole world, currently, is vulnerable to sudden acts of savage violence, motivated by fanatical hatred. On Tuesday July 26, a small community of Christians in St Etienne-du-Rouvray, gathered for morning Mass in their Parish Church - a scene universally replicated.
On this occasion, their normal gathering was invaded by persons driven by extraordinary evil. They took the small congregation hostage and murdered Pere Jacques Hamel, aged 86, who was celebrating Mass.
Fr Hamel, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Rouen, was still involved in priestly ministry despite his advanced age. One parishioner said of him: "He carried out his duties to the last. He knew everyone and was always available". She added: "son visage - il rayonnait de bonte" (his face - it shone with goodness).
Some will be tempted to think of the end of Fr Jacques' life as absurd - that he lived in vain. Not so. There is a great beauty in his death that cannot be marred by those who inflict evil. Jesus said: "Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Matt 10:28-29).
Fr Hamel is now safe in the Kingdom of Heaven. His long life of faithful priestly service of the People of God is crowned with martyrdom. His murderers did not succeed. Those who act and think like them will never succeed. They can only kill bodies. They have no power over souls.
Those who wilfully cause pain to others are doomed in the eternal scheme of things. Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, said of them at Mass in Notre Dame for the victims of this latest atrocity: "Those who wrap themselves in the trappings of religion to mask their deadly project, those who want to tell us a god of death, a Moloch, welcomes the deaths of people, who promises paradise to those who kill in invoking, their delusion will never succeed".
This Sunday, God's Word reminds us that, without Christ, our lives are vanity. However, in fact, our lives are "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). Let us store up treasure in Heaven, making ourselves rich in the sight of God (Luke 12:21), by living lives of love in the here and now - as did Pere Jacques Hamel (1930-2016).