A Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, 85, was slain while celebrating mass in a small town in Normandy, France, on Tuesday morning. According to reports, the two men entered the church and forced the priest to his knees. When he tried to resist, they killed him. The attackers held the rest of the congregation hostage, injuring one other churchgoer, and even used them as human shields, before the police surrounded the church and shot the two men. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and called the two men “soldiers” for retaliating against the coalition of Western countries, including France, that are battling ISIS.
This attack adds to a recent string of terrorist attacks in France. All of Europe is on high alert, but none more so than France. Since January 2015, in France alone, 235 people have died in attacks connected to the Islamic State. French officials have been particularly concerned about the threat of violence against religious places, and authorities have recently arrested others who were planning other attacks on churches. There are around 45,000 churches in France, so securing them is especially difficult. This is ISIS’s first attack against a church in the West.
Father Hamel was a much-beloved auxiliary priest in the parish of the working-class suburb of St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray. Many parishioners and Roman Catholic Church officials who knew him have spoken out about his faithfulness to his ministry and the message of the gospel. Father Hamel had a reputation for being hardworking and was known to remark that he would never retire but die in his post. As word of his death circulated, many referred to him as a martyr, one who dies for their faith, and others called for Father Hamel to be quickly tagged for sainthood in the Catholic Church.
For Christians, attacks inside the walls of a church is frightening, and when innocent people die, we begin to wonder whether God really cares about those devoted to him. Just like Father Hamel’s parish, the early church felt the same sting of persecution and feared that God was far away. But the words of Jesus reminded them, and remind us, that believers would be persecuted for their faith in him. Likewise, Jesus’ disciple Peter encouraged Christians who experience persecution and suffering that they are walking the same road that Jesus walked, and John tells Christians that they should expect persecution. Meanwhile, Paul assures Christians that no terrorist act can separate us from Christ’s love and that no matter whether we live or die, God is for us.
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.