Bishop Noel Treanor addresses the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel

31 Jul 2016

Please find below the homily delivered this morning by Bishop Noel Treanor at 9am Mass in St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast in which he addresses the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel and all who have been murdered and injured in recent atrocities across Europe and the world.


Inheritance, ultimate meaning and legacy

One way or another these readings touch on that deep, sometimes disturbing question, of the purpose of existence. They deal with edge-of-life concerns, with issues on the edge of human existence. Their concerns reach out to the edges of consciousness and human mortality. They take us to the zone of the liminal.

The well-known lines from the book of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) echo the sentiments of many in all generations and cultures of the human family : what is the purpose of all our efforts ?

Likewise the request put by the anonymous man in the crowd to Jesus about his share of the family heritage resounds with perennial human experience and indeed with human calculations of justice. We notice that in this matter Jesus does not engage with the issue as posed; he warns rather against avarice, just as the second reading highlights the sin of greed. His response to the man, in the form of a parable, moves to a different plane and remarks that what we would refer to as the quality of our life is not synonymous with possessions or material wealth.

Against this background the extract from St Paul’s letter to the Colossians lifts our focus and recalls that in baptism we have “been raised with Christ” (Col 3.1) to true life. This new life, the reading indicates, links us to Christ’s way of seeing and doing – a way of life “where there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between circumcised and uncircumcised, or between barbarian and Scythian, slave and free man. There is only Christ : he is everything and he is in everything” (Col 3.11).

Those are radical assertions ! They assert not only the equality in human dignity of each person, small and powerful, poor and rich. They also call Christians of all times, places and predicaments to living this view of life. And they remind us that Christ, the Son of God, Godliness, is to be discovered and found in every corner and moment of life. This vision of faith in God incarnate/ God made flesh in the life, death and resurrection of Christ is the key and the source to purpose and ultimate meaning in life and in death. Prayer and worship are the roadways to connecting with and resourcing this faith in Jesus, as is hinted in the responsorial psalm (Ps 94).

“Let us kneel before the God who made us” (Ps 94.6)

Key questions about the meaning of life are thrown up and existentially profiled in our own times by the barbaric and violent atrocities we have witnessed in recent months in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States. The murder of the 84 year old Fr Jacques Hamel in the church at Saint-Etienne du Rouvray, as he celebrated the Eucharist, was the most recent of these. All people of good will look on in horror at such butchery and lament for humanity. But lamenting does not suffice ! Nor will security measures or the force of arms resolve the root causes of such evil. In the face of this vortex of evil, this crisis in history and civilisation, prayerfulness, re-discovery of faith in the God of Jesus Christ and living the gospel values are vital to the essential Christian contribution to promoting justice, peace and co-operation between peoples and nations.

On Wednesday evening past, 27th July, the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois delivered a homily during a Mass for the dead and injured of Saint-Etienne du Rouvray which was attended by the President of France, members of the French government and a vast congregation. Greatly acclaimed by the congregation, the Cardinal’s reflections are pertinent for our times and indeed – in the light of today’s readings and the issues they raise – for our spiritual and material well-being.

As we hold in our prayers and thoughts the martyred Fr Jacques Hamel and all who were murdered and injured in the recent atrocities on all the continents of the world, it is worth dwelling on some of the key thoughts expressed by Cardinal Vingt-Trois in a homily that is allusive in style and invites the listener to thought and evaluation of attitude:

* The hope inscribed in the human heart bears a name : it is called life. This hope has a face – the face of Christ who sacrificed his life so that humanity might have life in abundance.

* It is this hope that inspired the priestly ministry of Fr Jacques Hamel when he celebrated the Eucharist during which he was savagely executed ; it is this hope which sustains the Christians of the Middle East when they are forced to flee in the face of persecution and when they opt to abandon all rather than renounce their faith ; it is this hope which pulsates in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of young people gathered with Pope Francis at the WYD in Cracow; it this hope which enables us to avoid succumbing to hate when we are tormented.

* Common to the hearts of all, whatever their faith or religion, is the conviction that human life and existence is not just a chance happening of evolution destined for unavoidable destruction and death. This conviction was savagely injured at Saint-Etienne du Rouvray and yet it is thanks to this conviction that we are able to resist the temptation to nihilism. Thanks to this conviction we refuse to surrender to the delirium of conspiracy or to allow the gangrene of the virus of suspicion to take root in our society

* Scapegoating does not build a sense of unity among humanity.

* Developing a virtual universe of polemics and verbal violence does not contribute to building cohesion in society nor to the vitality of the tissue of society. This virtual violence gradually and concretely ends up by becoming real hate and by promoting destruction as a means of progress. Verbal combat ends up too often in the banalisation of aggression as a way of relating to people.

* In the face of the contemporary crisis in our society we talk a lot about our values and the need to defend them. However we have less to say about their content : “ for what values are we prepared to sell all we possess in order to obtain or preserve them? ”

* When a society is deprived of a collective objective/purpose, at once worthy of mobilising shared energies and capable of motivating renunciation of self-interests, it is reduced to a consortium of interests where each faction seeks to gain precedence for their own ambitions. And in this scenario heaven help the weak and the poor …

* Despite the advances of our times our collective fears are many. To list them gives an x-ray of our times : the nuclear threat, the ozone layer, climate change, food pollution, cancer, AIDS, uncertainty regarding pensions, care of our aged in the last years of their lives, impact of finance flows on the economy, fear of unemployment, instability in family life, the anxiety of the abnormal baby, the anxiety of the baby in the womb, the anxiety generated by the failure to integrate our youth, the growth of the drug culture, the rise of destructive social violence which burns, wrecks and destroys, blind and murderous driving ….

* Is it any wonder that our times have seen the development of the syndrome taking refuge, of circling the wagons: we are convinced that where the walled towns and fortified castles failed, we shall succeed. We are convinced that we will prevent greed and robbery, that we will block the poor from taking our goods, that we will prevent the peoples of the earth from coming to our countries. Building walls, border walls, wall of silence …

* The silence of parents with their children and the crisis of handing on shared values.

* The silence of abstention from voting, Silence at work, silence at home, silence in the city …. Why bother to speak up? These multiple fears build up collective fear and fear closes in and seeks to cover-up and to hide

* The horror of the recent blind attacks add their threating menace to this latent anxiety of our collective fears. Where will we find the strength to face these perils if we cannot rely on hope?

* For us who believe in the God of Jesus Christ, hope is rooted in trust in the Word of God as relayed through the prophets and Holy Scripture

The “New Self which is being renewed in full knowledge in the image of the creator (Col 3.10)

If a vortex largely of humanity’s own making appears to engulf and imperil our societies, only the power of human word, dialogue and language, together with the impulse of faith-based thought and co-operative development work aimed at promoting justice between peoples will save our world and our times from material and spiritual disaster. Such efforts will be all the more effective and lasting to the extent that they are inspired by the revelation in Christ of a self-sacrificing God and by Christians and those ready to emulate that self-sacrifice in the pursuit of justice.

To build a humanism and a civilisation rooted in these values and their concrete requirements, we have to shape and build our own attitudes and convictions on the foundations of the Good News of the gospel – and we shall need to refuse the temptation to indifference to the issues of our time, the temptation to act and think as if the relativism of anything goes is the panacea for living and for the pluralist society. And likewise we shall need to resist the deadly temptation to the nihilism of “sure, why bother”.

In short, in the face of the challenges, issues and perils of our times, we need to re-awaken our minds and hearts to the pertinence of the call we receive in Baptism – the call to a life’s project to keep building and shaping through prayer, worship and charity our lives, our thought patterns, our attitudes and action in the image of the “new self”, modelled on Christ, the Saviour of humanity.


Bishop Noel Treanor is Bishop of Down and Connor