[Our translation of the complete homily of Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, delivered during the funeral Mass of Father Jacques Hamel, slain last week while saying Mass in a Normandy church, is updated and improved upon. — Ed.]
“God is impartial, says the apostle Peter: He welcomes whatever nation he who fears him and whose works are fair.”
The priest, Jacques Hamel has no more to fear God. He presents himself, now, with his righteous works. Of course, we are not the judges of the heart of our brother, but so many testimonials cannot be wrong: Father Jacques Hamel had a simple heart. He was the same whether with his family, with his brother and sisters, with his nieces and nephews, in the middle of the city with his neighbors, and in his community with the Christian faithful.
58 years of priesthood! Fifty-eight years in the service of Jesus as priest, that is to say, the servant of his Word, his Eucharist — his Eucharist and charity. [Before that fact] I feel very small. Of Jesus, Peter said that “Wherever he went, he did good.” Jacques, you were a faithful disciple of Jesus. Wherever you went, you did good.
During last Easter, Jacques, you wrote to your parishioners: “Christ is risen, it is a mystery, a secret, a secret that God gives us to share.” Perhaps this mystery, this secret, this confidence about the risen Christ, is rooted in the experience of death in Algeria which, your family reminds us, you encountered and knew so well. Perhaps this mystery, this secret you confided was what was winning hearts in our assembly: yes, Christ is risen. The death is not the last word.
For you, Jacques, the resurrection of Jesus is not a catechism lesson, it is a reality, a reality for our heart, for the secret of the heart, a reality at the same time to share with others, as a confidence told with trust. And God knows, [as we stand] before the reality of your death as brutal and unjust and horrible, you must now tap into our hearts to help us find the light.
Brothers and sisters, let us be true to ourselves. You know the story of Jesus that no historian can call a fable. Peter said the essential: Jesus of Nazareth, just and good, “healed those who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him … the one killed by the wood of the cross God resurrected on the third day…”
Brothers and sisters, let us be simple and honest about ourselves. It is in our heart, in the depths of our heart that we have to say “yes” or “no” to Jesus, “yes” or “no” to the path of truth and peace; “Yes” or “no” to the victory of love over hatred, “yes” or “no” to his resurrection.
The death of Jacques Hamel called me to make a frank “yes,”— no, not a tepid yes — a “yes” to life, as the “yes” of Jacques to his ordination. And we must respond yes again and again. God will never force us. God is patient, and God is merciful. Even when I, Dominique, have resisted, and said “no” to love; even when I told God, “I will think about it; we will see later,” even when I have forgotten, God is patient. God expects me because of his infinite mercy.
But today, can the world wait to forge the chain of love that will replace the chain of hatred?
Will there be any other killings before we are to be converted to love, and to the justice that builds love — justice and love between individuals and peoples, whatever side of the Mediterranean they are located. Too many deaths in the Middle East, too many deaths in Africa, too many deaths in America! Too many violent deaths! Enough! This is enough!
More to read: Believing Muslim makes touching tribute to Fr. Jacques
Evil is a mystery. It culminates in horrific moments that takes us beyond what is human. Is not that what you meant, Jacques, with your last words? You fell to the ground after the first stab; you tried to push your attacker with your feet, and you said, “Go away, Satan.” Again you said, “Begone, Satan.” In this you expressed your faith in humanity, created good, but gripped by the devil.
“Jesus healed all who were oppressed by the devil,” says the Gospel.
This is not to excuse the murderers — those who make a pact with the devil! But we must uphold with Jesus that every man, every woman, every human person ca change his heart with His grace. This is how we make ours the worlds of Jesus even as they may seem beyond our strength today, “Well! I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
You who are tormented by diabolical violence, you who are lead to murder by a killing frenzy, let your heart, shaped by God for love, be changed, let love be victorious, let each one of us remember our own mother who gave us life, pray God to deliver you from the grip of demon. We pray for you, we pray to Jesus “who healed all those under the power of evil”.
Roselyne, Chantal, Gerald and your families, the path is hard. Let me tell you my admiration and that of many others for your dignity. Your brother, your uncle was a pillar, and continues to be. It is not for me to yet call Father Jacques “martyr,” but how do we not recognize the fruitfulness of the sacrifice he has lived in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, whom he faithfully celebrated in the Eucharist? The words and gestures of our Muslim friends, their coming here today, are a significant step.
I also turn to you, Catholic community. We are hurt, dismayed but not destroyed. I turn to you who were baptized in our Catholic Church, especially if you do not come often to church, if you have forgotten how to do it. With Bishop Georges Pontier, President of the Bishops’ Conference of France, at my side, I extend a simple appeal, to make a first step, one as simple as the life of Father Jacques Hamel:
In tribute to Father Hamel,
we invite you to visit a church in the coming days,
to make it plain that you refuse to allow desecration in the holy places,
to be a witness that violence will not win in your own heart,
to ask for God’s graces for it,
to please light a candle in the church, a sign of resurrection;
to collect yourself there, and to open your heart to what is most profound;
to pray, if you can, to beg for mercy.
August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, will be a most appropriate day. The Virgin Mary will welcome you with all her tenderness.
Let us remember our own mother and pray,
God, do not turn away from the pleas of your children, who look to you!
God, bring to fulfillment in our hearts what your Son Jesus has begun!
God, thank you for your son Jacques: console his family and raise up among us, among the World Youth Day participants, new prophets of your love! Amen!
+ Dominique Lebrun