Yesterday at a Catholic church in France, there were two quite different types of martyrdoms.
Two young male Muslims, bent on waging personal jihad and thereby securing salvation through martyrdom, burst into the old church of St. Étienne-du-Rouvray in Rouen, Normandy during the morning Mass. There they martyred the 85-year old priest, Father Jacques Hamel. They slit his throat as if he were an animal killed for the recent Eid-al-Fitr, celebrated by Muslims all over the world on the last day of Ramadan.
The Catholic Mass is re-enactment of the voluntary sacrifice of Christ crucified to redeem us before God.
The murder committed by the two terrorists was in obedience to the Koran-directed will of Allah, to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them" (Quran 9:5).
We Christians believe that Father Hamel's martyrdom ushers his soul before the presence of God.
As the two murders stepped outside the church, they too were martyred, dying just after shouting "Allahu Akbar!" ("Allah is Greatest!").
The church of St. Étienne-du-Rouvray in Rouen, France, pictured yesterday after two Islamist terrorists murdered Father Jacques Hamel. (Image source: AFP video screenshot)
We Christians are familiar with that other concept of martyrdom. Jesus warned his Apostles that men of faith would kill them, thinking they had done God a favor. There have been other, more famous, mid-Mass murders in history. King Henry II of England had the Archbishop of Canterbury killed in his own Cathedral while saying Mass in 1170. The ruling class in El Salvador had Archbishop Oscar Romero murdered as he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in San Salvador's Cathedral in 1980. But the murder of Father Hamel was a religious ritual, not a political assassination. It was a spiritual sacrifice by practitioners of the "religion of peace."
Pope Francis, in the Vatican, referred to this killing as "an absurd murder." He could not be more wrong. This was a purposeful act of war against Judeo-Christian civilization. The murder of Father Jacques has great meaning. Our would-be replacements are telling us, "it is time for you to leave the stage of history."
How ironic that this murder took place within a two-hour train ride of the Normandy Beaches. How tragic that the spirits of our fallen soldiers beneath the Crosses and Stars of David in the American Cemetery had to witness this act of aggression by still another totalitarian ideology.
For France, this is also a dispiriting moment. This most recent murder is additional evidence that the old France is dying. It must feel doubly disheartening for those French who still revere that it was here in Normandy that France was re-born in the conquests of William (of Normandy). He died in Rouen in 1087. It was also in Normandy that the French allowed their patron Saint Joan of Arc to be sacrificed at the stake in 1431.
It is certain that there are still French men and French women who remember reading the opening lines of Charles de Gaulle's book, Memoires de Guerre, "All of my life I have thought of France in a certain way... like the Princess in the Fairy Tales, like the Madonna in the frescoes."
There is the hope that there are still enough men and women of faith who will take up the cross and sword to defend our civilization.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.