At what point during yesterday morning’s Mass did the ISIS terrorists storm the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray? News reports have yet to specify. But this question was on my mind throughout the midday Mass I attended yesterday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
If the first reading took place, then the congregation will have heard these baleful words from the prophet Jeremiah:
We wait for peace, to no avail;
For a time of healing, but terror comes instead. (14:19)
As the lector at St. Patrick’s read this verse, I noticed an officer from the NYPD Counterterrorism Unit mixed in with a crowd of tourists who shuffled along the perimeter of the Cathedral, near the sanctuary. His eyes were alert, focused. I wondered whether he was listening.
Not many had heard news of this attack yet, apparently. That’s what a reporter from Inside Edition told me on 5th Avenue outside the Cathedral before Mass. She asked whether I would grant an interview. After I declined (I would have needed permission from my religious superior), she stopped asking questions and started telling her own story. It was clearly unsettling to her that she was breaking news of this cowardly attack to people on the streets. One woman had started crying, and the reporter had felt compelled to console her with a hug. I think she expected me to react in a similarly emotional way. I did not—could not—however.
If the gospel was proclaimed at yesterday morning’s Mass—a passage in which Jesus explains to his apostles the parable of the sower and the seed—then the congregation will have heard Jesus’s concluding appeal: “Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Matt. 13:43).
Those who have the ears of faith know well what the Lord promised his followers: revilement and violent opposition. I am deeply saddened by the attack perpetrated against Fr. Jacques Hamel. But I am not surprised by it. I’ve had conversations with other seminarians in which we admit that we ponder precisely the scenario in which Fr. Hamel found himself yesterday morning: What if attackers entered the church while we were celebrating Mass? Would we display the same fortitude? It seems only fitting that the final Mass this elderly priest would have finished was Monday’s, the feast of St. James—the first of the apostles to suffer martyrdom.
To hear with the ears of faith prepares the believer to cooperate with the grace of final perseverance, regardless of the circumstances under which that final agony occurs.
Jordan Zajac, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.