What the Blood of the Martyrs Means For Us

Christians and non-believers alike reacted with horror in recent days when Rev. Jacques Hamel had his throat slit in Normandy by a terrorist act claimed by ISIS. Peacefully celebrating Mass, the 86-year old priest was murdered, after which the perpetrators exclaimed, “Allahu Akbar” (Arabic for “God is the greatest”). This priest joins the legions of martyrs throughout our Church’s history, men and women who were killed because of their faith.

Upon hearing this news, like other recent events of terrorism, I mourned the loss of life and the hardness of heart of the persecutors. In addition, though, I reacted in a way that surprised myself…I felt a bit envious. But certainly, I thought, none of us would wish to be murdered in such a brutal way. Life is a wonderful gift, given to us by God and I have no desire for my life to end anytime soon.

And yet, we look to the martyrs’ witness for a reason. They are welcomed into Heaven for giving their life for the Lord.

When we look further at the glory of martyrdom, it becomes clear that martyrs are not seeking death—they are seeking God. After all, many martyrs—such as Fr. Jacques—did not know they were headed towards their death. Rather, in the words of Archbishop Gomez “Martyrs are not defined by their dying but by what they choose to live for.”

While martyrdoms have been occurring since Christianity began, and many have occurred worldwide in recent years, for many Westerners, the death of Fr. Jacques in France may hit nearer to home. Here he was, with his parishioners, just doing what he had no doubt done for his entire priesthood: celebrating Mass in the parish church. The day of his death was like any other day.

Recent terror attacks have been aimed at people whose values are markedly different than the perpetrators. Think of the many people celebrating Bastille Day who were so brutally mowed down by a truck. Hatred of Western ideals, and yes of our Catholic faith, is a central motivation of recent bouts of terror. And let us not forget that this French attack is not the first recent terrorist attack to result in martyrs—the Church in Africa has suffered much lately from Islamist extremists.

The choice to celebrate Mass as a priest or even to attend Mass as a parishioner perhaps never struck us as risky before. Yet, now, it is not far fetched to think that a terrorist situation like the one in France could happen to us. ISIS has, after all, blatantly said they are targeting the U.S. and countries allied with us. Will we continue to practice our faith as openly, to value “the source and summit of our faith” above even our own lives?

Tertullian famously said that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Maybe some of us will be called to give our lives for our faith, but no doubt many of us will not be. Still, the recent witness of martyrs prods me to ask this question: “When my death comes—in whatever form—will I be living for God?”

This challenge to be ready to die a holy death echoes, of course, the words of Jesus Christ Himself who said, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). How true that was for the parishioners of Fr. Jacques church in France!

And so we return to the reason why some of us, as Christians, might have reacted to Fr. Jacques death with a feeling akin to envy. When Christ comes for me, I do want to be ready, as Fr. Jacques was! But since none of us knows when our death will come, this requires not only vigilance, but a consistent acceptance of God’s grace to grow in holiness, in a life that is dedicated to Him.

Can we honestly say, as martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe did, “For Jesus Christ, I am prepared to suffer still more”? Honestly, sometimes I’m not even prepared to wake up when my toddler calls out for me for the 4th time in the middle of the night or to find time during the day to pray. Yet, this is what God asks of us—to be ready to live for Him, so that we can die for Him.

Fr. Jacques’ martyrdom will no doubt see fruit in the Church. May we be inspired by his example of living out the vocation to which God called him. If we choose God in each day, in each moment than the powerful words of St. Justin Martyr cannot help but prove true, “You can kill us but you cannot do us any real harm.”

Fr. Jacques Hamel, Pray for Us

Caitlin Bootsma


Caitlin Bootsma is the editor of Human Life International's Truth and Charity Forum. Mrs. Bootsma received a Licentiate in Catholic Social Communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome as well as a Master's of Systematic Theology from Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and two sons.

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  • Pete

    It is good to discuss Father Hamel in the context of how he lived the Gospel but I am not sure being envy of him is a good choice of words.. Instead I would suggest we are proud of him and rejoice in his life both before and now as he joins Christ in a very special place. In the Book of Revelations, Chapter 6 we see:

    9 When he broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who had been killed on account of the Word of God, for witnessing to it.

    10 They shouted in a loud voice, ‘Holy, true Master, how much longer will you wait before you pass sentence and take vengeance for our death on the inhabitants of the earth?’

    11 Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little longer, until the roll was completed of their fellow-servants and brothers who were still to be killed as they had been.

    12 In my vision, when he broke the sixth seal, there was a violent earthquake and the sun went as black as coarse sackcloth; the moon turned red as blood all over,

    13 and the stars of the sky fell onto the earth like figs dropping from a fig tree when a high wind shakes it;

    14 the sky disappeared like a scroll rolling up and all the mountains and islands were shaken from their places.

    15 Then all the kings of the earth, the governors and the commanders, the rich people and the men of influence, the whole population, slaves and citizens, hid in caverns and among the rocks of the mountains.

    16 They said to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us away from the One who sits on the throne and from the retribution of the Lamb.

    17 For the Great Day of his retribution has come, and who can face it?’

  • Mary Irene

    Cardinal Dolan told America’s priests a few years ago, boldly, that they must preach about these atrocities….yet, today….nothing…and we attend several churches as we travel frequently…

    God bless you for this well-formed article….and….your precious toddler …

  • rawheadrex

    I remember how we prayed for the conversion of Russia(Soviet Union) at the end of mass years ago. That, I recall, came from Our Lady of Fatima to the children. Does anyone know whether any such advisory has been given for the conversion if Islam, a small part of which at least of, seems to have less tolerance for anything different from itself?

  • Ramanie

    Hi Caitlin thank you for an excellent article. Yes we can look at it as holy envy because he was serving the Lord when he died.I sometimes think about death and wonder if those who die are in a way fortunate if they are ready for heaven. The world is getting godless as we see humanity deteriorating at speed. Our Blessed Mother said to pray the rosary and that is exactly what we need to do. We also need to be aware of our spiritual condition of our souls. Thank you and God bless you.