The Eternal Battle of Good over Evil
In late July the Church wept as a priest in an obscure part of France became the Church’s newest martyr, after having been brutally killed as he was celebrating daily Mass.
In part, we are horrified because of the manner in which Fr Jacques Hamel was killed at the altar. We feel assaulted because our holy place was desecrated by the innocent blood of a priest. We are outraged because the two attackers delivered a message of hatred before they too were killed by police.
Two young men affiliated to ISIS committed this heinous act. But I think that it’s far too simplistic to blame terrorists for yet another senseless killing.
Satan exists. He is real. Modern Catholics prefer to shy away from references to Satan and we have sanitised him, choosing to speak rather about the weakness of the human condition, giving in to temptation, and poor personal choices.
Don’t get me wrong, we are still responsible for our actions, and I hope that our collective faith has matured to the point where we recognise that evil is present in our world because we freely choose to participate in it.
But behind this nebulous notion of evil, is a spirit, that same spirit that turned away from God at the beginning of the world. Satan and his demons continue to go around the world looking for opportune situations and people are willing to help perpetuate evil.
And if there is one thing that Satan despises most, it is joy, unity, love. And so he is always looking for opportunities to destroy these three virtues. This is why I believe that the slaying of Fr Hamel was not just another terrorist attack.
On the same day, just 1600km from this sleepy French village, hundreds of thousands of young people from all cultures and walks of life were joyfully gathering in Krakow, Poland, for the start of the World Youth Day. They gathered under the theme: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” These young Catholics are a living testimony to mercy, which expresses itself in joy, unity, and love — the very things Satan despises.
And so he looks for a way to mar the Church’s joy. All too easily he found willing accomplices — two young men affiliated to an extremist group. That is all we will remember.
But it’s not about motives or political or religious agendas. It’s about the eternal battle of good over evil. Pope Francis reacted to Fr Hamel’s killing by saying that “the world is in a state of war in bits and pieces”. It is a war. But as Catholics we live in eternal hope, because we know that it is a war that has already been won by the blood of Christ.
Nevertheless, it would do us good to reflect a little on the shape that the world is taking as it heads deeper into this war of “bits and pieces”. The world is angry. The world is afraid.
It seems that each new day brings with it some new tragedy. In our anger, our confusion, our fear, we want to find someone to blame. It is so easy to scapegoat a self-proclaimed enemy who call themselves Islamic State who abuse religion to justify their war.
But we need to be careful about making one group, one culture, one religion the scapegoat for the world’s problems. Pope Francis made it very clear that this is not a “war of religion”. Instead it is “a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples.”
The world is filled with angry disillusion. The dream of globalisation didn’t materialise because too many have been left out. In response to that, those who have been pushed to the margins of the world economy are demanding to be heard, albeit going about it the wrong way. We have finally noticed them. We are seeing them, but we’re still not hearing.
Instead, the world of the privileged feels itself under threat, and is reacting by drawing back into isolationism and pushing the marginalised even further away. Britain has voted to leave the EU, Donald Trump makes electoral promises to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans, border controls to keep out immigrants, and he preaches a message that is angry, that is merciless.
We might not agree with what the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are saying, but they echo the anger and fear that has taken over the world.
Let me repeat this. The enemy is not Islamic State, or the immigrants in Europe, or any other group that makes us uncomfortable. There is one enemy: Satan. He is real and he exists. And he thrives on anger, fear and hatred. He hates to see joy, unity and love.
This is why events like World Youth Day are so powerful and important. They may not make global headlines, but they are a blessing for the Church and the world because they promote the joy, unity and love that the world so sorely needs.
Young lives are forever changed by the encounters of World Youth Days. The Church offers young people the space to meet other young people who share the same values but speak different languages, wear different clothes, eat different food and have different world views. It is a lived experience that teaches tolerance, acceptance, an openness of the heart.
Their presence at packed masses is a testimony of their faith. They are telling us: “The Church is alive and God lives in our hearts.” They are the vision of a Church that must become more merciful, more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more welcoming in a world that is hardening its heart.
Let us not be fearful and angry. We pray in thanksgiving for the sacrifice of the Church’s martyrs through the ages. We pray for mercy and forgiveness for those who have killed them. We pray for protection of all of God’s people, wherever they are.
We pray in thanksgiving for our young people, the Church of the future, and pray that their joy, love, and mercy will show us the way out of the dark times in which we are living.