This is a “Tribute of Affection” to Abbé Jacques Hamel, written yesterday morning as the news of his martyrdom became public. It was written by Fleur Nabert, a sculptress specializing in sacred art who knew Abbé Hamel personally. It appeared on the French Aleteia site; I found it very moving and thought it worth translating for my English-speaking friends.
To Abbé Jacques Hamel, 84, murdered in the church Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, 26 July 2016, and to all the priests that I am fortunate to count as friends near and far.
I have not always believed, and I still have a lot of friends who still don’t.
I know that for many of them the figure of the priest is extremely blurred, and increasingly tinged with bad connotations, dangerous and abusive in every sense.
In a tribute of affection to Father Jacques Hamel who is probably lying still in the heat of his blood on the floor of the church where he celebrated this morning — a small mass for four faithful — I’ll tell you what a priest is after my heart .
A priest is a man who could have had a normal life, gentle, quiet, and relatively comfortable, just like ours.
But he is someone who has had an internal encounter, an encounter with Christ.
An encounter he would perhaps sometimes like to forget, to simplify his existence and join in the normal activities of life, but he CANNOT deny it.
So he follows the mysterious silhouette of a man born more than 2000 years ago and who across all this time and distance speaks imperishable words of life, truth and love.
For this he gave up everything: the love of a possible wife, love of children he might have had, the companionship of some of his friends who follow another path, to a large extent material possessions, his freedom of movement, the option of choosing his own place to live and set his own schedule.
After long studies he will be sent into the depths of some province, with dozens of churches to care for, beautiful or ugly parishes, beautiful or ugly parishioners, to celebrate weddings, to baptize children without being sure whether he will ever see them again, old folks who populate the pews of funeral masses but whom he won’t otherwise see again. Stressful Sundays, lonely Mondays. Sometimes lunch or dinner with friendly families, some holidays. Great moments of joy seeing souls open up, come back to love or succeed to forgive. Increasingly lonely old age, but serving to the end.
One bright sun: the Eucharist to get up to, every day in front of an altar.
A priestly life is to give everything without expecting anything in return.
It is giving all, being sometimes mocked and ridiculed.
It is being used with little thanks, if any.
It is serving us in joy.
For the love of God.
To give us a little glimpse of His face.
Jacques, thank you so much, not just for your martyrdom today but for your life infinitely filled with love that preceded it.