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In this “remembrance” month I want to explore the place that violence has in our times, and to look at a range of responses to terror:

One natural response, of course, is to be “terrorized.”  Though I don’t know what the point is of being terrorized, it appears to be what terrorists want (?).

Another is to be retaliatory. We live in times where there is far too much of that going on already. Self righteous in their indignation, the wounded go on wounding, never stopping to remember how it all started, or considering any reason to stop or change or reconcile.

Another response, in some strange logic, is to become a terrorist oneself. This perplexing reaction finds the gullible, mentally ill, or the easily persuaded being caught up in some cause bigger then oneself – even though it is inherently self-destructive.

A more Christian response:

Recently I was happily impressed with Pope Francis’ six-fold principles in response to terror (source: Catholic Voices):

(1) Put every death in the broader context of others, to avoid any victim becoming the focus of moral outrage. This was particularly necessary in the [recent] case of Father Jacques Hamel [being murdered in his parish in St Etienne du Rouvray, France], because he was a gentle, elderly priest slain in a provocatively gruesome manner.

The word ‘martyr’ was never used to describe him – for to do so, in this tinder-box atmosphere of fear and terror, would be to weaponize his death, and ignite screaming headlines…

(2) Second, insist on fraternity and peace as the only authentic Christian response.

We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror,” he told the pilgrims at the World Youth Day vigil, adding that the Church’s response to “a world at war” was fraternity and family.

He prayed asking God not to stiffen our resolve for the coming showdown, but to heal and console those who have been harmed, and to convert the hearts of terrorists so they recognize the “evil of their actions.”

(3) Third, faced with the clamor of scapegoating politicians to shut the border, he has continued to insist on the importance of keeping our doors open to refugees.

Hence his prayer for God to give the families of victims “the strength and courage to continue to be brothers and sisters for others, above all for immigrants, giving witness to Your love by their lives.”

(4) Fourth, faced with the Islamic State narrative of Christianity versus Islam, Francis’ strategy is to polarize in a different way: religion and peace on the one side, violent fundamentalism and false religion on the other…

Francis says we are at war – a war of rival interests and powers… When Francis declares that violence is, as well as being evil and abhorrent, “senseless,” as he described the Nice massacre, or “absurd” as he said of the violence that slayed Fr Hamel, he speaks as the world’s leading religious authority, denying terrorists the legitimacy of a religious justification.

This is a strategy, but it is, also, genuinely, demonstrating what true religion is:

God himself was the innocent victim of a religiously and politically sanctioned sacrifice; the Resurrection destroyed any idea that God is violent. [As the iconic crucifix never evades].

The power of God, then, lies not in violence, but in love and fraternity. With the shadow of Islamic radicalism over us, that is no longer an idea, but – as one of the French bishops put it in Krakow – a stark choice:

Do we believe in God’s power, or the myth of the divine as a vengeful tribal deity?

(5) Fifth, faced with the temptation for Christians to see Muslims as violent fundamentalists and themselves as peace-loving reasonable people, Francis insists that Christians are also prone to fundamentalism and violence [an inescapable observation of history, and of the human condition].

Jihadists will not be defeated by war, and to believe it can be is, again, to accept their narrative. Like all evil projects, the Islamic state will eventually collapse from its own internal contradictions. In the meantime, the battle will be fought in the human heart.

What the Church can help the west do is absorb the violence, and not be provoked by it; to be patient in fear and insecurity; and to accept that in the meantime more people will die.

Seen from a Christian perspective, the deaths of those who, like Fr Jacques Hamel, are innocent peacemakers, are not meaningless but powerful.

Can the world still wait for the chain of love which will replace the chain of hate?” asked Archbishop Dominique Lebrun in his homily. “Will we need other massacres to convert us to love and to the justice that builds love?

(6) Sixth – is not to surrender to the fear by giving up our spaces and our identity.

Faced with a specific Islamic State threat on the Vatican last December, he refused to wear a bulletproof vest, and said we would not armor-plate our church doors.

Archbishop Lebrun invited people to pay homage to Fr Hamel by visiting a church in these days “in order to express your refusal to see a holy place defiled, to affirm that violence will not take your heart over, to ask for God’s grace.”

It is an action each of us can take; and each such action we take brings closer the jihadists’ inevitable defeat.”

(Source: Catholic Voices)

The Holy Terror of God

In contrast to man-made horror, the holy terror of God is of a different sort and substance. The Psalmist sings (Psalm 68:35):

A terrible beauty, O God,
streams from your sanctuary.

In response to His terrible beauty, if we do not worship what is most glorious, “even the stones will cry out.”  Worship is the natural expression of our response to the splendour of His holiness. If we are to live integratedly, we will be nudged to re-eavaluate our inclination to violence as being incoherent with the One who called us to put our sword back.

This is more enigma than dogma.