French bishops call for day of prayer, fasting July 29

Rouen’s Archbishop: Take up weapons of prayer, brotherhood

Karna Swanson

French priest Father Jacques Hamel, 84, was brutally murdered July 26 while celebrating Mass at his parish in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray. The bishops of France have called for a national day or prayer and fasting July 29 in response to the attack. (Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Rouen)

The bishops of France have called for a national day of prayer and fasting July 29, in response to the murderous attack on 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel at the hands of two self-proclaimed members of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The attack took place in the parish of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in the northern French Archdiocese of Rouen. The two assailants were killed by French police, and another victim is in critical condition.

In a statement posted Wednesday, Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the French bishops’ conference, said the brutal murder of the elderly priest was “unthinkable.”

“There are many feelings that we experience in these moments,” he wrote. “We know, however, that one, brotherhood, dear to our country, is the way that leads to lasting peace. Let’s build it together.”

The archbishop invited “all Catholics of France to a day of fasting and prayer for our country and for peace in the world this Friday, July 29.”

He also asked in particular that the 30,000 French pilgrims in Poland this week for World Youth Day pray the Way of the Cross with the intention of peace for France, and for the world.

“We follow Christ in his victory over hatred, revenge and death,” he concluded. “He is our light, and our hope.”

Be apostles of love

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, who was leading several groups totaling some 300 pilgrims to World Youth Day, left Krakow Tuesday to return to his home diocese after learning of the attack.

“I cry out to God with all men of good will,” he said in a statement made available by the World Youth Day Communications office. “I would invite non-believers to join in the cry!”

“The Catholic Church cannot take weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among men,” he said. “I leave here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the true ones. I ask them not to give in to the violence and become apostles of the civilization of love.”

In a press conference later that day in Krakow, Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, secretary general of the French bishops’ conference, said that the bishops of France want to “build the civilization of love, and that’s why we are here. We don’t want violence and hate to have the upper hand.”

The ‘spark of peace’

“Neither hate nor violence is a way out,” he continued. “We cannot surrender to these sentiments. Today young people from around the world rejoice, because of this love we can live in peace and fraternity.”

“I believe that World Youth Day needs to proceed with intensity and power so that the young people might indicate the path for the Church,” Msgr. Dumas said. “We should see the horizon of peace, joy, brotherhood and prayer.”

At the opening press conference on Monday evening, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow said, “We want to show to the youth the mystery of Divine Mercy and let them take from Krakow the idea of the ‘spark of peace.’ Now in Europe, we have a time of anxiety. Peace is endangered because of brutal terrorism. That is why we want to create an atmosphere of peace, reconciliation, solidarity, and kindness which from Krakow can take over the whole world.”

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.