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The day following my ordination as a priest, I celebrated Mass at the AIDS hospice that Mother Teresa had opened in Greenwich Village in the first months of the crisis.

When I was vesting for Mass I noticed a small sign on the wall of the makeshift sacristy. It hung there as an admonition to any priest who would celebrate Mass in that chapel:

“Priest of God: Pray this Mass as though it were your first Mass. Pray this Mass as though it were your last Mass. Pray this Mass as though it were your only Mass.”

I thought of that sign once again, many years since that first Mass, after news of the recent murder of the 84-year-old French priest Father Jacques Hamel on my mind. I thought of this aged priest being forced to his knees at the foot of the altar, and it occurred to me that his murderers had made a serious mistake.

I am unsure what martyrdom means for a jihadist of the sort who killed this good priest, but for a Christian, martyrdom does not spring from anger or political protest. Christian martyrdom is not aimed to terrorize or harm or kill anyone. In the Christian lexicon, martyrdom is not even something someone does as much as it is something one accepts. A Christian martyr is one who accepts to give witness to his faith.

For Fr. Hamel’s attackers to martyr him as he celebrated Mass was to offer this priest the greatest pulpit of his life — a pulpit from which he could offer a clear and bold, even if arduous, witness to the beliefs to which he had dedicated his long life.

And what were those beliefs? That love became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. And that this love is so powerful as to prompt an offer of forgiveness, even to those capable of such hatred.

This is not to mitigate or impede whatever justice must be meted out to those who commit such horrors, nor to impede whatever strategies required to protect the innocent from such barbarism.

It is only to say that in the end only love triumphs.

God grant me such grace to celebrate my last Mass with such devotion and courage.

The Rev. Robert Sirico is president of the Acton Institute.

Twitter: @robertsirico

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