Bishop Hying

In loving sacrifice, Easter reminds us that no evil can destroy or prevent the rising of new life in Christ

 As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on April 15, 2018 


     The whole world is talking about Arnaud Beltrame, the 44 year-old lieutenant-colonel in the French gendarmerie who sacrificed his own life in order to allow the customers and workers held hostage by an Isis terrorist in a French supermarket to escape to freedom. Beltrame offered to take the place of a woman hostage. 

      The terrorist then slit Beltrame’s throat and shot him three times. He died the next day on the eve of Palm Sunday.

      He was given a hero’s welcome in Paris. A striking photo shows President Emmanuel Macron leaning over the flag-draped casket in a gesture of profound homage.

      Beltrame had been raised in a nominally Catholic home but experienced a powerful conversion back to the faith 10 years ago, receiving the sacraments and cultivating a profound prayer life. He went on a pilgrimage to a shrine in Brittany dedicated to St. Anne, praying to find a good and holy wife. He soon met Marielle, a devoutly Catholic veterinary surgeon who had worked with the Franciscans in New York, serving people with disabilities and also helping with a hotline for people struggling with addictions.    They were already civilly married, but were to be married in the Church this summer.

      In the wake of Beltrame’s death, Marielle Beltrame said, “The funeral of my husband will take place during Holy Week, after his death on a Friday just before Palm Sunday, and this is not insignificant in my eyes.  It will be with a great deal of hope that I am waiting to celebrate the Easter resurrection with him.” The female hostage whom Beltrame saved was married with a young daughter.  She had recently lost her job and had become a cashier at the supermarket where the killing took place.

      Beltrame’s life and death was one of faith, love, service, bravery, valor and sacrifice. His Catholicism marked him as a man who radically sacrificed himself for others, making the ultimate gift of self in order to save life in the face of a fanatical hatred that only seeks to destroy and murder innocent people. 

      Like St. Maximilian Kolbe, this gallant young Frenchman exchanged his life for someone he did not even know in a moment of violent peril, submitting to a horrific death in order to save the lives of others.  Think of John’s Gospel when Jesus says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.” 

      In this case, it was for total strangers!

      This tragic but inspiring narrative powerfully reminds us that when we choose to radically love others as Christ did, even to the point of death on the cross, God floods mercy and redemption into the most evil, dark and violent situations. God willing, we will never face the heart-breaking choices that martyrs like Beltrame Kolbe and so many saints in the history of the Church did, but we have the ability to change so many situations of despair, sadness, conflict and division by choosing to sacrifice, forgive, go the extra mile, carry another’s burden, joyfully giving away our treasure, time, understanding and faith.

      As we move through the Easter season, we celebrate the startling truth that Jesus had not thrown his young life away on the cross, that this ultimate sacrifice of self in a horrific crucifixion had broken the power of sin and death forever. The resurrection had made the scourging, the crown of thorns, the Way of the Cross, the spitting and humiliations, the final bloody surrender suspended high in the spring air on a criminal’s gibbet all radically worth it! 

      When we were hostages to the powers of evil, Jesus bravely rushed in and offered to take our place.  In the power of his religious conversion, Beltrame understood this essential dynamic of Jesus’ love profoundly. He was able to do the same, because Christ had already offered his life for us.

      Do we dare to believe this? That if we sacrifice, not only our comforts, privileges and even seeming necessities, that God will take care of us? That if we truly love on a radically heroic level, we can change the course of human history, redirecting hearts to the Kingdom of God?  That nothing we do for the Lord and others is ever a waste, a mistake, a miscalculation, something we will regret? 

      Easter reminds us that no evil darkness, irrational hatred, overwhelming sin, horrific murder of a noble hero, not even the crucifixion of the Son of God can destroy, quench or prevent the rising of new life in Christ. The Kingdom of God cannot be stopped, any more than we can forbid the beautiful season of spring to eventually swallow the harsh cold of the bitterest winter.

      I have always liked the Easter song, “Now the Green Blade Rises”: Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain; Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green. In the grave they laid him, Love whom we had slain, thinking that he’d never wake to life again, Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen; Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.”


       + Donald J. Hying



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