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Detail from stained glass window, 1245-47 (France)

The following homily was given at a Sung Mass, offered for the victims of the terrorist attacks by the Islamic State in Paris on 13 November 2015.

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, through the action of Christ, the Church on earth becomes united in a particular way with the Church in heaven. The Church militant and the Church triumphant are one in the adoration of the fullness of God, assisted in that worship by the angels and saints. Here, also, we are one with the Church expectant; that is those who have died and now undergo the final preparation for heaven. These souls the Church rightly calls “holy” because they are in the hands of God; they are being purified by God in preparation for eternity in his presence. Through the offering of suffrage for the faithful departed, as through almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance, those of us who remain here below have an opportunity to assist these holy souls, not changing the outcome as in a bribe, but pleading God’s inevitable mercy as an act of charity on our part, for our beloved dead.

This evening we pray in a particular way for those murdered so brutally in the attacks in Paris one week ago. Much has been said of these grim events, and little new can be added. We might, however, recall the words of Pope Saint John Paul II on the occasion of the thirty-fifth World Day for Peace in 2002, shortly after the terrorist attacks on this country. He said, “Those who kill by acts of terrorism actually despair of humanity, of life, of the future. In their view, everything is to be hated and destroyed.” Indeed, such acts are properly called “unreasonable” because they are devoid of reason, of rational thought—the very thing that distinguishes us from brute beasts. These are nihilist, fundamentalist principles, incapable of achieving a moral good. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his eloquent address at the University of Regensburg: “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” For this reason Pope Francis, during the Angelus address last Sunday, said: “the path of violence and hate does not resolve the problems of humanity, and using the name of God to justify this path is blasphemy!”

So our greatest condemnation of this violent and hateful act—this blasphemy—is to come closer to the Lord God in prayer; trusting particularly in the one sacrifice of the cross of Christ, and entering into that sacrifice by our worship of the Most Holy Trinity in the offering of the Eucharistic action. This is the antithesis of the horror unleashed on the streets of Paris. The terrorists of the Islamic State claimed this week that Paris was their target because it is “the carrier of the Banner of the Cross in Europe.” Such a title should be one that each of us, marked by the cross and saved by the cross, would gladly bear. Still more, it is in the Eucharistic sacrifice that the sacred banner of the Cross, given to each of us in the waters of baptism, is most gloriously unfurled, as we come to Calvary; the very place where the battle over death is won.

In this Mass we plead God’s abundant mercy on the victims of last week’s atrocities, many of whom died in an unspeakable and barbaric way. We do this, however, not to persuade God to be merciful, but rather conscious that those who bravely carry the banner of the Cross share already in his risen life; that God has already established a covenant with his people, and that by that covenant his mercy is guaranteed to all who seek to live in service of him. May he grant those who have died the reward of eternal bliss with him, and may he grant us the grace to follow them in the shadow of his life-giving and glorious cross; the only way to the paradise of his eternal peace.