A Beautiful Death

By Marc Dion

August 1, 2016 3 min read

Men who believe in some version of Islam cut the throat of Fr. Jacques Hamel the way you'd cut the throat of a hog. He was 85, a priest celebrating Mass in a small French town called Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray. "Etienne" is the French version of the English name Stephen. St. Stephen, stoned to death A.D. 36, is the first Christian martyr.

I helped butcher a hog once. Another young man shot the hog in the head and I drew the bright blade across the dead animal's throat. We ate fresh pork tenderloin that night.

The difference between Hamel and the hog is that Hamel died a beautiful death.

In these days when the early martyrs are forgotten and when we think all death is ugly and that the Catholic churches of France are more museums than houses of worship, we forget.

The French nuns of the Sisters of the Holy Union of the Sacred Heart, who taught me when I was a boy, never forgot.

In the early 1960s, when I attended grade school, the sisters were clothed and mentally armored after the manner of the 1400s.

Above all else, they were certain. They knew we were sacks of skin stuffed with sin, but they knew that there was some light of holiness inside us, that the call to sacrifice meant so much more than just pain.

They were beautiful. They had thrown themselves down a well for God, drowned in God and woke back up again in God.

Hamel fell, bleeding out like a stuck pig, gurgling in his throat, while his executioners pranced and bellowed around him.

And he opened like a rose, became a church in his own body, lay dead at the foot of the altar on which he'd sacrificed his whole life.

He was beautiful in those final seconds, the ugliness of his death just a backdrop for the soul those men couldn't touch.

Make a saint of him. He deserves it in this time when so few of us believe in the saints, so many of whom died deaths that were like jewels thrown casually at the feet of God.

We've lost the poets who wrote the songs of triumphant tragedy. We've lost the painters who painted the death of saints and heroes as victories, not defeats. The worst thing about us here in Europe and America, is that we are scared of death every minute of our lives, a failing that sells everything from smoothies to free weights.

He was just an old priest in a small church, an old man with an old man's goat face and an old man's sour wine smell, and he died stuck like a pig.

A death so beautiful in its purity, it sings in the ears like hymn.

To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, "King of the World on $14 an Hour," is a collection of his best 2014 columns and is available for Nook and Kindle.

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