Lifeless there, orange jumpsuited, sill warm with the boldness of dying well. Young men who went from desert to westward desert, from the very land where Christ himself was once a boy and a refugee. They look the same as every young man you have ever known.
And kneeling on the low gray sand of the Mediterranean shore, captured and murdered, and then in their final breath set free to kneel again, this time proudly, joyfully on the high crystal sand of one Eternal Shore.
Today, the Father counts them worthy by the blood of the Lamb, for the Lord too was led like a sheep to the slaughter… and then he rose.
Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
So the martyrs are the high boughs of the Church, and in their dying there is new life. Because they finished the race. They kept the faith.
Don’t forget their names or their faces or the way they died. Don’t forget their mothers and fathers and children and villages. Don’t forget their earthly homes, where mourning rises not in vain. For they will be comforted. We will all be comforted.
And look also at the men in black, shadowed, hidden, hooded, armed. But do not call them a faceless evil. Do not call them Muslims or jihadists or killers. Not those things first. Call them lost and blind.
And pray for those who persecute you.
We should have no evil thoughts against them. We were all killers. We were all murderers and infidels whenever we harbored anger, resentment, bitterness, and hatred against any other person.
We should neither say that they are monsters, as though they are made from different dust. We are all monsters, divine beings corrupted by the sinful desires of the world, daily trying to put aside our monstrosity and regain our humanness by the grace and power of Jesus, the truest, most human human who ever lived.
We should not even rest long in the comfort of judgment, for we too were once under the tons of justice, and we too were given mercy.
And like the centurion before the cross, maybe one of these executioners – but boys themselves, who look, on a closer glance, not so unlike your son or brother – may they say, “Surely this was the Son of God,” for Christ himself was on the beach where these 21 faithful died.
The men who hide their faces, they say they will conquer Rome. And Jerusalem. And Washington. But even if they could, what are these cities? There are no sacred cities anymore. There is only a kingdom, found along the Nile and in the Sahara and on the Med and in every corner of the globe, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.