Arnaud Beltrame, Cardinal Sarah and Learning to Die in Lagrasse
National Catholic Register, 29 March 2018
As we embark on the Holy Triduum, the examples of an unknown religious brother and a French law enforcement officer have much to teach us.
A fortnight ago, I had the blessing of hosting Cardinal Robert Sarah at our chaplaincy in Kingston, Ontario, and our parish on Wolfe Island.
By word and example, he encouraged us to find the “profound silence [where] we can enter these mysteries and see with the eyes of our body and soul the cross of salvation present on the altar.”
A week later, the news arrived of terrorist violence in France. And I thought of Cardinal Sarah and the power of silence in the face of gunfire. The two are connected in a way most fitting for Holy Week.
A jihadist terror attack in France is not the news it used to be. It now happens a few times a year, and the president of France says what the president customarily says for such occasions.
So the terror attack in the supermarket in Trèbes the Friday before Palm Sunday was set to proceed in the routine manner. Until the news about Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame of the French Gendarmerie Nationale became known. And then it became another story altogether.
Beltrame, on duty at the scene, offered to take the place of a woman being held hostage by the jihadi. It was an act of both Christian courage and tactical brilliance. The jihadi agreed to the swap, and so Beltrame was able to draw close, leaving his mobile phone on so that the police outside could hear what was going on. When the police stormed the supermarket, Beltrame was stabbed and shot by the jihadi and died of his wounds the next day.
Beltrame was civilly married and preparing for a Catholic wedding in June. His widow saw great significance that he died on the eve of Holy Week, for she said her husband’s sacrifice could not be understood apart from his Catholic faith.
The French diocese for the armed forces announced his death with the words: “There is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s brothers.”
In the hours after Beltrame’s death became known, he was compared to St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan friar who was killed by the Nazis after volunteering to take the place of another prisoner in the death block of Auschwitz.
Much more will have to be known about Beltrame’s life before such a comparison can validly be made, but there are connections to the death of a religious brother, one introduced to the world by Cardinal Sarah — Brother Vincent-Marie of the Resurrection. Brother Vincent and Arnaud Beltrame have much to teach us about dying.
For the last year and a half, Beltrame had been preparing for marriage and going regularly for Mass and formation at the Abbey of Lagrasse, home to a young religious order that moved into and restored the formerly abandoned monastery. As Beltrame lay unconscious and dying, it was a priest of this abbey who administered the sacrament of the sick and granted him the apostolic pardon.
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