YESTERDAY’S atrocity in central London is one more reminder of the extent to which some people will go in furtherance of their beliefs. For us as Catholics such an action is a particular challenge for two different but not unrelated reasons.
We are confident, most of us, in our belief that we are members of the One, Holy, Catholic (ie universal) Church, a membership which we might in more generous moments extend to other denominations which call themselves Christian though their beliefs may fall short of acceptance of the Trinity or Transubstantiation. We know we are right because God Himself has told us so.
With that belief and that conviction go the demand that we “preach the gospel to all nations”, unless of course we assume that this instruction was for the apostles only and is really nothing to do with us. “All” nations includes those who produce Islamist fanatics prepared to use bullets, bombs, and the occasional kitchen knife in pursuit of …
… of what, precisely? The logic is incoherent. Killing an unbeliever gets you no further forward. Neither does killing a planeload, at least to any meaningful extent. Being killed in the process of killing unbelievers gets you martyrdom and instant transport to paradise where 72 virgins await your pleasure (if I have the right translation; others differ). Delightful as that might be it seems a rather limited, not to say nihilistic, view of eternity.
My own view, for which I have ample authority from a variety of sources, not least my favourite theologian Frank Sheed, is that heaven will provide all the joys that one could conceivably have enjoyed on earth but to perfection. All the delights of the senses — the music of Vaughan Williams or Ed Sheeran, the art of Rembrandt or Jackson Pollock — are God-created for our benefit and since we have been promised that we will be reunited with our bodies, perfect bodies that is, at the end of time we must presume if there is any logic to our belief that we will able to experience the same sensations as we do now only as God intended them to be experienced.
But we need to earn all this and meanwhile we have a job to do on earth which is to persuade our fellow beings that our path is the right one, that others may attain an eternal reward but that we have “the message of eternal life” because Jesus gave it to us. At the very least all those who have not found the true way need to be constantly in our prayers and that includes the misguided and the murderers as well as those who find themselves caught up and washed along in this tide of extremism.
That is one challenge for us. The other is to examine our own consciences and ask how far along the path of the extremist we ourselves would be prepared to go for what we believe in. How many of us would truly be prepared to die for the faith? If someone burst into our church next Sunday waving his Kalashnikov and yelling “Allahu akbar”, how many of us would throw ourselves at him and make ourselves willing martyrs to prevent him creating a dozen or more unwilling martyrs around us?
Rarely does God ask us to go quite that far. Lent is a good time to ask ourselves how far we do go, how far we can go, how far God is asking us to go. And how often we say to Him, “Here I am, Lord. I come to do Your will.”