Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saint Pancras and Terrorism

by Tim Ferguson

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote this a couple of years ago, just after the London subway bombings. A friend just emailed it back to me, and it seemed appropriate to commemorate today's sad anniversary.]

I was looking at the Fox News website today and, inspired by the sign denoting the location of one of the attacks as the "St. Pancras Station," thought I'd do a little research. I first became familiar with St. Pancras during the summer I spent in Rome. The parish attached to the place our classes were held was dedicated to him. It's an ancient parish, on the Janiculum hill, with some nice, but seldom frequented, catacombs beneath it. It also holds the honor of being the parish in which Pope Pius XII was baptized (at least according to one priest we spoke to there). I managed to obtain a holy card from there.

St. Pancras was a young, 14-year-old boy, brought to Rome by his uncle, and martyred under the Emperor Diocletian in 304 AD. St. Pancras was beheaded, despite his young age, after having refused to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. His connection with England came through Pope St. Gregory I, who gave St. Augustine of Canterbury the relics of St. Pancras to carry with him to England as a sign of the unity of the Church and as a means of providing relics for altars there.

St. Pancras is the patron saint invoked for treaties, oaths, and against perjury. He is also a patron saint of children. Now here comes the interpretive riff: why does it seem appropriate that this major strike of the war with militant Islam should happen at a place dedicated to St. Pancras?

First of all, St. Pancras was asked to renounce his faith and refused, despite the inevitable consequences. We, too, are being asked - in subtle and not-so-subtle ways - to renounce our faith. We are being asked to turn tail and run, to refrain from preaching and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to abandon our conviction in the centrality, unicity and validity of the Christian message in favor of some broad, milquetoast message of "tolerance" and "acceptance". The terrorists, and those who refuse to stand up strongly against them, don't simply want us to tolerate and accept them, they want us to submit to them. Like St. Pancras, we cannot and must not do so. Christ urged us to turn the other cheek and offer no resistance to injury, it is true, but that meekness is to be born out of strength of conviction, not some bland acquiescence to evil and violence. We are called to turn the other cheek, not to bow our heads. We proudly proclaim Christ and willingly bear the insults and injury concomitant with that proclamation, we do not cede the rectitude of our beliefs.

St. Pancras was beheaded for his faith. How interesting that so many militant Islamists use this form of execution for those hostages they cowardly kidnap. To separate the head from the body is an attempt to divorce the thinking portion of the person from the (symbolic) feeling portion: the heart, the guts, the viscera. These terrorists are appealing to our natural human revulsion to so horrific an act as decapitation. They want us to lose our heads and tremble in subhuman fear of their subhuman actions. This too, we must fight. We must fight to retain our reason, our rationality and the rationality of our faith. Islam is a religion of submission - even blind submission. Christianity, especially Catholicism is a religion that teaches us to glory in our mind - to use the light of our intellect to probe the mysteries of our faith. We must not lose our heads, just as we must not lose our resolve.

St. Pancras is the patron of treaties and oaths, and invoked against perjury and false witness. Treaties are worthless unless both parties are men of honesty and honor. Treaties elicit the best part of our person. They speak of the human desire for peace and civility, they call us to renounce cravenness and underhandedness. Treaties presume our integrity. Integrity, honesty, honor - these are things the terrorists cannot understand. They do not have these qualities, or they have buried them so far under their blind hatred and fear that they are confounded by them. We must resist the temptation to sink to their level. While a treaty broken by one party no longer binds the other, the honor, the honesty, and the integrity that the treaty calls forth still must mark the violated party. Terrorists and their allies claim the protections of the Geneva conventions that they refuse to extend to us. In our dealings with them, we are no longer bound by those conventions since they have already violated them. Yet, the principles of the convention - the respect for human dignity must still mark our dealings with them. That does not mean we must treat them with kid gloves and refrain from strenuously seeking them out and eliminating the threat their existence provides. Make no mistake - there can be no binding treaty with those who have no honor. Just as Cato urged the destruction of Carthage as the only sure way of securing the safety of Rome, so too we must urge the complete destruction of militant Islam if we are to secure our future and that of our children. We must do so with firmness, resolve and ferocity, but also with honor and integrity, lest we become like the evil we oppose.

St. Pancras was 14 at the time of his death. He was an innocent. Whatever case could have possibly been made concerning the threat to the Roman Empire provided by adult Christians, St. Pancras was surely no threat to imperial power. He was murdered unjustly. The 50 + murdered yesterday in the tunnels and streets of London were no threat to the Islamic world. They were murdered out of sheer hatred. Islam has shown itself willing to sacrifice its children, allowing or even encouraging them to strap bombs on themselves and commit suicide in the hopes the their death will also kill some non-Moslems. Christianity protects its children and rejects suicide or wanton destruction of life. Golda Meir once asked how Israel could fight against a people who hated Jews more than they loved their own children. As a member of a faith similarly hated by militant Islamists, my answer is that we can fight and defeat these cretins by loving our children more deeply. We must love our children so passionately that we are willing to do what it takes to provide for their safety and future security. We must strengthen our resolve in this war - so unlike any war we have ever fought - to never give up, never surrender, never compromise until every threat of terror is gone.

St. Pancras shed his blood out of unwavering love for Christ. He stood up against the greatest power on earth and was unwilling to cave into it. The firmness of his resolve should shame any of us who have wavered in our commitment to our faith. The craven fanatics of the Islamic world have nowhere near the power the Roman Emperor had in the fourth century - we are not asked to be as bold and courageous as St. Pancras. In addition, we have the benefit of his prayers and his example. Armed with Christ, fortified by the prayers of all the saints, we must stand firm and defeat those who seek the destruction of Christian society.

St. Pancras, pray for us.

[Mr Ferguson resides in St Clair Shores, Michigan. With a degree in Canon Law from the University of St Paul, he currently serves as Administrative Director of the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He is also pursuing theology studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. This work is presented with his kind permission. -- DLA]

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