The question was that of one of the two young terrorists who assassinated an elderly French priest by slitting his throat as he celebrated Mass in a small town in Normandy four days ago. Three nuns were present at the Mass. One fled to alert the police. The two others, both, like the priest, in their eighties, stayed in the church. One of the jihadists asked Sister Hélène whether she was afraid to die. She said no. Then he said “Why ?”
” ‘I believe in God, and I know I will be happy’, Sister Hélène said, as she quietly prayed to herself ” (we know what the journalist meant by “praying to herself”, but we also know that, as in all prayer, she was in fact talking to herself).
“Then they started talking about God. ‘Jesus cannot be God and a man. It is you who are wrong’, one of the men said.
” ‘Maybe, but too bad’, Sister Huguette replied.”
The dialogue, reported in today’s “The Guardian” (July 30, 2016) is worth recording here. Extraordinary courage on the part of the admirable nuns, calm conviction on that of the fanatic jihadist, recognition by both that while their separate, contradictory faiths allowed them both to face death without fear, on neither side were they ready to abandon their faith, or even to argue the point pointlessly about it. None of them was a Believer on the Brink.