Of Gods and Men

About a month ago, I was encouraged to see this film so my wife and I watched it online a couple of nights ago. This film is centred on the life of nine Trappist monks at the monastery of Tibhirine and the peaceful relationship they had with the largely Muslim village in Algeria. They served this Muslim community by providing a free outpatient clinic for them. This was set during the time of the Algerian Civil War in the 1990s.

When the Jihadist forces murdered Croatian construction workers, they set their eyes on the monks and saw them as the ultimate prize in their campaign. The monks had to make a crucial decision. Should they stay or should they go? If they went, were they being cowards? If they stayed, were they being arrogant? If God has called them to stay and serve the community, is martyrdom their destiny in serving God?

Serving God and serving others sometimes bring us to a place where like Jesus, we have to say “Not my will but yours be done”. Within us there is a will to stay alive and if that means, having to flee danger, we would do it. However, what if it is God’s will that we stay and face that danger? Could we do it with courage?

The movie ends with a letter written by the prior of the Algerian monastery, Christian de Cherge. He has a strange sense that he was going to die a violent death so he wrote this letter, sealed it and left it with his mother in France, to be opened after his death. This is part of the letter:

“If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism that now seems to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to Algeria; and that they accept that the sole Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I would like, when the time comes, to have a space of clearness that would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who will strike me down.

I could not desire such a death; it seems to me important to state this: How could I rejoice if the Algerian people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder?

My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But they should know that…for this life lost, I give thanks to God. In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, my last-minute friend who will not have known what you are doing…I commend you to the God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.”

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