Of Gods and Men

March 15, 2011

It takes a lot to leave me speechless, but the French film Of Gods and Men, which tells the story of the 1996 assassination of seven Trappist monks by Islamic extremists in Algeria, did just that this weekend.  It may well be the best religious film I’ve ever seen.

Like the 2005 documentary Into Great Silence, the film allows the Trappists’ monastic lifestyle to unfold simply and quietly.  We see the monks at prayer, tending their garden, making honey, attending patients in their small clinic.  The film makes great use of silence and of the rugged Algerian countryside to allow us to feel the elemental beauty and humanity of the Trappists’ way of life.

We also feel the humanity of the Algerian villagers who live around the monastery.  As we watch the elderly physician Br. Luc tending a child’s wound, then rummaging for shoes for a mother and her daughter, or another of the monks helping a village matron address an envelope to her son in Paris, one has the sense that the relationship of monastery to village we’re seeing might as easily be unfolding in medieval Europe as in Muslim Algeria; it touches on timeless parts of being human—sickness, celebration, making a living, family, death, elders complaining that the world has gone mad, falling in love.

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Luxuries of a Third World Church

August 9, 2010

If you are one of our astute regular readers (and aren’t all of our regular readers by definition astute?), you might have noticed that my postings this summer were rather sparse.  You see, I was in the jungle.

The Jesuits, as most of you know, are a worldwide religious order, and, even though the order is divided into provinces, when a man becomes a Jesuit he enters the Society of Jesus, of which there is but one in the world.  Our current Father General has placed great emphasis on the international character of the Society, encouraging provinces to work together across national borders and reminding us that Jesuits in formation need to be comfortable working in any culture.

All of this, along with the inscrutable workings of Providence, is to explain how I found myself at the beginning of June in a remote mountain village in northeast India.  No phones, no internet, not even mail.

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World Day for Consecrated Life

February 2, 2010

Ask someone what day it is today and the response you are likely to get is “Groundhog Day.”  Unless you ask a pagan Celt, who will know that it is the festival of Imbolc.  And Catholics?  The catechized ones will likely tell you that it is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Candlemas.

Few people will tell you that it is World Day for Consecrated Life.  But it is—unless you are in one of those dioceses that move the celebration to the following Sunday, an unfortunate practice which is a matter for another post.

When Venerable John Paul II established February 2 as the World Day for Consecrated Life back in 1997, he said that the purpose of the day was threefold: First, to thank God for the gift of consecrated life.  Second, “to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God.”  And the third reason, in John Paul II’s words,

regards consecrated persons directly. They are invited to celebrate together solemnly the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in them, to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world.

That phrase about “their irreplaceable mission” got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with an abbess of a Poor Clare monastery.  Mother Abbess was telling me how important it was for her community to protect the discipline of enclosure, because once one begins to make small exceptions the Rule, soon the cloister may be lost entirely.  Upon remarking how central enclosure is to the charism of the Poor Clares (who make a special fourth vow of enclosure) she remarked that if religious abandon their charism, they forfeit their reason to exist, and soon will cease to exist.  The history of—no, perhaps better, the contemporary situation of—religious life bears ample evidence to this fact. Read the rest of this entry »