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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lives given for others : Stations of the Cross - Of gods and men

Last evening about a dozen or so people gathered in Saint Paul's Anglican Church in Ballarat at 5.30 pm for a Lenten evening.

We began with the ancient Christian meditation on the last hours of Jesus, The Stations of the Cross.  Last night, the experience had added flavour. As well as the traditional form of meditation, the words of Julian of Norwich were added.  These words come from her visions recorded in Revelations of Divine Love.  This way of 'doing' The Stations was most helpful and enlarging. Picture at left from here.

After The Stations, we had a shared meal at The Parish Centre followed by a movie.

The movie was something very special - Of gods and men

The movie is based on the events leading up to and surrounding the deaths of seven Trappist monks, men of the Cistercian order, in Algeria in 1996.  These men were of the same religious order as the well-known Thomas Merton.  The film is beautiful, reflective, much awarded and should be accompanied by a box of tissues.  For a taste, please watch the trailer below.

The various characters depicted were interesting - but none more so than the leader of this little band of men living in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, Christian de Cherge. Christian's leadership and legacy demonstrate the kinship that can be found among the people called Christians and the people called Muslims.  

In the movie, we see - without explanation - Christian writing a letter and putting it in an envelope and sitting it on his desk.  This was duly found following his capture and death and is known as his "Last Testament".......

Taken from First Things -

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready 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 this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind of Islamism encourages. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims”finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these people must realize that my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills”immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.

For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything. In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and their families the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this adieu—to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.
Translated by the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicester, England.

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