May 24, 1996, a group of Islamic terrorists announced that they had “slit the throats” of seven French Trappist monks whom they had kidnapped from the monastery of Tibherine. Father Christian de Chergé, had left with his family this testament “to be opened in the event of my death.”
Christian’s entire letter can be read anywhere on the web. The story of Christian’s death and six other monks is now a novel and a movie.
While the book and movie provide serious entertainment, the value of human life, spirituality, humility, and martyrdom is called into the spotlight. Interfaith dialogue also has a significant role.
Christian, and his fellow monks, had given their lives to follow Christ. When danger was near they gave their actual lives, their flesh and body, they had passports and chose not to leave. As Christ chose to accept his destiny so did these Cistercian Monks. How have I accepted or not accepted my destiny? How many ways has God worked around me, inspite of me, and through me to deliver providentially his plans? Surely my failures and folly have at least served a few who can learn from my ways! I like the closing line, and may we find each other, happy good thieves, in paradise. Is any grace we receive not an aspect of thievery, for what do we have of any worth to purchase God’s blessing. Nothing at all in our possession can lay claim to entitlement. We are at the mercy of God’s good will and intentions being provided despite our inclination to turn towards evil or at least earthly, temporal things.
Below are some excerpts from Christian’s last letter:
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.
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.
Mission statement: “I am created to praise, love, and serve God.” Disordered loves and preoccupations clutter our lives. The grace we seek is indifference.
Prayer for the week: “I pray for the following graces: a deepening awareness of my fundamental vocation to praise, love, and serve God and others, a desire for greater indifference in my life; a willingness to embrace who I am before our loving God.”
It is against my nature, against man’s nature, to desire a greater indifference in our lives. I am goal directed, even in spiritual pursuit, I am goal directed with an individual will to achieve. Achievement is measured by attachments, sense of belonging, and yes, desires of the heart.
The grace I pray for is the grace of acceptance. The acceptance of my temporal existence in the flesh, of my lack of certainty of everlasting life in the spirit, my frailties and over attachment to things not worthy of such adoration, my clinging to sensations of the five senses that cloud achieving true openness to the divine.
I am here writing, seeking, with a lived experience of successes and failures in everyday life. They serve as an aide and a hinderance to this pursuit. I overvalue my own importance (whether narcissistic pride in accomplishments or grand martyrdom in failure) when reflecting on the past and overshadow my future with anxiety on where to go from here.
A willingness to embrace who I am before our loving God and accept divine providence and present moment, accept forgiveness and embrace, and seek discernment of God’s will going forward, leaving anxiety in the ashes of prayer will allow me to praise, love, and serve God.
My work is my vocation of serving God. My family is my vocation of serving God. My writing helps me examine my thoughts and attentions. My reading keeps me humbled and striving. Religious people, mass, Holy Communion, Pope Francis, and the mysteries of grace help me. Concretely, the things I can do daily is read scripture, pray, journal, and try to see the image of God within everyone I interact with, especially those who engender my worst cynicism and nature.
Other readings: Book of Genesis: Jacob and man/demon fight all night: Turns out to be God he wrestled with all night. In day he gets God’s blessing and a new name…Israel. He saw the face of God and lived. Have you ever wrestled with God? Today’s refection speaks about the humility and blessings of wrestling with one’s vocational discernment. Gn: 32: 23-33. MT 9:32-38.
The tight rope between Ezekiel’s description of dancing bones (37:7) as a “rattling of bones came together bone to bone” to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Lucan Gospel, although laced together with scriptures all throughout the Old Testament and the Gospels, defies the imagination. Ezekiel prophesized a vision as follows: “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.” This was to his people who were exiled and needed hope and vision of a glorious return. The improbability of the original vision is perhaps as challenging as the delivered savior: a suffering savior who dies to give us life and is resurrected corporately (for everyone), body and all. The faith of the exiled Israelites expecting a savior and the faith of the disciples when presented with a savior is not a given despite tangible “miracles” and visions.
In the Lucan gospel, the visitation to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, cannot discern Jesus Christ has joined them on the road in conversation. They do not recognize him until the act of breaking bread, which was preceded by scripture (revelation by Jesus though not discerned). The Gospel discusses that not all can see. Several accounts are given of the disciples themselves being in disbelief.
How than, can we in modern day believe? Is it not so much harder? The answer is no as we have the same tools of discernment as the disciples: scripture and breaking bread (receiving Jesus Christ). Scripture prepares the self with knowledge of God, breaking bread is accepting God’s gift of Jesus Christ sacrifice, and union with God is perfected in our pursuit of proximity to God and God’s providence. Man cannot discern God alone, in the past or in the present.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” Imagine having the choice to be baptized by John the Baptist on one side of the lake and Jesus of Nazareth on the other. Aside from this trivial imaginative dilemma, how can I diminish myself so that the spirit and grace of God may flourish within me? Self-preoccupation that I am susceptible to include excessive entertainment (desire for leisure, food, drink, vacation, gaming), anxiety about family well-being, finance and work projects. All of the latter are important – but in the end will my anxiety change anything more so than putting my faith in God’s hands and trusting in providence. Freeing myself for God’s will internally (reducing attachments) and externally (being available to others but guided by God’s intentions) requires a great deal of spiritual discernment and prayer.