Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To Announce A Year of the Lord's Favor (continued)

Crucifix, Santiago de
Yesterday in the posting of the letter of Mr. Michael Rogers, SJ, to the Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I mentioned the letter which Dom Christian de Chergé, Prior of the Cistercian (Trappist) community of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine Algeria had written to the Islamic terrorist whom he foresaw would one day take his life.  I have always held Dom Christian’s letter is one of the most important spiritual documents of the twentieth century.  I had thought I had posted the story of the Monks of Atlas and Dom Christian’s letter on this blog only to realize yesterday that I hadn’t: so here it is.  You might see a dramatization of the monks’ story in the film: Of God’s and Men.

Asmall monastery of Cistercian monks, the Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas stood in the remote Algerian desert village of Tibhirine. It monks, all French nationals, had come to live in the desert among some of the poorest people in Algeria. They did not come to proselytize but rather to proclaim the Gospel by witnessing to the local Muslim population the good will and dedication to the service of the poor of those who follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the monks, 82 year-old Brother Luke, was a physician and he provided health care for the locals. Other monks used their various gifts to help the locals as well. The monastery itself employed several locals for various odd jobs that brought some money into the local economy. The monks enjoyed excellent relations with their neighbors but early in the Morning of March 27, 1996 seven monks were abducted by Muslim Fundamentalists. Several others were not discovered by the kidnappers and managed to escape. The monks were held hostage by the Armed Islamic Group, demanding the release of one of their founders, Abdelhak Lavada who had been sentenced to death. The monks were killed on May 21st, their severed heads discovered ten days later. Lavada, who was not directly involved in the monks kidnapping and assassination was released from prison in 2006 under the Algerian president’s “charter for peace and national reconciliation.”
Dom Christian, the prior of the community, had in some way foreseen his fate--as holy people so often do--and written his Testament three years before. It was opened only on the Pentecost Sunday subsequent to his death. I believe that it forms one of the great pieces of spiritual literature of the modern era. 

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 in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. To accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would like them to pray for me: how worthy would I be found of such an offering?
I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of 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, and even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a space of lucidity which would enable 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 would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I don’t see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. It would be too high a price to pay for what will be called, perhaps, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this 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 contempt in which Algerians taken as a whole can be engulfed. I know, too, the caricatures of Islam which encourage a certain idealism. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience in identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam is something different. It is a body and a soul. I have proclaimed it often enough, I think, in view of and in the knowledge of what I have received from it, finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already respecting believing Muslims.
My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these must know that my insistent curiosity will then be set free. 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 as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, 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, playing with the differences.
This life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that JOY in 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, O my friends of this place, besides my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families, a hundredfold as was promised!
And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU AND THIS “A-DIEU”-—to commend you to this 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. . . AMEN!

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