Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 27, 2013

betrayal-kiss-judas-jesusGospel reading of the day:

Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.'” The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: The gospels make clear to us that Jesus had many enemies, but it was not these who openly opposed him who betrayed him: it was one of the people who was closest to Jesus, one who walked with him on long dusty roads, saw him work his miracles, heard him proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God to the poor, and witnessed his compassion toward the sick. Today’s gospel reading tells us that when Jesus told his disciples that one among them was about to betray him, each one doubted himself and herself; each one asked Jesus, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” In other words, in a secret place in their hearts, all of them understood their own capacities to turn on the Lord. Judas, who of course knew what he was going to do, also chimes in, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” And though he asks the same question that the others asked, his question rings with the falseness of concealment of conscious intentions. We too who are baptized into the Lord have walked with Jesus, seen the miracles he works in broken lives, heard the good news, and understood his compassion, and yet each of us is well aware of his or her own capacity to betray Jesus. Let us pray, as Jesus taught us, that we not be put to the test.

Saint of the day: In the middle of the night of March 26-27, 1996, seven monks of Our Lady of Atlas, a Trappist monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria, were kidnapped by members of the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), guerrillas determined to drive non-Muslims from Algeria and to impose an Islamist government. On April 18, the GIA contacted the French government and offered to free the monks in return for releasing several of its members from Trappist Martyrs of Tibhirine-1996prison, but this proposal was never considered. On May 21, the GIA announced that the monks had been executed. On May 31, their decapitated heads were found. On June 4, their bodies were brought back to the monastery and buried in a ceremony that included this intercessory prayer: “You Who by the water of baptism sanctified our brothers Christian, Luke, Christopher, Michael, Celestine, Bruno and Paul, give them in its fullness the life of God’s children.”

The families, friends, neighbors, and fellow monks gathered at this funeral had every reason to be confident in praying this prayer. There was much evidence that the monks had indeed been sanctified by the waters of baptism. They were, after all, monks of the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance, living a life of prayer and work initiated by the Desert Fathers and set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict: rising in the middle of the night for vigils and several hours of personal prayer, followed by Mass; work in the morning and afternoon, interspersed with brief prayers; meals in common, in silence or with a public reading; night prayer and a blessing by the abbot before retiring. With every aspect of the Trappist day designed to inculcate in the monk purity of heart, the monastery itself would become, in the words of Bernard of Clairvaux (founder of the Cistercians), a “school of charity.”

By all accounts, this nine-hundred-year-old vision had been well realized at the monastery of Tibhirine. Brother Luke, at age eighty-two the oldest member of the community, was a skilled physician from Lyons who had been ministering to the sick in a free clinic at the monastery for five decades. Dom Christian, the prior, was a leader of a Muslim-Christian group called Ribat es Salam (Bond of Peace) that brought religious leaders throughout Algeria to the monastery for dialogue. The guest house was usually full. Local villagers frequently came to the gatehouse for a drink of water, to use the telephone, or to dictate a letter. Sometimes they would bring olives to be pressed at the monastery mill and have the monks store the olive oil and distribute it to them as needed. The monks were trusted by the villagers. Their love of God and neighbor was imparted to others by how they lived.

The monks were aware that they would likely be killed. On Christmas Eve of 1993, they were visited by members of the GIA who demanded that they turn over their money and medical supplies and that Brother Luke come with them to treat one of their wounded. Dom Christian replied that they had no money to spare and that Brother Luke was too old to travel but that he would help their comrade as he does anyone who comes to the monastery needing medical attention. The GIA insisted that the monks meet their demands. “You have no choice,” said their leader. Dom Christian replied, “Oh, but we do.” The rebels departed that night but warned they would return.

The monks had good reason to take the warning seriously. On October 31, 1993, the GIA had ordered all foreigners to leave Algeria within a month or be killed. Early in December, four foreigners were killed; then, shortly thereafter, twelve more. And the pace of the killing accelerated after the GIA’s Christmas visit to the Atlas Trappistsmonastery, rising eventually to an estimated 1000 assassinations a week. Brothers, sisters, and priests were often the targets: in May 1994, a priest and sister were killed; in October 1994, two more sisters; in December 1994, four priests; in November 1995, one sister killed and another wounded. During this period, a dozen religious communities decided to leave Algeria, at least temporarily. But several others resolved to stay: the Jesuits, the Little Brothers of Jesus, the White Fathers, the Protestant Sisters of Grandchamps, the Poor Clares, as well as the Trappists.

At first, the monks seriously thought about leaving. But the bishop of Algiers urged them to reconsider. Their departure, he said, might cause the remaining Christians in the area to panic and discourage their peaceful Muslim neighbors. So they decided to stay, at which point their initial apprehensions gave way to a resolve to continue living their life of prayer, manual labor, hospitality, and sharing with the poor. This was their response to the violence overtaking the country. The Algerian government proposed that police be stationed in an unused building in the monastery for protection. The monks refused. No weapons would be allowed into the monastery, they said, it was against the monastic way of life. Besides, it would give the impression that they were taking sides, whereas the monks wished to remain neutral as the only way to love everyone. This was, they realized, a dangerous love.

From letters, journal entries, and minutes of community meetings during these years, we can see how the monks were gradually possessed by a readiness to offer everything. Sometimes this was expressed in a kind of gallows humor. When asked by friends in France how things were going down there, Brother Paul would write back, “my head is still on my shoulders.” Other times, their thoughts were more poetic and solemn. Take, for example, this entry in the journal of Brother Christopher, dated February 19, 1996: “Violence and bloodshed in the country again and again,” he writes, and then he asks Christ, “When will the time come to be planted at Tibhirine: planted in you, my Beloved?” And this entry on March 19, 1996, the Feast of St. Joseph: “Today is the anniversary of my consecration to Mary,” he writes, recalling his final profession. “Yes, I continue to choose you, Mary, with Joseph, in the communion of all the saints . . . Like the beloved disciple, I take you into my home. Near you, I am what I should be: offered.”

A week after writing this meditation, Brother Christopher and the other monks were taken from the monastery. So began the last leg of a journey that would end with their final “offering,” and bring them, as stated in the funeral prayer, “in its fullness, the life of God’s children.”

483712_565972983426464_1744516232_nAncient Christian teaching holds that when martyrs die, they are immediately ushered into the presence of God, in which case this funeral prayer would have already been answered. But such prayers are not superfluous. They are as much for the living as for the dead; especially when the dead are martyrs whose lives remind us of our call to live as God’s children not only in eternal life, but also here and now in this life. In this day and age, there may be no more important reminder than this. For we live in a time when the Gospel is widely regarded, even within the church, as impossible to live out, as an unrealizable ideal with no application in the real world arena of nations and empires, trade balances and global markets. Martyrs witness against this attitude. By refusing to renounce or compromise their faith to the point of death, they expose this attitude for what it is: a legitimation of the violence and acquisitiveness of the world, an accommodation to our disordered passions, a turning away from God. At the same time, they show us the possibility of turning toward God; and doing so not only in our minds and hearts, thoughts and inspirations, but in our concrete actions, in our flesh-and-blood bodies. Relatively few pursue this possibility of turning toward God, for in one way or another it leads to the cross. But martyrs are given the grace to walk the way of the cross, somehow knowing that only by uniting ourselves to the Son in His offering to the Father can we fully become what we were created to be: children of God.

From what is known of their lives and deaths, it is reasonable to regard the monks of Tibhirine as martyrs. From what has been revealed of the children of Godthat they receive this status for being peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)it is also reasonable to regard them, more specifically, as martyrs for peace. They took it upon themselves to respond to their self-declared enemies by showing them mercy and so made peace through their deaths, thereby imitating God who, while we were enemies, showed us mercy through the peace of the cross. In doing so, they show us the possibility of making peace with terrorism, true peace. Their willingness to make peace with their enemies was dramatically articulated in a letter written by Dom Christian de Chergé. He wrote it soon after the GIA announced that they would begin to assassinate all foreigners and left instructions that it was to be opened upon his death. As a text on which to meditate and perhaps discover how we may respond to the threat of terrorism with an offering of peace, it is worth quoting in full: When We Face An A-Dieu.


Letter from Dom Christian de Chergé

If it should happen one day and it could be today that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country. I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to thus brutal departure.I would ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or 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 am an accomplice in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.

I would like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time 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. I do not 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 perhaps be called the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately. I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters. It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience by identify this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algerian and Islam are not that, but rather a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it. I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.

Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, please God: 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 restore the likeness, playing with the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed 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 sisters and brothers and their families. You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing: Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this “A-DIEU” to be for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours.

May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.


Christian +

Algiers, December 1, 1993
Tibhirine, January 1, 1994

Spiritual reading: The glory of the Cross led those who were blind through ignorance into light, loosed all who were held fast by sin, and ransomed the whole world of mankind. (Cyril of Jerusalem)

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