Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit (Phil. 1:20c-24)Our second reading for the Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time strikes me as a very good reading to sum up last week's posts and focus on suffering. Besides, in a phone conversation a few weeks back my friend Fred and I discussed the books on monasticism that both of us were then reading. The essence of our conversation was how much these works aided us in understanding and better living the charism in which we are privileged to share.
Moving once again to the subject of monasticism, this reading puts me in mind, yet again, of the powerful scene from the film Of Gods and Men, in which Frere Luc declares himself a free man because he was not afraid to die. Because he was a Christian, his freedom was not merely a stoic acceptance of the inevitability of death, but hope in eternal life, which for him, and his brothers, meant literally laying down their lives for those Algerian Muslims among whom they lived and who they served.
The abbot of Our Lady of the Atlas monastery, which was in the village of Tibhirin, Dom Christian De Cherge, wrote a testament to be opened and read should he be killed. It begins-
If it should happen one day -- and it could be today -- that I become a victim of the terrorism that 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 that 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 that 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.
For Dom Christian and his brothers, like St. Paul, the only concern was to magnify Christ in their bodies, that is, to live it out the love they received, to make it real in the world, to incarnate God's love, each one an alter Christus (i.e., another Christ), a part of history.
Don Giussani observed that the powers of the world are incapable of keeping the awakening that occurs when one encounters Christ from happening, "but," he warned, "as soon as they see it, they try to stop it from becoming history." (quoted in "Whoever Is In Christ Is A New Creation, 32). Fr. Carrón, picking up this thread, continued by noting that the powers "act on its staying power over time, its duration, the permanence of what was wakened. How do they act? Trying to reduce our desires as soon as they are awakened by the encounter. How often have we discovered that we have returned to the situation of before."
Martyrdom for the monks of Algeria became a joy, not a burden, nor a stoic acceptance of fate; for the disciple of Jesus there is no such thing as fate, only the will of the Father, which is our path to destiny, to happiness, fulfillment, total and complete satisfaction. Rather, it became a joy:
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!Jesus promised His disciples that there is not one "who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age" (Mark 10:29-31).
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!
Giussani often reminded people of Jesus' promise of the hundredfold in the here-and-now. What he taught was no "health and wealth" prosperity gospel, but that by following Christ "you will live a hundred times better" your love for your wife or husband, your family, your friends a hundred times more, plus "have a hundred times more passion for study, love of work, enjoyment of nature."
Don Gius uses a line from a poem by Milosz to make this point: "Raise up therefore a man in some place on this earth and grant that by looking upon him I may admire You." Jesus Christ is the man raised up on this earth in Whose face we see God. Giussani proclaims, "But Christ is in you and in me, and that is a tremendous thing (tremendum mysterium); it is the source of our responsibility and of our humility, something we must inevitably confront because we are the physical sign of His presence."
This, my friends, is what it means to "conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Phil. 1:27).