By Fr. Guerric
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him…” John 14: 15-17
Several weeks ago we monks had the opportunity to view an extraordinary French film “Of Gods and Men.” It was the true story of a small monastery of Trappist monks in a mountain village of Algeria in the 1990s. Watching the film gave new meaning to living Trappist life in the world today.
In the gruesome violence of the Algerian civil war, the community of eight monks was an oasis of peace and compassion in the midst of the horror around them. The monks lived humbly, simply and happily among their Muslim neighbors, keeping their bees and their garden, offering hospitality in the guest house and medical care to all who came to their small clinic. They did not try to convert any of their Muslim neighbors to Catholicism; the simple generosity of their lives was a bridge between Christianity and Islam.
As the violence escalated, the government urged the monks to abandon the abbey. The monks anguished over what to do. How could any of us who watched that film not ask, “What would I have done?”
A Muslim villager asked one of the monks if they were going to leave. A brother shrugged , “We’re like birds on a branch. We don’t know if we will leave.”
But the woman of the village pleaded: “No, we are the birds. You are the branch. If you go, we’ll lose our footing.”
In the peace and blessing engendered in their simple lives, the Trappist monks of Tibhirine became the “branch” of God’s love for both Muslim and Christian neighbors. They were a sign of the Spirit of God speaking in all that is just and right, in every word of compassion, in the simplest and most unheralded acts of reconciliation and peace. The Spirit promised by Jesus to his followers “advocates” for what is good, right, just, despite our skepticism, rejection, and blindness to the things of God.
This film did a beautiful job of pointing out the difference between the “world” and Jesus’ disciples. The world, or that element that does not chose to listen to Jesus, has a very different way of evaluating what is important. Therefore, the Church cannot expect any more than the monks could, of the world and its reason for being and its mandate. While required by their faith to serve the needy and poor of this world, they are perceived by this world as a counterculture insofar as we believers remain true to the spirit of Jesus among us.
At the same time the Church cannot withdraw from the world in arrogant aloofness anymore than the monks could. Being in the world but not of it, being light where there is darkness, being salt where there is apathy, being leaven that elevates the quality of life and upholds gospel values – these remain the challenges of Jesus disciples. But today’s Gospel affirms that we are never alone or without resources for whatever we are called upon to be or to do. Always mindful that the Spirit is a gift and not a possession, we continue to witness to the world.
May the Advocate guide us in whatever opportunities we have to be “branches” of hope and healing for those desperately seeking a place to alight; shelters welcoming the poor, the lost, and the marginalized struggling to find their way back.