of Creighton University's Online Ministries
June 13th, 2011
Mary Haynes Kuhlman
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In today’s first reading Paul seems to be writing about his hardships and about being misunderstood. Everyone can identify with his “endurance in afflictions, hardships, constraints,” although most of us have not personally suffered much of “beatings, imprisonments, riots.” Paul knows that by the standards and judgment of the world he is seen “as having nothing,” but by living his faith in Jesus Christ (Love) he is “yet possessing all things.” Love is unreasonable – but practical. The Psalm responds with a song of praise, and then in the Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples to be unreasonable, even foolish, certainly radical by the standards and judgment of the world. By faith in Him (Love), they can be generous in serving others.
Recently I saw a wonderful movie, Of Gods and Men, based on the true story of eight French Trappist monks caught up in political and religious violence in Algeria in the 1990’s. They live simply to serve each other and the Muslims around them, but their work and lives are threatened by Islamist militants who have brutally slaughtered other Europeans in their hatred of foreigners and infidels. These Trappists do not choose to die, but they finally choose to stay in harm’s way – not to be role models, and certainly not to support either the rebels or the government, and not just because they love their neighbors and their work. The movie indicates that each monk, in his own individual life story, has fallen in love with God, and thus he chooses, and is sustained in choosing a life of love and service.
The movie reminded me of words by Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (former Father General of the Society of Jesus): “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. . . Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” The French actors superbly portrayed the monks’ real work, real fear, real prayer, and real love for God and all His people. Of Gods and Men is not simplistic piety, but rather a haunting exploration of love and consequences.
In the end, these Trappists were kidnapped and killed in 1996. But as Paul’s letter says, “We are treated… as dying and behold we live.” As Christians, the monks knew they would live forever in heaven, but they also live in human memory, in a book and now in this beautiful movie, and certainly in my mind and heart today.
Jesus’s instructions are radical, counter-cultural, but not specific. “Offer no resistance to one who is evil” is about answering hatred with forgiveness and compassion. It doesn’t deny the possibility of a “just war” in “defense of the innocent.” With our international economy so dependent on the possibilities of borrowing money and the profits of lending it, you may not think you would “turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” But the generosity of lending not only money but also a hand or an ear, time and concern, is harder to practice. It’s radical, extreme, and seemingly foolish to turn the other cheek, to give both the tunic and the cloak, to go the extra mile, and to give and give again. But it’s also very practical – and joyful, when inspired by and sustained by the Love of Jesus Christ.
For myself, I know I’m not as openhearted, as fearless of the world’s opinion, or as energetic in generosity, as Jesus tells me to be. Today I pray to see better how I am loved, and to love better, and that “will decide everything.”
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