Review: Of Gods and Men

14 comments
Of Gods and Men - Catholic

I recently got to see an amazing new film about faith. It has won all kinds of awards. And it’s about some Catholic Cistercian monks. Oh and it’s based on a very recent, true story. It was excellent. It’s called “Of Gods and Men.”

It’s the story of seven Cistercian monks serving in Algeria, caught up in the Algerian Civil War in the 1990’s. After being repeatedly pressured and frightened into possibly leaving, these modern day martyrs exhibit what it means to truly have faith. [watch the trailer below.]

With plenty of moving moments, this quietly tense movie carries with it a number of life lessons we find at the heart of the Catholic faith. It’s a great reminder that we are here for something much bigger than whatever little worries you have on your mind today and whatever activism you are pursuing. We are even here for something much bigger than the biggest of political agendas and more epic than the biggest world wars. And this small group of monks demonstrate that very powerfully as they very simply live their faith under very complex and difficult circumstances.

One particular line struck me as one of the monks was writing a letter – knowing that they were in a very dangerous situation. He said, “Here it is mayhem and violence. We are in a high-risk situation, but we persist in our faith and our confidence in God. It is through poverty, failure and death that we advance towards him.”

It is through poverty, failure and death that we advance towards him. Of course, the spiritual value we can find in our poverty, failure and suffering is a common theme in the Catholic faith. But for some reason the “death” part really stuck out to me. Death is not the end, it’s the beginning. It’s not the stifling of life, it’s an advancement of it. If this is true, our purpose in this life becomes very different.

Also, the entire final part of the movie parallels the Last Supper and Christ’s passion beautifully. It’s very cool and extremely moving.

Finally, the final words of the movie, presumably from a previously written letter from one of the monks, puts the entire event into a very relevant context for the world today. The movie deals with radical elements of Islam, but more importantly, our approach and response to evil in the world. It truly hits on a nerve of what makes Christianity so unique – so genius – so real. Lots of good thoughts to reflect upon:

“Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

The the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion.

I’ve lived enough to know that I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder.

I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul.

My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who called me naive, or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them.

This thank-you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of the last minute, who knew not what you were doing.

Yes, to you as well I address this thank-you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.”

Hearing this in the context of the events that just unfolded in the movie is very powerful. And it will make you think.

Please go support this movie (it will be coming out around the country soon). I love it when movies like this get the recognition they deserve. Here’s the trailer:

14 comments Add comment

Delores March 1, 2011 at 10:35 am

well, when the trailer brings me to tears I am pretty sure I have to go see it.

Marianne Semenoff March 1, 2011 at 4:13 pm

This is going to be difficult to watch…like Delores, I got choked up just watching the clip. And this took place so recently, which makes it more difficult. It definitely looks like something we “should” watch and know about. Something that will actually strengthen our own faith.

Mandi March 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I’ve been hearing about this film quite a bit recently. I am very excited to be able to see it, but I think it will be May before it come to my area (Indiana). Thanks for the review!

Jesse D. Bryant April 4, 2011 at 6:58 pm

“…and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them.”

Followers of Islam described as children of God? Is that right? I don’t know what that means? What is he saying?

Matthew Warner April 4, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I think it is more referring to “children of God” in a more general sense as being all members of the human family. In a more specific sense, Muslims do share with us the “God of Abraham”…albeit it’s a distorted view of Him. So in that sense, they may be seen by some as children of the God of Abraham in a more than general “human family” type sense. But I think it’s safe to say the movie here is not specifically calling them children of God in the sense that they’ve been baptized and born anew in Christ.

I don’t think there is supposed to be much more than that read into the statement.

JJ April 8, 2011 at 7:48 am

I do believe that these wonderful men came to see that God is not a belief to be had by the mind, but an experience to be found in the experience of unbound love. As such, I feel they further developed the wisdom to see that such love is not defined by belief, but may be found in all people, of all faiths and it is through such experiences that we all become “children of God”, a God which is beyond words, beyond definition, beyond anything to be found on earth. Consequently, Algeria and Islam were for them, a “body and soul”.

Steve April 10, 2011 at 11:24 am

Thank you, JJ, for your lovely comment. It helps me understand more than just the movie, and your phrase “God is not a belief to be had by the mind but an experience…of unbound love” reconciles quite a lot for me.

Jody August 2, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Read his whole testament; it’s an amazing document.
Here are two extracts that might help to answer your question:

“For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims—finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church.”

“…my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied. 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 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 to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.”

JD March 29, 2012 at 12:53 am

One of the things that we see throughout the film is the attempts by the monks to help the terrorists realize that they all worshipped the same God, just in a different light. To put it into practical terms, it is similar to how when you and a few siblings need to keep in touch with a parent–one of you decides that the best way to do that is to pick up the phone and call him/her at some interval. Another decides that the best way to do so is to speak to him/her directly, so they visit him/her at some regular interval. Still another decides to write letters or emails (depending on how technologically capable the parent is) at some regular interval. One of the things that comes out of this is that yes, we do worship the same God, just not in the same way. So yes, followers of Islam can be considered children of God, according to the monks.

Christian spent years studying Islam, so he knew it well enough to comment on it, which also explains why he can quote the Koran in the movie (on Christmas Eve).

By the way, in case you haven’t picked up from the listing of comments, the last lines of the movie come almost directly out of Christian de Chergé’s last testament. A copy of it can be found at this address: http://www.ocso.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=100&Itemid=149&lang=en

JJ April 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Steve, you are quite welcome. I have been quite moved by some of the radical ecumenism of both the Trappist and Benedictine Monks. Some of Thomas Merton’s comments from his time in India just prior to his death are remarkable, as is the compassion, love and insight of Brother David Steindl-Rast. You can watch a number of Brother David’s videos on Youtube. If you go to Youtube and search Brother David Steindl-Rast Interview, Rome 2004 — Part 5 and 6 (the whole series is great), I believe it speaks quite directly to this topic.

mhp April 18, 2011 at 10:18 pm

JJ, thank you for your insightful comments.

The movie is awe inspiring and such an opportunity to see what a “living faith” means and how it incarnates into our everyday life.

ldoyle May 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm

The scene with the Last Supper motif is one of the best scenes I have ever watch in a movie. The Swan Lake music reminded me first of the move Philadelphia, but ended up far beyond the Tom Hanks movie. Film making at its best

JD March 29, 2012 at 1:12 am

Two very different deployments of the same piece of music.

JB August 1, 2011 at 1:59 pm

The full text of the testament goes further:

“I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims—finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church.”

And:

“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 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 to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.”

Christian De Cherge.

Previous post:

Next post: