Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Powerful witness of religious community - 'Of Gods and Men'



Every once in a while a film is made that makes a profound impact on the viewing public. Such a film which is currently being screened in both Ireland and in the UK (though not in mainstream cinemas) is 'Of Gods and Men'. Directed by Xavier Beauvois, the film is concerned with the religious community of the monastery of Tibhirine, where Trappist monks lived in harmony with the largely Muslim population of Algeria, until seven of them were beheaded in a still unclear incident in 1996. The screenplay focuses on the time leading up to their death and the very human dilemma of the community as to whether they should remain living with their Muslim neighbours or leave altogether. In the end they decide to stay.

The film has many profound insights into the nature of religious life, particularly the humanity that goes to make up religious community and the ever present difficulty of decision making for the good of the community. What marks this film out as authentic is the strong emphasis on the spiritual - the focus of the lives of the monks is clearly portrayed as being the celebration of the liturgy - the prayer of the Church and the celebration of the Eucharist. All decisions emanate from there.

While it is fair to say that most religious communities won't in their lifetime have to make as dramatic a decision as the Trappists in this film, it is a reminder that some have in the past and no doubt others will be called to at some stage in the future. In a world that is often obsessed with glitz and glamour and the need to look anywhere but in the way of God, this film serves as a very bright light indeed. It shows the need for God, the need for authentic religious life and community and the profound witness value contained therein.

A must-see on the big screen and a must-have when it eventually finds its way onto DVD.
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