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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Of Gods and Men

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Lambert Wilson and Jean-Marie Frin star in "Of Gods and Men."
A brilliant dramatization of real events, "Of Gods and Men" (Sony Pictures Classics) is a restrained religious masterpiece and a memorable viewing experience from which every adult—as well as many mature teens—can expect to profit.

The film recounts the fate of a small community of French Trappists living in Algeria during that nation's civil war in the 1990s.

Targeted by violent Muslim extremists—the Algerian conflict pitted militant Islamists against a secularly oriented military government—the monks must decide whether to continue their medical and social work for the vulnerable local population or abandon them by fleeing to safety.

From the first, their headstrong prior, Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), is resolved to stay. He also refuses the military guard that civic officials offer to put in place to protect the monastery, regarding such a measure as out of keeping with his order's commitment to peace.

Brother Christian's confreres, however, forcefully point out to him that, with all their lives at stake, the decision on whether to remain must ultimately be a collective one. As each individual struggles with the issue, weighing his own welfare against his sense of commitment to his vocation and to those he serves, their varied personalities are subtly but strikingly profiled.

By contrast to the tightly wound Brother Christian, for example, Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale) emerges as an avuncular, unflappable character whose faith endows him with a courageous good humor that nothing, it seems, can disturb.

Using the tools of the monastic life itself, director Xavier Beauvois finds a path to the heart of the Gospel through simplicity, a compassionate sense of brotherhood and an atmosphere of prayer enriched by sacred music and potent silence. The result is a profound mediation on what Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer famously termed the cost of discipleship.

While thoroughly measured in its portrayal of Muslim characters—the monks are shown to be on good terms with their sympathetic neighbors, and even one of the area's militia leaders ultimately demonstrates his respect for other faiths—"Of Gods and Men" presents a timely and artistically adept testimony to the power of nonviolence in the face of anti-Christian fanaticism.

Viewers of faith will also welcome the lyrical, though not unrealistic, image of religious life presented here, conveyed most powerfully in the climactic scene of a shared meal that movingly evokes the Last Supper. Indeed, in addition to its success on so many other levels, "Of Gods and Men" could serve as a highly effective tool for the vocation directors of various religious orders.

If that seems ironic, given the life-threatening peril that forms the dark backdrop for this masterful piece of cinema, it's an irony—or, perhaps more accurately, a divine paradox—as old as the church itself.

The film, in French with subtitles, contains brief gory violence, some unsettling images and a single instance each of rough and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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