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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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Ludovico of Casoria: Born in Casoria (near Naples), Arcangelo Palmentieri was a cabinet-maker before entering the Friars Minor in 1832, taking the name Ludovico. After his ordination five years later, he taught chemistry, physics and mathematics to younger members of his province for several years. 
<p>In 1847 he had a mystical experience which he later described as a cleansing. After that he dedicated his life to the poor and the infirm, establishing a dispensary for the poor, two schools for African children, an institute for the children of nobility, as well as an institution for orphans, the deaf and the speechless, and other institutes for the blind, elderly and for travelers. In addition to an infirmary for friars of his province, he began charitable institutes in Naples, Florence and Assisi. He once said, "Christ’s love has wounded my heart." This love prompted him to great acts of charity.
</p><p>To help continue these works of mercy, in 1859 he established the Gray Brothers, a religious community composed of men who formerly belonged to the Secular Franciscan Order. Three years later he founded the Gray Sisters of St. Elizabeth for the same purpose.
</p><p>Toward the beginning of his final, nine-year illness, Ludovico wrote a spiritual testament which described faith as "light in the darkness, help in sickness, blessing in tribulations, paradise in the crucifixion and life amid death." The local work for his beatification began within five months of Ludovico’s death. He was beatified in 1993.</p> American Catholic Blog Father, there are so many times when I attempt to do something good, and disturbing situations arise, as if someone or some power is trying to stop me. Give me the grace never to be afraid or avoid doing good for fear of Satan. In Jesus's name, Father, I ask for this grace, Amen.


 
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