Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

In a little town near Medea in Algeria there was a group of French Trapist monks, who lived at the monastery of Notre Dame. They prayed and they worked and they journeyed with the people and helped the people in the village. There were muslims and christians living in this community and the monks treated them all the same. In 1996 a revolution started in the country and the whole situation became very volatile and dangerous. People were evicted just because they were christians; many houses were burnt and many people were slaughtered. The French government warned the monks to leave Algeria and told these monks that if they wish, the French government could save them and fly them out of Algeria.  The monks held serious discussions about whether they should leave the country or stay. They had come to Algeria not to convert Muslims but to live in friendship with them. Since 1938, when the monastery was founded, they and their Muslim neighbours had lived in harmony. The monks called the Algerian army “our brothers of the plain” and the rebels “our brothers of the mountains” in hopes that one day the two would become truly brothers. Pressed to take sides between the Islamist guerrillas and the Algerian government, the monks refused. They decided to stay, they had lived and worked with these people for so long that they could not abandon them in their time of great need. Early in the morning of March 27, 1996, members of the GIA – the Armed Islamic Group – arrived at the abbey in Tibhirine and kidnapped the seven monks they found there. Missives between the GIA and the Algerian and French governments were exchanged as the GIA sought to trade the monks for a GIA leader arrested three years earlier. The monks were held for two months. Their decapitated heads were found at the end of May in 1996, and buried in the cemetery at Tibhirine on June 4. The events leading up to the abduction of the monks at the Notre Dame monastery in Tibhirine are the subject of the 2010 award-winning movie, “Of Gods and Men”. Two things motivated these monks when they gave their lives for the poeple.  Their love for God and their love for their neighbour. In this weeks gospel, Jesus is asked: ‘which is the greatest commandment, and he replied that the greatest commandment is to love God above all things,  and the second is like it, to love our neighbour as ourselves.  We cannot love God the way we should, if we do not love our neighbour.  This can be a source of great virtue and great charity in our lives.  We will probably never be called to give our lives like these Trappist monks in Algeria,  but we should not be less christian than they, nor love our neighbour less than they did. In our daily lives, there will be many opportunites to love our neighbour,  starting with those in our family and those closest to us,  escpecially those we find miost difficult to deal with.  When we love our neighbour, it is the heart of Jesus that is working in us. And we can love our neighbour just like those monks did when they decided to stay for love of God and for love of their neighbour.