Worth Fighting For

What is it that causes us to love? To seek it, to crave it, to give it? Why do we have an innate need to connect with others? We are fiercely loyal to those we love.

Morgan Page created a song called Fight For You, that describes a love that is both baffling and compelling. “I’d fight for you. I never thought I’d feel this way,” are some of the lyrics. I think we all feel this way when we fall in love. Especially after we’ve been in love with that special someone for a while. At first, we may be surprised that we can become so attached to someone, but then it becomes something more. We begin to feel like we cannot be separated from that individual. We will fight for that person. Fight to keep the love alive.

It’s a powerful thing. I think sometimes we take it for granted. We shouldn’t. We all need it. Whether it be a romantic love or a friendship, it is something powerful and gets inside of us. It gives us value and worth.

Love can be a lot of things. It can hurt. It can sting sometimes. It can bring ecstasy and belonging. It is life-changing. For many, it is something ellusive; either because they are afraid of it or the right circumstances haven’t been met. But it is out there for us all. Others seem to find it easily, and perhaps too often. But the real kind of love changes everything.

Seek it. Give it. Cherish it. Protect it. Invest in it. Sacrifice for it. Find someone to give it to. We need it.

‘Of Gods and Men’ weaves spiritual tale


Movie review
Friday, April 08, 2011
By Barry Paris, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
From left, Lambert Wilson as Christian and Jean-Marie Frin as Paul in “Of Gods and Men.”

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully

as when they do it for religious conviction.”

— Pascal

The eight monks at the Cistercian monastery live in — if not the Garden — at least a little Oasis of Eden.

‘Of Gods and Men’

4 stars = Outstanding
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Lambert Wilson, Jean-Marie Frin, Michael Lonsdale.
  • Rating: PG-13 for subtitles and one violent scene.

They and “Of Gods and Men,” Xavier Beauvois’ wrenchingly beautiful film about them, are situated in an isolated mountain village in North Africa, where their community coexists quietly, contemplatively and peacefully with their Muslim brothers and sisters. Cistercians follow the seventh-century monastic order of St. Benedict and never proselytize or otherwise disturb the people among whom they live.

On the contrary, they serve them whenever and however they can. Old Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale), for example, is a doctor, who treats the many villagers who come to him for help every day. Best evidence of harmony comes in a long, slow pan of faces at a Muslim prayer service: It ends on the face of Brother Luc — respectfully attending and listening to the imam’s prayers, along with the villagers.

But the tranquil rhythms of monastic life there — praying, farming, beekeeping — are seriously shaken when a crew of Croatian workers outside the village is massacred by al-Qaida-like Islamic radicals. They have issued an ultimatum ordering all foreigners to leave the country — including the monks.

Mr. Beauvois’ film is based on a shockingly true story: the 1996 kidnapping and disappearance of seven French Cistercian-Trappist monks in Tibkirine, Algeria. In that real event, and in this fictionalized rendering, the monks decline military protection and refuse to leave.

But there’s rare dissension in the monastic ranks about the security threat and decision to stay — the most painful decision they’ve ever had to make. Caught between the terrorists and the army, they must walk an increasingly dangerous tightrope between the two sets of men, and another fine line between God and themselves. To leave would be to surrender and walk away from their literal and figurative “mission” — not to mention their deep ties and love of the villagers.

Most agonizing, however, is the challenge to personal faith and commitment to the monks’ most basic Christian beliefs. How can you have an unseemly fear of death if you believe in Psalm 23, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” and in Luke 17: “He who tries to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it.”

In most films, music “accompanies” words and “scores” (as in underscores) the dialogue. In this one, it largely replaces dialogue. The monastery is, after all, a world of silence. The Psalms (literally, “songs”) are universally considered the most lyrically exquisite part of the Bible. Stripped of instruments, “naked” chant lets you tune in and gradually realize you don’t know these texts as well as you think you did. If you, like the monks, let yourself do it, you’ll be as transformed as they are by the strange tonality and the message that elevates and unites them. Singing is an integral part of their lives and the film; the Liturgy of the Hours happens seven times a day and is essential to their union and communion as a spiritual force. This semi-Gregorian chant, with its strangely modern, subtly dissonant melodic and harmonic variations, becomes the lingua franca of their debate and dialectic.

The film’s magnificent, excruciating, transcendent Last Supper scene employs the famous “Lac de Cygnes” (how’s your French?) score, and is perhaps the most powerful use of secular music for character and narrative purposes I’ve ever seen in a film.

If ever you (and I) regretted not taking that upper-level French course, it’ll be here. The subtitles are excellent, but English-speaking audiences are disadvantaged for relying on them. But it’s not a crippling disadvantage, thanks to the superb acting. Lambert Wilson as Brother Christian, the abbot, is a deeply loving, protective shepherd to his flock. And “Thou shalt not steal” applies unless thou art Michael Lonsdale, in which case you have special dispensation to steal all scenes in which you appear. For that matter, all the monks are riveting, each face and personality uniquely empathetic in response to the crisis.

This slow, contemplative tragedy — a best foreign film Oscar nominee — will powerfully affect Christians & non-Christians alike, but especially Catholics. (It could and should be screened at parochial schools, relevant and terribly timely as it is to the slaughter of UN workers in Afghanistan last week.) FYI, its sole scene of bloody violence occurs toward the beginning and does not involve the monks.

But it is emotionally rough. Of the Big Three — faith, hope and love — faith is the tricky one that can get so easily twisted from a virtue into a vice. What’s the real difference between radical Islam and Quran-burning Christians in the inflammatory ability of both to incite madness? Bible and Quran thumpers-and-burners are all alike. But there’s not one political or politicizing word in “Gods and Men.” The monks — and the movie — are about spirituality, not religion.

The Existence of God

Have you ever looked at a scene from nature and been completely overwhelmed by its beauty?

I remember once, several years ago, I was on a flight heading somewhere. I had a window seat and was alone. I remember looking out the window at one point, once we had climbed above the clouds, and saw the most majestic and awe-inspiring scene I had ever experienced. It’s difficult to describe the view, but it was like the sun was setting on a horizon of clouds. The colors washed over the fluffy pillows of white like a reflection on a crystal clear lake. It was breathtaking. In that moment, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but feel like I was connected to something greater than myself. Something that created such an amazing display. It was as if my soul was leaping out of my body to greet it’s creator. Similar to a puppy, so ecstatic to see his master walk through the front door. In that space and time, I was never closer to the truth that God exists.

There have been other times that I have come across beautiful landscapes or pictures from Heaven, but none quite like that day. But each one has served to remind me of that single encounter and what it meant to me. I can never forget that God exists or that He paints beautiful pictures to show me that He loves me. I tell my kids that same thing all the time. Sometimes, while we are driving in the car we will see something beautiful and I will point to it and show them. I’ll ask, “Isn’t that such a beautiful picture God painted for us?” They respond back like typical children, nodding their head in agreement, but not fully understanding the meaning of it. It’s ok, though, because my children will grow up with wonder and amazement at the beautiful creation that God has designed to prove His existence to the world.

Romans 1:20-23; 25 talks about how mankind once knew the truth about God and His creation, but chose to forget Him. We have lost sight of what is all around us, and have become numb to the rumblings of our souls crying for the truth.

That day on the airplane, my soul broke free and came alive from the slumber of my God-less existence. Now, whenever I see the leaves turn in the fall, the sun setting over the ocean, snow falling, or the even the wind blowing gently on a spring day I am reminded that God exists and He loves me. And He wants to know me.

He wants to know you too.

Would you wake up and see?

Love of Heaven

Do you know anyone who shows unfailing love? Most people will think of someone special in their life like a mother or father, a best friend, or Mother Theresa. But really, is that accurate?

Think of the word: unfailing. The very definition points to actions that have never missed the mark. As much as a caring mother or father, friend, pet, or even a Mother Theresa strive to love unconditionally, at some point they have all failed. We have all failed. Sometimes we act in our own interests instead of others, even when we love someone so deeply that we would never intentionally want to hurt them. Nevertheless, none of us can say we have loved unfailingly.

In the Psalms of the Bible, the writer David makes reference to God multiple times as exhibiting unfailing love. He connects God’s actions to intervene on Earth with the nature of His unfailing love for us. In the sixth Psalm the writer cries out in weakness:

“Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
Save me because of your unfailing love.”

When we are at our weakest and most dire point, God’s unfailing love for us causes Him to act! He will not ignore us. He will not fail to act. His love will never fail.

Now, this is not to say that He will always act in accordance to what we think should happen. His love may be unfailing, but his actions may not match our preferences. If we cry out to Heaven and ask for help, we are saying that we trust that God is big enough to know the right way to handle the situation. We have to think beyond what is right in front of us.

Our lives and fortunes can turn in an instant. We are frail and temporal. I was struck by this fact today. Anything we have and experience can be taken from us. Things change quickly. Fear begins to sets in. We never know what today or tomorrow may bring. But through it all, there is a God in Heaven who will rescue you because of his unfailing love…

…if you will only ask.