I will never forget the French movie, “Of Gods and Men”, the true story of seven Trappist monks missioned in Algeria, doing their best to serve the poorest people of that violent area. Radical Islamist terrorists were routinely murdering the townspeople, many of whom had become friends of the monks. The monks knew that their own lives were very much in danger of the same fate. After intense discussions about what they should do, they unanimously decided to stay put and, in imitation of Jesus, to let happen whatever would.
This event was only 11 years ago, so some of you may remember that the seven monks were all beheaded.
Their leader, Father Christian, left his last testament, part of which I share with you now. He wrote:
If it should happen one day — and it could be today — that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems to encompass all the foreigners living (here) in Algeria, I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world and even in that which would strike me blindly.
And then, incredible as it may seem, he addressed the unknown Islamic militant whose sword would kill him and he wrote:
And you, too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, yes, for you too I say this thank you…to commend you to the God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it please God.
In today’s Gospel excerpt Jesus and a very confused woman were talking about water with two different meanings. The thirst he mentioned wasn’t for water in the ordinary physical sense, but for eternal life and love and goodness. He wasn’t trying to snag her as a convert to “save her soul.” He was hoping to open up to her a new way of living in this world linked with the life that endures beyond death, a way that draws from the wellspring of God’s loving presence in all of us, all the time.
Five consecutive husbands and a live-in boyfriend had not made her a happy person. Would she now allow herself to take what Jesus was offering — not freedom from the daily trudge to the well, but a clear, compellingly attractive image of the Creator God, who had been so badly misrepresented throughout all of human history?
The martyred monks of Algeria understood Jesus’ message well, and they had made it the governing principle of their lives. They lived and died by it in inner peace, abiding joy, and eager anticipation of the surprises of the Spirit they believed lay ahead.
Lent is a time for us to increase our charity to others, to give thanks for the countless blessings we possess, and to think more about the foundations of our own lives, about the standards by which we judge and act.