Catholic Social Teaching invites us to make a difference by participating in all the dimensions of life from family to the local community and the broader society. Marriage and family are central to how societies organize themselves and are to be strengthened and supported by all public and private means. This includes the way economic, legal, and social systems are established and function for the good of all in societies.
The source of family, community and the courage to participate in life is rooted in the Church, according to Pope Francis. He spoke about this in his address on May 29, 2013 referring to the ongoing Year of Faith, saying that God’s plan is to unite all humanity into one family where each man and woman will recognize that they are children of God and loved by God. “The Church is born from God’s desire to call all people into communion with him …” and “…to participate in his divine life.”
Families make up communities and are defined by genealogy, adoption, geography and friends and connected through the unlimited possibilities of social media. But human dignity is best expressed in families and communities when we can come together to accomplish things for the common good, to make a difference in our own families and communities and in the lives of others, especially the poor and vulnerable.
“Of Gods and Men”
Sometimes a community can become a family in the Church, as when complete strangers join a religious community and are unified by a mission that always honors God and serves others in some way. As brothers or sisters their unity can give life to everyone around them.
One of the most profound stories about a religious community of true brothers is told in the 2010 French film “Of Gods and Men” (Des hommes et des dieux). In the 1990s a group of Trappist monks lived and worked in great harmony and among the people in the village of Tibhirine in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria. One of the monks was a doctor and he held clinics for the women and children especially because the village was so poor. Others farmed and raised bees and they shared food and honey with families. The monks collected clothing and shoes for the people and helped fill out government forms for those who did not know how to read or write. Because of the harmony of life between the brothers, there was harmony in the village until outside forces pushed their way in sewing discord, war, and death.
Toward the end of 1995 the government warned the monks that they would not be able to help them should the armed factions involved in the ongoing civil war attack the monastery. An official strongly advises the monks to leave the country and return to France.
The superior calls the brothers together and they begin to discern what they should do. At the beginning, Fr. Christian (Lambert Wilson), the superior, pronounces a decision but the monks gently and firmly remind him of his role of mediator of God’s will, that as community they are called to dialogue and discern together. These scenes in the film express, on a small scale, how groups and communities everywhere can discern to resolve differences respecting each person and decide on action that promotes the common good.
Hostile events escalate and the monks sense it, even to the point of celebrating, in silence, a last supper together. This is one of the most exquisite scenes in the history of cinema. They know that their decision to stay at the monastery, a promise made on the day they professed their vows, could end in the shedding of blood, yet they stay anyway, in joy, to give the people hope and courage.
That very night seven Trappist monks are kidnapped, held for two months, and then killed.
The film transcends life and illuminates the souls of people who form community and family around the Eucharistic celebration so that others might live and transform society for the good, by participating in whatever ways they can. The Trappist monks of Notre-Dame de l'Atlas of Tibhirine, Algeria, show us all how to live according to the Gospels and Catholic Social Teaching.
About the Author:
An avid movie buff, Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP, is the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA. She writes a regular column for St. Anthony Messenger Magazine and runs the blog “Sr. Rose at the Movies” on Patheos.