The 2010 French film “Of Gods And Men” directed by Xavier Bueavois tells the story of a small community of Trappist monks who lived peacefully among their Arab neighbours in the tiny Cistercian priory of Our Lady of Atlas in the Atlas mountains near Tibhirine in Algeria, in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

On 27 March 1996 the seven Trappists of Our Lady of Atlas were kidnapped by Islamist extremists and two months later executed when the French Government refused their captors’ demands for a prisoner exchange.

“Of Gods And Men” is a film about many things. It is a film about power and the misuse of power, colonialization, political intrigue, personal conscience, and passive resistance in the face of threat and violence. It is a film about community, human relationships, faith and deep devotion.

But, most of all, “Of Gods And Men” is a film about love – love for God, love for one’s immediate community, and love for the wider community of those whose customs, language, and religious practices are profoundly different from one’s own.

This makes “Of Gods And Men” a perfect film to view and ponder through the season of Advent. Advent is the season of love. It is the time of year the church has set aside to encourage us to prepare to celebrate the embodiment of love in the person of Jesus.

John’s Gospel proclaims that

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… (John 3:16)

When Jesus was asked what is the first and greatest commandment, he replied,

you shall love… (Mark 12:30)

We may not always do it particularly well; no doubt we always fall short. But, despite our many failures, love remains the driving force and the ultimate goal for anyone who, like the monks of Tibhirine, intends to live in accordance with the Spirit of Jesus.

Love is the power that enables life. Love is what true living looks like. There is no other standard, no greater goal, no vision beyond embodying, as Jesus did, that love we believe is the most accurate representation of the God in whose image we are made.

So, in recognition of the fact that twenty-two years after their deaths, the seven French monks of Our Lady Of Atlas will be beatified on 8 December, I hope to try to reflect for a moment each day this Advent on an aspect of the film that preservers their memory and celebrates the love by which they lived.

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The goal of these meditations will be to ponder the question:

How then shall I love?

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