Lest the viewer be fooled by the sweet exchange between the young Algerian woman and Brother Luc at the beginning of the film “Of Gods And Men”, that the movie is going to be a pleasant two hour distraction of light entertainment, the filmmaker immediately offers a cautionary wake up call.

Luc’s conversation with the young woman is followed by a scene in which Luc and Brother Chistophe walk through a cemetery. They walk in silence, enjoying the beauty but obviously weighed down by the sombre realities surrounding their little community.

The scene then moves inside the monastery chapel. The viewer is confronted by the backs of the eight monks of Tibhirine standing in their white hooded monastic habits facing the altar. They are chanting the medieval “Salve Regina”. This mournful lament is traditionally sung until the Friday before the First Sunday of Advent. It is also commonly sung at the end of the Requiem Mass for a priest.

The love that “Of Gods And Men” celebrates is not sentimentality. It is firmly planted in the soil of suffering.

In “The Salve Regina” the monks address Mary, chanting,

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To you we sigh, mourning and weeping
in this valley of tears.

The world portrayed in “Of Gods And Men” is a world that is suffused with extraordinary beauty. But, it is also a world haunted by a sense that we are all “poor banished children of Eve.” It is a world to which the most appropriate response seems, at times, to be to “sigh, mourning and weeping/ in this valley of tears.”

I cannot journey to love without passing through a landscape of pain. Perhaps my rough edges need to be knocked off by the burnishing realities of this world’s brokenness, before the light of love can shine from my being.

Whatever the rationale for the ubiquity of pain, there appears to be something in the alchemy of suffering that is essential to the liberation of love.

As I journey through Advent, I express my willingness to bear the reality of pain in order that the light of love might shine a little more brightly in the world.

Stop for a moment during this Advent and listen to the mournful tones of the “Salve Regina”