I have seen Of Gods and Men three times now, in an expanding circle. The first time, while in Washington visiting the Dominican House of Studies, I saw it alone. On Easter Sunday, because I so wanted them to see it, I took my wife and daughter. Last night, I invited friends from church, and a dozen convened at the local cinema I used to help run. The movie is working its magic on me, and the same goes for the Church.
It is finally a film about universal brotherhood. And the same goes for the Church. What struck me this time was the number of scenes that made me catch my breath. One example tells much.
Early in the film, the Trappist monks living in and ministering to a small Algerian village are invited to a Muslim rite of passage held in honor of a young boy maybe eight or ten years old. After the quiet of the early scenes in the monastery and on the village paths (it is too small for streets), the scene erupts with joyous clapping and chanting and the wonderful high-pitched sound Semitic women make with their voices and tongues, I don’t know the word for it, but it is a sort of pulsating shriek of joy.
Into this village scene come the monks—the Abbot Christian, the doctor Brother Luc, and two or three others. They are clapping too, and smiling joyfully. They are greeted and they enter the house where the ceremony will take place.
Cut to the ceremony and the face of the boy. He is struggling to stay awake as he listens to the chanting of the Quran. It is a scene that could take place in a church or synagogue or a third-grade classroom: the face of a human boy who can’t quite follow adult things. Now the camera pans toward the reader, the chanter—across a gallery of faces listening—two Muslims, a monk, two more Muslims, another monk, and so on until we come to Christian, the abbot. We already have seen Christian studying the Quran at his desk in the monastery, so we know he knows it. And as the camera pans past him we understand that he understands. Then on to three more Muslims, and the reader, flanked by his fellows.
I sat and watched with my friends Ferde and Heidi; and two more dear friends, F. and C., whom I had invited yesterday afternoon but I thought too frail and elderly to venture out at 8pm. Also there were my bowling buddy B., and his wife and elder son. Plus Bob’s friend M. and a man I sing beside in choir. I am leaving someone out. We were twelve. I had invited our pastor. He couldn’t make it, but would have made thirteen.
Beside me sat my doctor and good friend, E., who attends School of Community in another town but is on my CL e-mail list because he works nearby. Before the film, I showed him around the cinema, which I know so well from 25 years’ part-time work there, and I kept bumping into people I know. As we sat down and waited for the film to start, E. said, “Wow, you know a lot of people” or words to that effect.
“Until three years ago,” I answered, “I didn’t know anyone. Then I became a Catholic.” The circle continues to expand.