With all the buzz about Christians being persecuted in the world (real and imagined), I thought I would share a letter from a Catholic monk who was beheaded by a Muslim radical in Algeria on May 24, 1996. Brian Zahnd printed it as part of his new book Beauty Will Save the World (which is amazing! You should buy it!). It expresses a level of maturity that exudes Christ far more beautifully than any of the loudmouths in the Christian blogosphere ever have (myself included). Here it is.
If it should happen one day–and it could be today–that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down…
Obviously, my death will justify the opinion of all who dismissed me as naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us what he thinks now.” But such people should know that my death will satisfy my most burning curiosity. At least I will be able–if God pleases–to see the children of Islam as He sees them, illuminated by the glory of Christ, sharing in the gift of God’s Passion and of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to bring forth our common humanity amidst our differences.
I give thanks to God for this life, completely mine yet completely theirs, too, to God, who wanted it for joy against, and in spite of, all odds. In this Thank You–which says everything about my life–I include you, my friends past and present, and those friends who will be here at the side of my mother and father, of my sisters and brothers–thank you a thousandfold.
And to you, too, my friend of the last moment who will not know what you are doing. Yes, I want this thank you and this good-bye to be a “God Bless” for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours. May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.
Father Christian’s letter is an echo of Jesus’ words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). I think often when we read those words from Jesus, we take them as some kind of expression of perfect piety, but not a serious request. We are so twisted and cynical today that we could say something like this about our perceived “persecutors,” not because we actually want God to forgive them, but in order to let them know that we are claiming the mantle of martyrdom.
In any case, Father Christian de Cherge is what a real Christian martyr sounds like. Let’s consider his attitude–his hope to reunite in heaven with the man who chopped off his head–each time we want to complain about how oppressed we are when the stores say “Happy holidays” in December or the courthouse won’t put up a copy of the Ten Commandments.