On Christmas Eve, the monastery is assaulted by these killers. The defenseless monks are ordered to surrender their medical supplies. But Brother Christian refuses to do so, citing the need to provide it for the children and the elderly. It is a war of nerves, and the terrorist leader blinks. He turns to leave, but Brother Christian stops him and, quoting from the Koran, admonishes him not to disturb the sanctity of God's house on this holy night. The message resonates. Chagrined, the Muslim terrorist apologizes.
The monks know they will return, and this time, there will be finality. They meet to discuss their future. Initially, the brothers are divided; after much prayer, contemplation and consultation, the community embraces the will of God. It was their calling to minister to these villagers, and with these villagers they will remain.
The terrorists return. At gunpoint, the monks are kidnapped. In the final heart-breaking scene, these holy men are silently led away to their execution.
There is a riveting exchange in "Nearer My God," William F. Buckley Jr.'s magnificent opus on his Catholic faith, wherein he attempts to capture the essence of the monastic experience. He poses a series of questions to Father Michael, a cloistered Benedictine monk in France, the final one regarding the "manifest tendentiousness" of monastic life. Father Michael's answer is prescient.
"Men who are drawn to be monks are radicals by temperament; there are other ways to 'put on Christ,'" he explains. "The monk feels a huge tug to go it the whole way, to climb to the very summit, and to dedicate his life to that and that alone ... I like to think of the metaphor of a road winding its way up a mountain, encircling it as it rises. The man on the road is conscious mostly of the never-ending series of obstacles and difficulties, which change but little in nature. Yet from time to time he can gaze out on the expanse below him and judge ... the distance he has travelled. The monk's life is a continuous striving, a daily battle, and the prize, the summit of the mountain, is Christ."
Brother Christian and his fellow martyrs reached the summit. Perhaps it would be appropriate in this Lenten season to pray for all men of the cloth, of all vocations, so many in such danger in a world where evil rages, or who are just simply mocked by a secularist society that rejects their commitment to faith. I reserve special intentions for Father Michael, my brother Michael, who began his own ascent, and the daily battle, 32 years ago.