Bro. Luke was one of the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine murdered in 1996 in Algeria. His writings reveal his perception of death, his hope as well as his fearlessness with regards to dying. Going through his letters, dom Thomas Georgeon, his biographer and Abbott of the Cistercian abbaye of la Trappe de Soligny offers us a good piece of news about death.
On November 20, 2022, dom Thomas Georgeon provided tuition on eternal life, during the pilgrimage here at the shrine of Montligeon. He focused on Bro. Luke of Tibhirine, as he is his biographer (Frère Luc, la biographie, avec Christophe Henning, Bayard).
Along with six monks of his community in Tibhirine, Bro. Luke was slaughtered in 1996. It was amidst decades of fierce clashes between radical Islamists and the Algerian State. The monks died because they had chosen to remain in their monastery. They did not fear to lay down their lives and witness their love for Christ and for the Church in that country. And especially so, for the surrounding inhabitants who, personally, had not chosen to leave nor stay.
Bro. Luke was the eldest. Prior to entering the monastery, he had been a general practitioner and had taken care of the local population during fifty years. Death had been omnipresent in his personal life, having lost his brother at a young age, followed by his father and his mother. Thoughts and reflections on the topic of death continuously fostered him.
The perception of death for Bro. Luke
“So I am eighty. One has to consider life in a benevolent and kind manner. Every day we get nearer to our death anniversary. Alike the ocean waves which do not alter the depth of the sea, thus, the events on the surface of our life do not alter its meaning, which is meant to remain a path towards God. (…) At my age, one crosses a threshold full of mystery: ” on franchit un seuil plein de mystère : “when all the daughters of song are quiet; when one is afraid of heights and perils in the street” (Qo 12, 4-5). Even though he dares look death in the face, Bro. Luke considers that he moves forward but towards a mystery.
“When you reach my age, you are not very far from embarking towards joy, peace and light. This second birth will astonish us much more than the first one during which we encountered the world. What matters is to work under the gaze of God.”
Bro. Luke thus demonstrates that death has never had and will never have the last word, but a passageway. It is ” a new birth, a Passover”. And we are called to consider it with confidence as our life on earth is only but a pilgrimage, and a pilgrimage that get underway with the Lord. We hope in faith that we will finish it with the Lord in the celestial city. And the entry to the heavenly city is accomplished in passing away, man’s ultimate act.
Bro. Luke’s fearlessness in the face of death
“We walk with the Lord, He shows us the way. It’s through poverty, failure and death that we go to Him. As long as we make our life a goal in itself, there is no reason to live because everything ends in death. It’s in Christ that we realize the unfathomable meaning of our life. What God expects from us is that we trust Him, and Christ.”
Such words might may appear beautiful and simple, especially when they come from a venerable person. Yet, it does not entail that it is so easy. Nothing is certain and we are moving forward on real path of faith that is sometimes strewn with pitfalls, trials of suffering and pain.
“Death entails God”
Moreover Bro. Luke is making an opening that we should follow in the uttermost simplicity. “To face death does not necessarily call for a lot of courage but for a lot of meekness because death is encountering God. Death should not be feared because death entails God.
It assures our meeting with the one we have loved and served during the whole of our life, whatever our personal vocation may be, and regardless of the way we expanded the baptismal life we have received.
Stating “death entails God” is a powerful statement. It could shock. For it seems to contradict the Scriptures which clearly asserts that God did not create death. Bro. Luke affirms that we are called to die in God, not only throughout our whole life -which infers for all of us entering into a conversion through practicing humility- but also at the ultimate moment of the act of dying which prompt us into entering the new and eternal life.
We are already living eternal life
“Every minute is a step towards death, but a step towards love.” The Paradox of Christianity: death is the beginning of life. Eternal life is not located after death, but is present at the heart of our existence.” Eternal life is not merely for tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or after our death. We are already living eternal life.”
Bro. Luke asserts this truth of faith and thus sends us back to the reality of our Christian life. We are disciples of Christ, with our own personal vocation, and we walk our life in alliance with God and Christ Jesus. He who, through his death and resurrection, has accomplished the will of God the Father by opening to us the way of life.
Bro. Luke: “Man’s ultimate act is death”
Let us recall Jesus’ own words in the Gospel according to John: “Do not let your heart be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my father’s house there are many dwelling place. if there were not, would have I told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (John, 14)
There is a final goal with walking the path of a Christian life, a finality that is God Himself. Our earthly life will inescapably come to an end. One might try all the medicines, ills or creams that can be invented to make us immortal, our earthly life meets its end in its ultimate act of man which is death.
To be at all times and everywhere prepared for death
As far as Bro. Luke is concerned “death is the ultimate drawback that a person faces, and by far the most challenging. Death, indecipherable enigma remains our destiny. We know we will die but we don’t know the time or the kind of death that awaits us. We need to be always and everywhere ready to die to whatever we undertake, and not to be driven by the fear of hell but by the love of Christ.”
May this desire animate each and every one of you. It is about believing in the afterlife. Let us expect it while being aware that eternal life is today in our actions and in our undertakings. It will take on a complete and full meaning after our demise as we await the final resurrection.