“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).1
One of my favorite operas is called the Dialogues of the Carmelites, which was composed by Francis Poulenc. The opera is an adaptation of a true life story of the Martyrs of Compiègne, members of a Roman Catholic order of nuns who were killed during the French Revolution of the late 18th Century. The story follows a young woman from aristocratic upbringings named Blanche de la Force, who joins the Carmelite order of nuns. In order to dedicate their lives to God, these women took the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. They were a Christian witness to their neighbors, and were ultimately condemned to death as traitors to the new anti-religious government that had been created during the French Revolution. As they are individually guillotined, the nuns sing the “Salve Regina,” a chant that honors the Virgin Mary. In the opera, the chant opens in full gusto, but slowly diminishes as each nun is executed. After the last nun is killed, the song is taken up anew by Blanche, who had abandoned the monastery at an earlier point. She ascends the guillotine and joins her sisters as a witness to God and his love for all humanity.2
I have always loved this story and the music which accompanies it, because I believe it is a telling witness to the Christian love of God and neighbor. Modern Christians would do well to emulate these heroines in their love. The nuns witnessed to their faith in God and their love toward their enemies by willingly accepting their sentence of death. This ultimate example of Christian love may not have borne much fruit at the time of their deaths, but rather planted a seed of faith for future generations.
While we as modern Christians may not be called to martyrdom, we can still witness to God’s love in our lives by forgiving our enemies, welcoming the stranger, caring for the orphans and widows, or patiently bearing the wrongs hurled against us. We worship a wonderful God, but witness this to the world through the way we treat others (John 13:35). This in turn may plant the seeds of faith in people’s souls, so that they may encounter the saving grace of God and communion with his saints.
I have great hope that this love and companionship between people may be accomplished, even after our most recent political election cycle. I am repeatedly heartened to see how humanity can accomplish many acts of selflessness during the holidays, especially major holidays. Many people donate their time, talent, or treasure to feed the hungry or clothe the naked. Many take time out of their celebrations to include others and make them part of their family. This was personally evident for me in my home of Longview, Texas. Churches, the city, my workplace, and social clubs donated so much for those who have less. This image of Christian love is wonderful to witness. My only regret is that such civic generosity does not always carry over into other times of the year. Therefore, I hope that going forward, I may be better able carry out Christ’s command to love others.
What are your thoughts about Christian love? How have you sacrificed for family or friends? What is the “one thing” that you could do, to serve others?
Thomas Kirn is a new writer at Conciliar Post, who writes from an Orthodox Christian viewpoint. Thomas graduated from Saint Louis University with a degree in History and Secondary Education and obtained a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He now resides in East Texas and works for a municipality as an Urban Planner.
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(2) The Metropolitan Opera. “Synopsis: Dialogues des Carmelites.” (New York: The Metropolitan Opera, 2016). http://www.metopera.org/Discover/Synposes-Archive/Dialogues-des-Carmelites/