I’ve been thinking all month about a great trio of French Catholics whose lifestories and thoughts pushed or presaged much of what was involved in the kairos of the Second Vatican Council, namely, Louis Massignon, Jacques Maritain and Madeleine Delbrel. Massignon for his pushing the Church’s friendship with Islam, Maritain for pushing the Church’s friendship with democracy and Delbrel for pushing the language of the Church out of the Church and back to the “ordinary people of the streets.” It is amazing how fresh this trio reads in 2011. Delbrel, poetic and joyous:
“Why should the song of the lark in the wheat fields, the buzzing of the insects in the night, and the droning of the bees among the thyme, nourish our silence, and not the crowds in the street, the voices of the women in the market, the yells of the men at work, the laughter of the children in the garden, and the songs coming from the bars? All of these are the noises of creatures advancing toward their destiny, all of this is the echo of the house of God in order or in shambles, all of this is the sign of life encountering our life.
Silence does not mean running away, but rather recollecting ourselves in the open space of God.”
I don’t want to drive a comparison or shake syncretism out of this note, but I had early 20 century Algerian Islamic reformers on my mind as I read early 20th century French Catholics this month, Ibn Badis and Malek Bennabi especially. What might the freshness of Massignon, Delbrel and Maritain tell us in a reading near Bennabi and Ibn Badis? It strengthens my hope that politics illuminated by the light of faith might help in the bulwark building of tolerant, plural and, even, religious democracies in North Africa today, as it helped do the same in Southern Europe.