Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the film Calvary, and you are planning to, be aware of spoilers ahead.
In the opening scene in the film Calvary, the main character, a good priest played by Brendan Gleeson, is told while in the confessional booth, that he will be killed in one week’s time by a tortured soul in his parish who was abused by a priest (a different priest) as a child, from the age of seven through twelve. The tortured soul has decided that no one will care if a bad priest is killed. Besides, the abuser priest is already dead. A justice, of sorts, can only be achieved through killing a good priest, and the unseen man is targeting Father James.
This begins a horrible week for the “good” priest, Father James. Not only is his life threatened, but his church is burned to the ground and his beloved dog is killed. His adult daughter (he was married before he became a priest) has just arrived on a visit, after a failed suicide attempt.
It’s no wonder, then, that Father James finally ends up in the local pub, drinking a lot. By the time he ends up in the pub, we are aware of a drinking problem in his past. So, his “falling off the wagon,” is especially poignant. During a conversation with the bartender (who’s no fan of the priest, or of the Church in general), the bartender declares, “Your time is gone and you don’t even [expletive] realize it.” The good priest, with his world-weary voice responds, “My time will never be gone.”
I’ve been thinking about that little exchange a lot since I saw the film. What exactly is the bartender talking about? Whose time is gone? Father James? Priests in general? All clergy in general? Christianity?
Father James is quick in his response, “my time will never be gone.” I’m not so sure that mine would be so quick. I sometimes wonder if my “time”—as a clergyperson, as a Christian—is essentially “gone,” that the Church is hardly relevant any longer.
I haven’t cried at the end of a film in a long time, but by the time Calvary ended, I just wanted to sob—for a whole bunch of reasons. One of the most important of those reasons is that we—and by that, I mean the Christian Church—have only ourselves to blame for the irrelevance that we encounter. Jesus, I suspect, weeps often over the life of the Church, the followers who gather, supposedly, in his name.
The abuses of the Church, and the failures to respond in meaningful ways, are shocking and horrific. Although my own denomination, the United Church of Christ, is not known for its abuse of children, we are so often just lumped together with everyone else as Christians. Bad enough.
Even in Calvary, our “good” priest does not exactly display a clear compassion upon the tortured soul in the confessional booth. He does not apologize, on behalf of the church. He does not weep. Granted Father James has been threatened, but he doesn’t seek to reach out to the pained person just a few inches away, on the other side of a thin veil. That man has experienced some of the worst of what the human experience can offer, over a significant period of time. Though Father James suggests a formal complaint, he doesn’t really offer much help to someone so deeply and profoundly wounded.
More difficult still, is the response of the bishop, who seems only concerned with superficial motivations, that the man wants to be loved, admired, maybe feared.
I have faith that the Church is more than its clergy, that the Faith is more than its followers. But I worry about the credibility of the big “C” Christian church, its present and its future. I continue to be sickened and sorrowful about the harm not only of abusive, predatory clergy, but the continuing difficulty that churches and clergy have in trying to heal the wounds of the church. This is about those abused individuals as well as the Body of Christ.
I hope our time isn’t indeed “gone” and that we just haven’t found the courage to notice, but that our desire to be part of the healing will begin to show itself more fully and that we Christians will all find a renewed sense of purpose, and a renewed commitment to never let such abuses happen.