Friday, September 19, 2014

Lessons on the Priesthood from Calvary

SPOILER ALERT!  If you intend on seeing this movie and don't want to know certain things (like the ending), then don't read this post!  

The movie "Calvary" is one of those films that leaves you trying to absorb what you just saw.  A day after seeing the film, I find myself still thinking about it, trying to comprehend it.  There are many things that could be said about the film, but I'd like to offer just one reflection.

The main character--Fr. James Lavelle--is an intelligent, warm, and very human character.  Throughout the film, he enters into the lives of all sorts of persons.  A drunkard, an adulteress, a dying man, a male prostitute, a prisoner, a militant atheist, and others all find themselves in his company.  Most of them are filled with a profound cynicism about life and specifically about Catholicism.  The priest--although the only one to offer any of these people any sort of true love--is mocked continuously throughout the film.  Although clearly more intelligent than all of them, the priest is often treated as though he were a buffoon.  And yet, he stays with these people.  He continuously places himself in situations where he will be mocked as the official representative of an outdated and superstitious religion.

And yet, amidst the mockery, insults, and hatreds directed towards him, one senses that these people want something that the priest possesses.  It's as though he carries something within him that they want but that they won't allow themselves to have. They're all miserable.  Their lives are filled with pain, emptiness, and despair.  Fr. Lavelle, like Christ, enters into their experience.  He's close to his people.  He's close to the people who mock and insult him.  He keeps entering into their lives despite the hatred for him that always seems to be boiling below the surface.  "Blessed are you when they insult and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven."

Fr. Lavelle enters into the lives of these people with a fatherly love for them, but this love is reciprocated only with insults and persecutions.  Nobody would look at Fr. Lavelle's efforts as having much success, but he keeps showing up and loving this assortment of troubled persons, despite the poor way in which they treat him.  Like the apostles before him, Fr. Lavelle has become a spectacle and is treated as the refuse of the world.  Fr. Lavelle, throughout the film, despite all of his flaws and weaknesses is becoming more and more like Christ.  He is making his way to Calvary.

In the film, Fr. Lavelle is mocked because of his Catholicity.  He's mocked because he holds outdated religious beliefs in a world that has become so enlightened.  He's mocked because he puts himself out there.  He could hide away, but instead, he's in the pubs, visiting homes, hospitals, and jails.  He is persecuted for imitating Christ.

Fr. Lavelle fits in among his people because he is very human.  He's a sinner and a man with flaws.  But, one never gets the sense from Fr. Lavelle that he's trying to fit in.  He shows up at the pub in his cassock.  He's not trying to blend in.  He's real and he's authentic.  He's not in that pub because he wants to be accepted.  He's there because that's where his people are.  He's there because he loves the people.  Even when they mock him, you get the sense that these people know that Fr. Lavelle loves them.  That love is at the root of why they mock him, I think.  They are all looking to be loved.  But, when they experience it, they refuse to accept it.

Pope Francis talks a lot about priests and bishops going "out to the edges."  I think that we have to be careful when we travel to the edges that we are going there for the right reasons.  We need to go there in order to love the people on the edges.  But, we shouldn't go there in order to "fit in."  We shouldn't go to the edges in the hopes that the newspaper will write nice things about us and that the politicians will invite us as window dressing to their events.  When we go there with this kind of intention, we mock ourselves, and this kind of mockery doesn't bring with it the reward of "Rejoice and be glad!"  

What is so beautiful about the depiction of the priest in the movie is that the reason he is mocked, persecuted, and killed is precisely because he is a good priest; a priest who loves his people and who stays close to them.  He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.  He fits in because he's a real man.  He stands out because he loves with a shepherd's heart and risks everything on that love.

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