“Calvary”: A Good Irish Priest In The Aftermath Of Sex Scandals

by Apologetics, Controversial Subjects, God & Mystery of Evil, Movie Reviews and Recommendations

A painful walk in the dark, with a few dashes of light humor or just plain oddity, Calvary lays out the drama of a good priest in an impossible world. The religious sensibility in Ireland lays in ruins after the sex abuse scandals, yet the human heart never ceases to long for God. Filmed upon the backdrop of the rugged beauty of County Sligo, we witness those constant and rhythmic waves that crash upon the shores. One can’t help but recall Father James’ unforgettable phrase: “My time will  never be gone.”

With an inkling of Chestertonian logic, Father James is striking normally in a world of eccentrics who in rejecting God seem to have rejected common sense simultaneously. Sanity is a curiously Christian virtue. Mixed in with their indifference, their resentment, and their mistrust, the townspeople can’t help but notice something distinct in Father, something indescribably attractive, albeit in spite of themselves. Whether it be to seek advice, to obtain reconciliation and peace, or simply to provoke and ridicule; they all find themselves drawn towards him one way or another.

The movie is not for the naive or those with a light stomach; for indeed, when God’s messengers have become source of scandal, who can blame them? Jack Brennan has no few reasons for his bitterness. Sin is ugly; it festers if not attended to by good dose of mercy. As Father James says, “I think there is too much talk about sins, not enough talk about virtues.” “What would be your number one?” asks his daughter Fiona. He responds, “I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.” Forgiveness that doesn’t cover up the ugliness; rather it penetrates it. It transfigures it. It’s the only path towards the light.

Calvary Official Trailer

Again, the movie is not for the young or naive. Yet, emerging amongst the darkness, is the glimmer of a light who has no fear. Love has nothing to prove, nothing to fear; it isn’t going anywhere. Father isn’t a perfect man; his humanity is eloquently finite. Shooting up the bar after inebriating himself makes that clear enough. But, then again, Christianity has never been about perfection according to our terms; it is about conversion. He is well aware of his limits. These limits, however, when accepted in  faith, become necessary sources of strength, the strength he needs to bear patiently the limits of those he serves.

Father James, as he looks in horror upon the burning embers of the church – a articulate symbol of certain members’ of society view of the Church – responds again in word and deed: “My time will never be gone.” These are the words of Christ, of His love, of HIs Church. No matter the situation, he continues to knock on the door of man’s heart (Rev 3, 20).  This love irradiates in the life of Father in all of its gratuity. Receiving nothing in return, many times nothing more than contemptful skepticism, Father manages to draw close to those around him, above all his daughter. As Archbishop Chaput comments, “Near the end of the film is a scene – a telephone conversation between the priest and his daughter filled with mercy, reconciliation, and forgiveness – that stays in the memory long after the screen goes black.”

Therein lies the matter: Christianity takes a normal, fragile man and turns him into a source of love and reconciliation, not only in spite of the inner struggle, rather through it. It embraces man in his integrity, the good and the bad. On the other hand, we witness a sort of relinquishment of humanity, one that abandons the good and sticks with the bad. The desires of greatness, of meaning, of love, of piety have been associated with the pain of failure. So why continue? A new order is inaugurated, each one to his own; nothing of religion, nothing of God, nothing of morality or meaning. Man is no longer sacred. It follows that those who continue their foolish conviction of man’s goodness, must be silenced. Not for any good reason, mind you, just for the shock: “I am going to kill you because you are innocent… there’s no point in killing a bad priest; but killing a good one, that’s a shock.”

Throughout the movie, and especially in the voice of Jack, we hear, in the words of Archbishop Chaput, “the  voice of a “post-Christian’ Ireland, but it’s curious: Amid all the ruin, suffering and unbelief caused by the abuse scandal of the past decade, the witness of a good priest who loves his people can somehow, so often, remain intact.” Elsewhere he comments, “From the first frame to the last, ‘Calvary’ has an understated power – a blend of everyday pain, faith, despair, humor, candor, bitterness, and forgiveness – that brands itself onto the heart with spare simplicity. It’s also the best portrayal of a good priest in impossible circumstances I’ve seen in several decades.”

Apostolic Elements:

I repeat, the movie is not for the naive or those too young or too sensitive to talk directly about these subjects. I imagine that many won’t even like the film. The themes of the abuse scandal are painfully present, at times painted in graphic terms. That said, It could be useful for confronting a difficult issue from the vision of faith: aware that all men are sinners and that forgiveness is the only path towards reconciliation and peace.

It would also suggest a few of the following questions: What is my own reaction to sin in my life and to the lives of others? What does forgiveness mean? How does the world understand it? How does the Gospel? Do I truly believe that Christ works through sinners? Through the Church? How do I react when other’s do not accept my attempts to live the Gospel?

Finally, I have quoted a few times the article written by Archbishop Chaput. It appeared originally in Cruxnow.com. Here, I leave first few paragraphs:

Calvary” is the kind of film that leaves a theater silent at the final credits. It’s not the silence of boredom or a morgue, but the silence of people collecting their emotions in order to breathe again.

Friends who’ve seen the film, some of them already two or three times, have noticed the same effect. From the first frame to the last, “Calvary” has an understated power – a blend of everyday pain, faith, despair, humor, candor, bitterness, and forgiveness – that brands itself onto the heart with spare simplicity. It’s also the best portrayal of a good priest in impossible circumstances I’ve seen in several decades.

Plenty of good reviews of Calvary already exist. I can’t improve on them here. It’s enough to say that the cast – led by Brendan Gleeson in an extraordinary performance – gives us a menagerie of human foibles, and the County Sligo setting has a raw Irish beauty that few viewers will ever forget.

But it’s the story that makes the film.

… Read the rest here.

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