On this St. Patrick’s Day, I would call out as one of the best things to come from Ireland in recent times is the film Calvary. This film, directed by John Michael McDonagh, makes for great cinematic material for a Lenten reflection. Thinking of the spiritual situation in Ireland these days, in the shadows of their own priestly abuse scandals, it is a land of spiritual desolation. Many souls have apparently been lost due to scandal and disenchantment due to the failure of clergy and church leaders in the traditionally Catholic country.
This is the context in which we find ourselves at the beginning of the film, where a penitent – known only to the protagonist priest – threatens the priest’s life within the secrecy of the confessional. The priest is given seven days to put his affairs in order before the would-be killer would assassinate him as a sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of a brother priest who had abused the penitent.
Despite my misgivings about wanting to exploit the worldwide scandals further than they need to, there is a lot of beauty that unfolds as the priest spends the film not so much looking to see how he can escape his fate, but how he can make his last attempts to be a good pastor to the many disturbed souls within his parish. Amidst the darkness within each character encountered, there is the light which shines from the priest, who insists on wearing his cassock everywhere and calls them to pull themselves out of the mire of their situations. The priest is highly imperfect, yet the light of patience, hope, righteousness and love from him is a stark contrast to the anger, despair and nihilism of his parishioners.
Interestingly enough, this is considered a dark comedy for the Irish, which really accentuates where that country is, spiritually. But for the rest of the world and all the faithful, it is a call to us to accept our own mission to be light in the darkness of the world. There is much darkness that we call attention to around Lent, but Pope Benedict XVI did note in an audience once that “The shadow of the cross gives way to the bright hope of the Resurrection”. The good priest in Calvary represents the imperfect effort to maintain that hope in the mire of such darkness.
St. Patrick, Pray for Us.