Barbed Wire and Blessed Gifts

[A 3 minute read]

One of the strangest, saddest, surprisingly moving movies I’ve seen in recent years is the Irish film ‘Calvary’ starring Brendan Gleeson as Fr James. Threatened in the confessional by a man who had been abused in his childhood by another priest, Fr James is given a week to arrange his affairs before the man will kill him on the beach. For a week, we watch him about his work, witness the burdens and heartache in his life. Introduced to the characters in the town, we are left wondering who is the would be murderer, and will Fr James keep to his appointment with death on the beach?

In today’s gospel reading from Mass (John 11:45-56) the plot is thickening against Jesus. The Pharisees and Chief Priest “were determined to kill him.” Meanwhile, the pilgrims from the countryside are looking out for Jesus. As they stand in the Temple talking together, they ask, “What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?” Soon, in Gethsemane’s garden, among the olive groves and dozing disciples, we will see him wrestling and struggling with the pain of what is to come. In a moment of intimate and intense prayer he wants to wish it all away – “Yet not my will but yours be done.”

Many years ago in the 1990s, when life was very different for those diagnosed with HIV, a friend and fellow ordinand spent a week’s placement with a project in London. There in a group session, each person spoke about what being HIV positive meant to them. One person said, “For me, it is like having a gift wrapped in barbed wire.” So much in his life had changed. Perhaps he now viewed life differently, saw the world differently, valued friendships more, who knows – whatever had changed for the good in his life came also with much pain. Each of us will experience similar gifts in our lives, things which bring joy but are wrapped in barbed wire, clothed in thorns. “My joy is to love suffering,” wrote St Terese of Liseux. “I smile shedding tears, I accept with gratitude the thorns mixed with the flowers.” Most of us, perhaps, will never reach such heights of holiness and, at times may feel crushed by the cost of loving and living. To answer those pilgrims standing around in the Temple, yes, Jesus will and did and does come to the Festival – and, in doing so, has entered into both our sorrow and joy. His love has transformed and continues to transform us, changing the world, beyond belief. He has kept his appointment with death, so that we may live. Through flowers and thorns, barbed wire and blessed gifts, his wounds heal us, his death saves us, his resurrection sets us free.

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