Possible Grace

Brendan Gleeson in Calvary

WHAT’S A GOOD priest for? So asks Calvary, the second feature film from writer-director John Michael McDonagh, rooting itself in Ireland’s coastal landscape, centering on a pastor threatened with scapegoat-retributive murder from a grievously sinned-against parishioner. Its vibe owes a great deal to the quiet reflection of films such as Jesus of Montreal and Au Hasard Balthazar (in which a donkey evokes the love and wounds of Christ), and the archetypal Westerns High Noon and Unforgiven. Brendan Gleeson plays a priest who was drawn into the church after his wife’s death, which allows us the rare experience of seeing a cinematic Catholic priest who is both a parent to his flock and to a beloved daughter, who feels somewhat abandoned by his commitment to the church.

Gleeson has the uncanny ability to hold his massive frame as both solid—almost concrete—and vulnerable. Knowing that everyone is both broken and breaker, his Father James is healing on behalf of a flawed institution, although he doesn’t confuse vocation with a job. His bishop’s response to a request for help is “I’m not saying anything,” reminding me of Daniel Berrigan’s challenge to religious hierarchies, heard at a public meeting in Dublin in the run-up to the Iraq war: “In Vietnam, they had nothing to say, and said nothing; now, they have nothing to say, and they’re saying it.”

Father James understands the difference between stewarding power and grabbing it (one obvious signal of his goodness), and he is up to his neck in the community, running the gamut from friendship with an American writer looking for inspiration in the land of his presumed ancestors to a visit with a former pupil whose own inner darkness has led him to do monstrous things.

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Lessons Learned by a Young Priest

Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich Via RNS

Tom Ehrich Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich Via RNS

In the perfection of hindsight, I see that I was clueless when I knelt before the Episcopal bishop of Indianapolis on a snowy December night 36 years ago and claimed my prize: ordination as a priest.

I had no clue how to serve a congregation. Other than planning Sunday worship — the easiest of all clergy tasks — I was unprepared.

How to make a hospital visit; how to lead a council whose only instinct was not to spend money; how to grow a church; how to comfort the lost and to humble the found; how to hear what the world needed from us — I knew none of it.

Five Questions for Transgender Chaplain Cameron Partridge

Photo courtesy RNS.

The Rev. Cameron Partridge, religion scholar. Photo courtesy RNS.

She graduated from all-female Bryn Mawr College in 1995, where she came out as gay and also as a woman called to the priesthood. After college, she graduated from Harvard Divinity School, married her girlfriend, became an Episcopal priest, changed her name — and changed her gender.

Today the Rev. Cameron Partridge, a religion scholar at Harvard Divinity School and Episcopal chaplain at Boston University, is living outside Boston with his wife and two young children in what looks, to those who don’t know them, like a typical heterosexual marriage.

We talk to Partridge about his transgender and spiritual journeys, his discomfort with simplistic views of male and female, and feeling at home in Anglicanism. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Producer Priest Navigates Hollywood in A Collar

Gregory Dean,  BortN66 / Shutterstock

Eric Andrews is reinvigorating Paulist Productions. Gregory Dean, BortN66 / Shutterstock

LOS ANGELES — No sooner had Eric Andrews arrived on the set of The Lost Valentine, a 2011 Hallmark Channel movie starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Betty White, when his neckwear attracted attention.

“People are looking at me, and trying to figure out who I was,” he said. “One of the actors came up and said, ‘Now, are you an extra for the wedding scene that is being shot?’”

But the Roman collar was no prop.

Andrews’ credentials as an ordained Roman Catholic priest and Hollywood producer make him a rarity in both religious and entertainment circles. The 48-year-old describes himself as too liberal for most priests and too conservative for most agents.

Why the "War on Christmas" Doesn't Translate Across the Pond

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind.

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind. Via

I’m not sure we can quite get our heads around the latest ‘war’ being waged in the United States – the ‘war on Christmas’.

Visions of the 101st Airborne heading towards the North Pole abound. Anti-reindeer defense weapons, covert elf anti-merriment operatives and a unilateral ban on all copies of A Christmas Carol (in its various media iterations)? Is that what we have come to?

Surely — and thankfully — not, but given some of the rhetoric that is thrown around in the media at this time of year, you might be forgiven for thinking so!

Given that most reporting about religion in the UK and Europe usually includes the phrase “an increasingly secular country," you might think that the "war on Christmas" back on the old sod is even more sustained and sophisticated than in the United States.

Picture heavily fortified nativity scenes being assaulted by atheist flash mobs chanting “HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” if you will.

Well, I’m sorry to tell you that I’ve yet to witness such a terrifying scene on the streets of London.

America's Greatest Deficit is Spiritual, Not Merely Financial

With all the angst about the economy, the deficit, and a looming government shut-down, I'm still concerned that we're treating symptoms rather than diagnosing the underlying disease.

I know something about this. I spent a week in the hospital last year having loads of tests done -- blood work, heart scans, stress tests, and sonograms. I was discharged without a diagnosis, merely with hopes that by treating the symptoms, whatever was wrong would go away. It didn't. It turned out my real problem was a tick-born disease, and once it was diagnosed, a ten-dollar prescription of antibiotics cured me. Without that ten-dollar prescription to treat the real problem, I could have experienced life-long disability.


Last month, at the height of the media coverage of the most recent sex abuse crisis, Father Francis Clooney, a professor at Harvard Divinity School and Director of the Center for the Study of Wor