Heroes and Villains, Saints and Sinners

Hero or villain. Saint or sinner. No. I’m not talking about Luis Suarez, but I’m a Liverpool fan, so you might guess my opinion there. How we define people often depends on our personal perspective and the truth is usually more complicated than such a simple definition. We in this province know that well, particularly in the messy business of making peace after a period of prolonged and profound conflict. (You just have to check out the responses to the presence of Martin McGuinness at the state banquet in Windsor Castle last week for evidence of that.)
This is Holy week, the run-up to Good Friday, where we reflect on the price Jesus paid to make peace between us and God, followed by the resurrection joy of Easter Day. Personally I’m fascinated by the characters we’ve traditionally portrayed as villains in the Holy Week story. Judas Iscariot - wondering what his motivation was for betraying his teacher. Was it all just a matter of money or something else? Pilate, the ultimate populist politician, bowing to the will of the baying crowd then literally washing his hands of the consequences. And Caiaphas, the High Priest, the religious leader who said it was better that one man die, rather than allow the whole nation to perish. 
A late friend of mine called Caiaphas “the patron saint of the peace process” because of his cynical pragmatism, but he might easily share that title with Judas, or Pilate. Money, short-term populism AND political pragmatism have all played their part since the signing of the Good Friday agreement just over 16 years ago. We ARE in a better place than before it, but what has flowed from it has not been unalloyed good, and as of yet we haven’t really moved on as a people from the pain of Good Friday to the hope represented by Easter day…
But instead of Caiaphas as the patron saint of our peace process, perhaps a more positive role model might be the saint who is venerated today in the French Catholic church… St. Benezet, also known as Benoit the Bridge builder, a 12th century shepherd boy who was inspired to build a bridge across the river Rhone at Avignon. That, in turn inspired, not only the famous French song about dancing on the Pont D’Avignon… but also an entire brotherhood of bridgebuilding monks…
Perhaps in addition to the existing religious and loyal orders that are part of the religious and cultural landscape of Ireland we need a new order of bridgebuilders; people who are ready to reach across the yawning chasms of our society; spanning religious, political, cultural and economic divides…
As we approach Good Friday and remember that Christ gave his life to bridge the infinite gap between us and God, perhaps we need to give our lives over to building bridges, so that the hope of the Good Friday agreement might become a living reality for many more people.
(This is a slightly expanded version of this morning's Thought for the Day on Good Morning Ulster - as usual you can find a recorded version of my dulcet tones on the Radio Ulster website for the next 7 days. You will find me 25 and 86 minutes in to the programme)


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