Dates often stick in our mind. There are certain calendar dates they strike a cord with us. If I were to say December 25th, in the Western Church we would automatically say 'Christmas'. In America July 4th or 9/11 will conger up all kinds of emotions and feelings. In Ireland we have a few of them as well. March 17th is St Patrick's Day when we celebrate the national apostle. Another such is July 12th.
July 12th celebrates the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. Members of the Orange Order celebrate the victory of King William of Orange over King James II, an event that radically changed the history of Ireland. For all kinds of historical reasons, the commemoration of this date has not always been easy. For many, the date brings up bad communal memories and has seen tension between the traditions that have lead to violence and hatred. Thankfully, in a very changed Ireland, all sections of the community have moved along down the road of reconciliation.
July 12th also marks a little known feast day in the Catholic Church. It is the memorial of St John Gaulbert, priest and abbot.
The story of St John's conversion is impressive. He was son of a noble family in central Italy in the 12th century. In a fight one day his brother was murdered. The assailant fled, and St John made a vow that he would find the murderer and avenge the killing. Having searched and searched throughout the country side, one Good Friday he entered the gate of a certain town. At that moment he came face to face with his brother's murderer. He drew his sword, but as he did, the man fell to his knees, stretched out his hands in the form of the Cross and in the name of Jesus begged mercy. St John froze. All of a sudden he was faced with a choice; to exact revenge or to forgive. He dropped his weapon, helped the man up, embraced him and forgave him. Later that same Good Friday he prayed in the Church and promised to give his life to Christ; the Crucified One bowed His head in acceptance. St John went on to be a priest, a founder of a branch of the Benedictine Order - and a saint.
St John could have killed and the cycle of violence would have continued. His memory would have faded into the bloodstained history of humanity. He chose to forgive and his story is still being told.
In following Christ we have made a choice. No longer is it 'eye for eye'. The challenge is to love all people as ourselves, not just the ones we depend on, but all. As we celebrate the Eucharist, may we always remember the price that was paid for our salvation and do our best to make it known everywhere.
Just like St John, the choices we make can help build the Kingdom of God or hinder its growth.