Last Sunday I enjoyed being in the audience for the Texas Shakespeare Festival’s fine production of Romeo and Juliet: a story I cannot remember for sure when I saw dramatized last, and a story I do not think I have so deeply considered as an ordained clergyman ever.
Several friends were also in the audience, and, as we exited the theater, I said to one that I wished for an opportunity like my freshman-year high school literature class in order to discuss what we had just seen: especially who, as I was coming to conclude, was to blame for the events that end the story (and in case you do not know how the story ends, I am alerting you that there are “spoilers” ahead).
Apparently to some extent the character of Friar Laurence, a member of the Franciscan religious order who is serving Verona where the play is set, was a part of the story of Romeo and Juliet as it came down to William Shakespeare: with the Friar’s questionably colluding in Romeo and Juliet’s private “marriage,” in Juliet’s feigning repentance and otherwise lying to her parents, and in her feigning her death in order both to prevent a public “marriage” to another man and to escape the city and be reunited with Romeo in exile.
When, in the end, that other man, Romeo, and Juliet all end up dead, the Friar tells what he knows, concluding as follows: “if aught in this / Miscarried by my fault, let my old life / Be sacrificed, some hour before his time, / Unto the rigour of severest law” (Act V, Scene III, lines 263-268), which conditional “confession” gets the prince’s dubious “absolution”: “We still have known thee for a holy man” (Act V, Scene III, line 269).
Thinking the Friar’s fault definite and the absolution inadequate, I was, if not affirmed, at least amused to read of a related satirical production in Chicago titled, “Second City’s Romeo and Juliet Musical: The People vs. Friar Laurence, the Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet”.
All satire aside, in the end, clergy incompetence or not, we each are responsible for our own actions, including for suicides like Romeo’s, Juliet’s, and even Judas’s, which could be blamed in part on the malpractice of the priests (Matthew 27:3-5), and only with genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified are we forgiven by God.
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.