The time His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Clonard, I remember Fr Gerry Reynolds, God bless him, telling me “that to err is human, to forgive is divine”. I don’t know what it was about Fr Gerry, but when he said that to me, it clicked.
A couple of days later as I sat in a small room, upstairs in St Anne’s cathedral with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I asked him a question, “is there a antidote for anger?” He replied that there was, and that it was simple.
At this point my head ran riot, thinking that I need to get my tape recorder out to record this. My imagination informed me that it would be some kind of a mantra and that I would have to meditate for so many days. Then I imagined that I could write a book on anger, a conversation between HH the Dalai Lama and Frank Liddy. I imagined the colour of the book and I told myself that, I would need to keep it simple.
When it comes to the power of forgiveness, we have to forgive ourselves first, for all the mistakes that we had made out of ignorance, as we most likely believed that what we did had to be done.
His holiness replied, “forgive”. Suddenly my imagined book turned into a one page flier. I echoed back to HH ”forgive?”.
“Yes”, he replied, “forgive”. He added, “you don’t get punished for your anger, you get punished by your anger”. Once again I found myself in that reflective space where I heard that forgiveness is the key. Perhaps I should have been prepared for this simplest of answers. After all, as I stood, effectively at attention at Aldergrove Airport, as part of His Holiness' welcome party, he tickled my sides and asked me, "why so serious?"
In my head, I held a thousand prisoners captive and I can tell you, it’s costly, having to feed a thousand prisoners and they live rent free in your head. The solution was for me to let go of the prisoners, to set them free and I did free nine hundred and ninety nine of them but I kept one, and that one was me.
When it comes to the power of forgiveness, we have to forgive ourselves first, for all the mistakes that we had made out of ignorance, as we most likely believed that what we did had to be done. If we made a deliberate, intentional mistake, then it was up to us to make amends to the wronged.
I often discovered when I was making amends to others, that they responded with kindness as they too, must have known, that I did not know any better. It’s at these times, like being with Fr Gerry or HH, that we find the human side of human kindness, in forgiveness.
I’m not saying that it’s easy. For me it’s a sign of maturity for as Fr Gerry said, "to forgive is divine".
This is of course is true spirituality. To dive deep into our innate well of compassion and forgive ourselves and others. As the great teacher, Jesus said, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”.
My sponsor, told me that religion was for people who were frightened of hell and that spirituality was for people who had been there. I asked “what is a spiritual act?” and he simply replied, “a spiritual act, is to give a thirsty man a glass of water and to remember to keep it simple and not to be found out about this kind act”. These lessons on forgiveness saved me from the toxic poison of resentment.
Forgiveness is an amazing daily practice, that we can all participate in. When I say daily, I mean daily. It's so easy to react with anger at any given moment if we don’t put on our spiritual armour. Especially during these times of austerity, what with rising gas and electricity prices, and increasing food prices. These are stressful times. In my living memory, I have never seen so many food banks in our city. It’s of course when we are stressed that we tend to react and say the wrong thing at the wrong time. So now more than ever we need the grace of forgiveness. So let our spiritual acts be similar to giving a thirsty person a glass of water.
As I witness to the growing poverty around me, I also witness the growth in charitable acts. I was in Tesco’s last night and they had a box for donations of food, for those less fortunate. The good news was that shoppers are donating. As I look around our city, I’m aware of all the great works that are being delivered by many charities. The list, thank God, is too many to mention. From working with homelessness on the streets and in wet hostels, to delivering food parcels to those in need. This is human kindness in action.
Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s passing and on her deathbed when I asked her what would she like engraved on her headstone, she replied “keep it simple son, keep it simple”. So we did. And in her memory and in memory of Fr Gerry, I offer up this poem by the great poet Rumi.
The Guest house
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.