This book on forgiveness, lovingly assembled and written by Michael Delia, is based on the work of Fr. Gerry O'Rourke, a Roman Catholic priest. Of course, all Catholic priests are schooled in the sacrament of forgiveness. Knowing something and believing it is not the same as being able to get your hands on it when you need it most. We know we should forgive, and we may want to forgive, but often we struggle to find a way. Gerry created four questions as a simple, if not necessarily easy, process that has worked miracles for those who have followed it.
"I am a man of forgiveness and love." That was Gerry's declaration, the commitment for which he lived. All he wanted from life was to be useful and make a positive difference in the lives of those around him. He was not a holy man in the sense of being pious or sanctimonious. Life was not necessarily easy for him, but he bore his burdens lightly and mostly quietly. He loved a good time, which usually meant long conversations with friends over good food and wine. You never went wrong following one of Gerry's restaurant recommendations. Often, if you mentioned Gerry to the restaurant staff, you were showered with bigger smiles and special treatment.
There were no strangers around Gerry. Late in 2018, at the age of ninety-three, he could no longer live on his own and moved to assisted living near his parish church. When Delia visited him a week or two later, he knew all the staff and residents—not just their names, but the details of their lives. He knew how they came to be there and where they were from. He knew about their families, interests, and religion (if they had one). It probably helped that he had the appearance and personality of someone sent over from the Central Casting Department to play the role of an Irish priest. Gerry was unfailingly and authentically welcoming in that way the Irish have. "You're very welcome to Ireland," they say when you visit, as if they are not just greeting you but delighted to offer you the entire place as a gift. In his presence, you felt welcome, and you felt his love for you. Nothing gooey or sentimental for this Irishman. His love was fierce as well as gentle, kind, and reassuring. He gave you his full attention and listened so carefully that you felt yourself lighter, more at peace, when you walked away. Many who met him only once or in passing remembered him long afterward. You would be wrong if you thought him a pushover. There was a toughness to him, a kind of unrelenting will and single-mindedness, especially when it came to forgiveness. He knew that forgiveness ultimately was an act of will, not a sentiment or emotion. We forgive when we are willing, and not before. So, he honored your negative answers to his questions, but he never stopped asking you to look again.
In the end, all you really need to know about Gerry O'Rourke, as he would have told you himself, is that he was a man of forgiveness and love. He lived from a context of forgiveness that allowed him to see the places where forgiveness was missing. He saw past right and wrong or good and bad, which allowed him to contribute and open doors that had been slammed shut by blame, shame, and hurt. It allowed him to see possibilities where none had existed and to make those possibilities accessible to others.
Years ago, the secretary of the church where Gerry was working told me about a funeral where Gerry had presided. The family of the deceased was deeply divided, full of anger and resentment for each other. "Let me guess," I said. "Gerry preached about forgiveness."
"Yes," she said, "but he spoke about forgiveness as if it were a new thing!"
Forgiveness was always new with Gerry, always available, always miraculous. He lived to make the possibility and the reality of forgiveness available to everyone. These four simple, yet difficult, questions are his legacy and his gift to us all.