Faced with the most severe challenge of our lives, my wife Martha and I learned that choosing not to forgive, consciously or unconsciously, can seriously impact our health and well-being, not to mention our relationships. Not forgiving on any and every front can permit fear and bitterness to fester and grow deep within. And we were scared.
Until Martha was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I naively thought that I could choose who, when, and where to forgive, as long as I remained nice enough on the outside. So did Martha. I’ve shared before about our need to forgive; I’m afraid I can’t share this enough. It took two guides to set Martha and me straight. One was Canon Jim Glennon of Sydney. The other was Father Matthew Kelty.
Fr. Matthew is the monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani who was Thomas Merton’s good friend and confessor. He befriended Martha when we visited in the fall of 1997, shortly after her diagnosis. We heard Fr. Matthew’s homilies for three straight nights. He met with Martha one afternoon, and gave her a special blessing along with a Psalter (the Psalms set to song). Martha kept that Psalter nearby for the longest time.
Fr. Matthew, now deceased, was a unique man. This Boston Irishman was a classic curmudgeon—crusty on the outside, warm on the inside. He was a poet, a writer, a hermit, a monk, a teacher, a storyteller. In other words, a child of God. When listening to him, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ve heard and read him enough that I call him the Monk of Mercy. In another era he may have been a troubadour, singing songs of mercy wherever he traveled.
I recently discovered one of Fr. Matthew’s homilies online. It’s in two parts:
Some quick points he makes:
- To forgive God is no small thing.
- To forgive your neighbor is a tall order, but there’s no dodging the issue.
- Of the three—God, neighbor, self—forgiving myself is the worst. Here’s where the lack of mercy becomes most obvious.
- Forgiveness is a superb act of love.
I understand what it’s like to read online posts—you scan and then delete.
But if you can set aside 30 minutes today or over the weekend to see and hear this poet-monk talk on forgiveness, it may very well change the trajectory of your life. It did ours.
If you have only 15 minutes, then start with Part 2.
P.S. Congratulations to Jenny M! Her name was randomly drawn for the first book I’m giving away—Thomas Merton’s autobiography Seven Storey Mountain. The next drawing from Carlen’s Lotto will be Friday, February 26. Stay tuned.
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