Murder and forgiveness in Northern Ireland

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Becoming a forgiving person is not easy. However, nor is it an impossible burden. It is not a burden at all. Some see it as a sacrifice which I must make to let the offender off the hook.

That is not the case. Rather it is a healing gift for the one who forgives. It sets us free from pain that otherwise we could not endure. The gift of forgiveness has a supernatural dimension, which enables us to do what otherwise would be impossible. Forgiveness is a gift from God, a gift freely given to us and flowing through us to others.

Giving and receiving forgiveness is at the heart of the spiritual life, the way towards union with God and fullness of life as a human being. When we embrace the forgiveness of God, and learn to forgive others and to forgive ourselves, and let go of any anger against God, we have found the key to life.

The story of Michael McGoldrick, a Catholic whose son was murdered in Northern Ireland, illustrates the power of forgiveness as a gift from God.

His son, who was a taxi driver, had been shot dead. Michael and his wife Bridie had been so devastated by their loss they decided to take their own lives by overdosing. Michael relates:

But as I went out to the kitchen, suddenly a picture of the crucified Christ came to my mind.

It hit me that God’s Son, too, had been murdered – for us. I knew that what we planned to do was wrong. It still amazes me how God intervened in a miraculous way to change our minds.

Before they closed my son’s coffin, I laid my hands on his and said: “Goodbye son, I’ll see you in heaven.”

At that very moment I experienced the power of God coursing through my body. I was filled with a great sense of joy and confidence in God. I felt as if I could have faced Goliath – I never felt so strong in my whole life.

On the morning of the funeral, I wrote on the back of an envelope a word which came to me so calm and clear, referring to those who had murdered Michael: “Bury your pride with my son.”

At the bottom I wrote: “Forgive them.”

I felt that despite the agony we were going through, God had given me a message of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Michael went on to speak the message of forgiveness to the TV cameras that day. He continued to ask God to keep in him a forgiving heart.

He said: “I know that resentment and bitterness would have killed me.” He shared that he had given the burden of his grief over to the Lord, and he was a changed man.

He started a relief ministry to orphans in Romania.

He said: “I feel as if Christ has taken hold of my life and I now want to take hold of Christ and give my life to loving God and serving people!”

This is an extract from Fr Ken Barker’s book His Name is Mercy.
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