Cathy Peacock

Trusting in God’s personal love and forgiveness is a wonderful concept of our faith, but so too is our responsibility to forgive others. 

When we have been deeply hurt, forgiveness can seem almost impossible. But unchecked negative emotions can grow into life-long resentments. 

Marianne O’Neill’s story teaches us that working to forgive when it is most difficult can result in peace and even a joy-filled heart, especially when we believe the one who hurt us receives God’s mercy. 

Marianne is a woman of vibrant faith. Her eyes sparkle with the light of Christ and her smile exudes his joy!  

Hearing what she endured early in her life would leave most to wonder how she has maintained her loving attitude, but she exclaims that it is her faith, her love for God and her knowledge of his personal love and mercy for her. 

Here is her story:

Marianne’s father was an infant when his mother died. His father could not take care of him, so he was sent to his grandmother’s brother and his wife to be raised. Marianne’s father never had a relationship with his own father. He felt that his father had abandoned him.

In describing the stressful home life in which Marianne grew up, she explained, “My father was raised Presbyterian and married an Irish Catholic woman. He was an extremely strict disciplinarian. He was abusive and violent with my brothers and mother. I was the oldest of six and never got in his way.”

In reference to his faith, she said, “He believed in God, but he didn’t need God and didn’t go to church.” Her mother attended Mass and received Communion daily. Her father didn’t understand and would say to her mother, “What do you do up there (church)?” 

After Marianne was married, she decided to seek therapy to help her marriage. But she quickly realized she had been suppressing all of her hurt feelings from childhood. She decided to work through her feelings. She never wanted to lose communication with her father. “I wanted him to be my father and not to hate him,” she said.

Years later, when her father was 87 years old, he had a stroke. He became physically handicapped but not mentally. On New Year’s Eve of that year, Marianne went to visit him in the hospital for the day. 

He told Marianne he had seen people who had passed. He said, “I saw my brother last night. And my father was here. I had a long talk with my dad. We got a lot of things straightened out. He apologized to me.” 

Later that day, when she returned after getting something to eat, her father appeared to be talking to someone. She asked whom he was speaking to and he said, “Oh, I was talking to God.”

Astounded, Marianne asked, “Can you tell me what you were saying?” He answered, “Oh, sure. I told him how sorry I was for all of the things I’ve done to hurt him throughout my life and how sorry I was for the way I treated your mother and also for how I abused you kids.”

“I was standing there dumbfounded!” Marianne said. “I could not believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. People say, ‘Oh, he must have dementia.’ No. He never had dementia. I said to him, ‘Did he answer you?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah.’ Clear as a bell, my dad said, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’”

Marianne answered her father, “Dad, this is incredible, but it’s also not fair. You’re 87. You’ve never done anything for him your whole life and now he has forgiven you!”

Marianne was smiling as she told me this part of the story. I told her she looked happy. 

“I was thrilled for him!” she said. “I think he got in on the bottom rung and he might not be a whole lot further when I get up there, but at least I know he got in.”

Marianne’s trust in God helped her find mercy for her father. She said, “We are faith-filled. He did the best he could with the tools he had. He didn’t have very good tools, evidently. And now that I look back, I realize the unending love and forgiveness that our God has for us. He has forgiven me for a lot of things too.”

Special thanks to Marianne for sharing her beautiful faith story!

Marianne O’Neill is a member of St. Norbert Parish in Paoli. She is a realtor for Berkshire Hathaway in Devon and leads a faith-study group in her parish.

Please share this story on social media. Also, please send a quick summary of your faith/witness story now to joyofknowing@gmail.com. We will contact you about possible publication.

Please read and share all faith stories in my column, beginning last June with my own “Joy of Knowing God” shell story.

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Cathy Peacock has her M.A. in theology, is a Certified Public Accountant and is a member of St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Wayne.