McGuinness certainly made the most of life's rare second chance
The words redemption and forgiveness come straight from the lexicon of the Catholic Church. So do we forgive all sins, or none, or some? The first part of the Catholic process of forgiveness is sorrow and the second part is to make amends.
I met up with Martin McGuinness in The White House around this time last year. He was as courteous as could be. I told him how much we all owed him as a people. We had a couple of chats during the day. He was a people person and warm too. I was one of the first from the non- violent brigade to acknowledge his work on behalf of the peace process, in a sports column of all places, and he read it.
But somewhere in the back of my mind there at the steps leading up to the St Patrick's Day party was the near certainty that in his role as head of the IRA in Derry Mr McGuinness gave the orders. The case that comes to mind most is the murder of 29-year-old Joanne Mathers, who was killed in Derry because she was collecting census forms. The IRA was an equal opportunity killer. Jean McConville was murdered in Belfast for another insignificant "crime against the people". I think it is important the victims who died in the war are not forgotten or are seen as sacrificial footnotes to a peace process.
Mr McGuinness may have been responsible for violent deeds but he saved us all from another generation of violence. His motives were always the betterment of his people and the freedom of his country. Even his enemies cannot deny that much.
I have a close friend who was involved in the IRA. He too has forsaken violence. My friend is a good and decent man. But he explained "you would have to be there to know what it was like to be a Catholic living in the North. It was us or them after the British politicians gave the North over to the generals who were murdering b******s. There was a seething anger in all of us and we were all damaged from the savagery of a sectarian state".
I can understand the taking up of arms to defend one's community, but did the IRA go too far? "Yes" is his reply.
Mr McGuinness grew up in a country that didn't even allow the basic right of one man one vote. He failed his exams as a kid even though he had a brilliant mind because the plan was to keep the nationalists backward. These were crimes against children. Catholics were barricaded up in ghettos. Our brothers and sisters lived and died there in bondage. There is little doubt we in the south could have done more to help. In so many ways we backed our own people in to a corner and they had to fight their way out.
Maybe Martin should have chosen the peaceful road taken by John Hume and Mary McAleese. And he did, eventually. But Bloody Sunday, just around the corner from the McGuinness home, was a slaughter of the innocents. And there were lies and cover-ups. It was hard not to take up arms. Martin had the courage of his convictions and the convictions of his courage.
So how then did Mr McGuinness forsake violence? Here's my theory.
I have this vague memory of Babies Class in Listowel National School. This priest came in to tell us about sins. He told us we would go to hell and that it was very hot there. I'm pretty certain the priest ended up in hell himself as he was a paedophile. But that is a story for another day.
Our teacher Mrs Scanlan was a sound woman. She told us about the fire escape of confession and I still remember the relief. So even though I haven't been to confession for more than 30 years that sense of seeking forgiveness and making amends is very much ingrained in our Catholic psyche.
You can take the boy out of the Church but you can't take the Catholic out of the boy.
Confession as a concept is beautiful, in that there is forgiveness. There is also an admission of guilt. I'm not sure if Martin went far enough in asking for forgiveness but I think it is fair to say he went as far as he could, given the repercussions for him personally and the peace process in general. Mr McGuinness certainly made amends. He put his life on the line when he was fighting and he put his life on the line when he was at peace.
I'm not sure either of where he stood when it came to his position as regards the Church as an entity. Like most of us, he seemed to have had time for his local priests, who unlike their bosses in Rome put humanity before cant and dogma.
The whole idea of giving people a second chance seems to have fallen into disuse. The fact that Mr McGuinness was given the chance to change by people who believed in him like Bill Clinton, Bertie Aherne and Ms McAleese led to the miracle of peace in our beloved North.
The story of Martin McGuinness is indeed a Christian morality play. Too often we are too quick to condemn and it seems to me if a man or a woman makes a mistake well then he or she is permanently marked as tainted in the minds of those who define us by a single or series of unfortunate events. To forgive one must believe in the essential good in all of us. It may seem to you as a contradiction to describe this life-long republican as noble, but that's what he was. So what's it to be? Heaven or hell?
I have no doubt that the bellboy will hold the ascension door open for Mr McGuinness as he presses the button for the top floor.