He was a man with both feet firmly planted in mid air. Gerry Reynolds never allowed the facts on the ground to disturb the possibilities of what might be. This Irish Redemptorist priest has died at the age of 80. He spent the last 30 years of his life in Belfast and was a pioneer of cross community relations and a great influence on the work of the peace process.
I met him once. I was just arrived in Canterbury in Kent to take up the work of rector and teacher at the Redemptorist student house. It was summertime and the all the students were away. I was minding the house on my own and Gerry asked to come down to visit from London. He stayed a night, maybe two. What I remember is taking him for lunch to a beautiful quiet village just outside Canterbury, to a pub I had recently discovered.
The Woolpack Inn in Chilham is a typical English country pub, decorated with bunches of hops all around the lounge and the bar. It has an enormous ingle nook fireplace and a welcoming fire. The beer is beautiful, good Kent ale. Pubs, especially country pubs, to me are the same as churches, places where people gather in warmth and friendship to rejoice and to consider and to put the world to rights.
Gerry and I sat in a window seat enjoying the sight of local people supping and sipping and quietly tasting life. I remember how easy it was to be with Gerry. He felt like no stranger. He was genuinely interested in me and how things were, without being in any way intrusive. His presence was serene and supportive. I have no recollection what we talked about. I was 38. Gerry was 50. I just remember a happy lunch hour spent in the quiet of the countryside with a very gentle soul.
I next heard of Gerry when he visited my aunt Sarah in her home in the west of Ireland. Gerry was giving a mission in my mother’s home parish of Bangor Erris, County Mayo and the parish priest took him to visit my mother’s youngest sister, Sarah still living in the glen – Glencullen.
That would have been a visit worth attending! Sarah was a mighty woman, very sociable and engaging, full of talk and full of opinions, full of faith too and not shy in expressing herself. She could be hilarious and outrageous all at the same time. I think Gerry would have been fascinated with the encounter. I had left priesthood by that time and having been a Redemptorist, like Gerry, I must have entered the conversation at some point.
My final point of contact with Gerry was when I tuned into his funeral mass in Belfast and listened to the sermon after the gospel had been read. The priest spoke of Gerry, the man with his feet in the air, and then he quoted something that Gerry used to say. When a situation was becoming tense or problematic there in Belfast, in anything in which Gerry was involved, he would calm people who were worried by saying, “It will be all right. Let things unfold.”
This comment entered deeply into my soul for I have been worried about my life and my future since becoming widowed. Sometimes it feels as though there is no future worth having, or I try to work out how to fashion a future for myself, given that I may live many years yet.
Struggling with this problem the words of Gerry Reynolds came back to me last night, as I lay awake in bed not able to sleep. “It will be all right. Let things unfold.”
These words invite me to trust in God more than I have been doing. Our life is in God’s hands, as my dear mother used to say. So trust God to take care of you. And then let things unfold. Let life come to you as it does. Do not try to fix it merely to your own plans. Give space for things to unfold, for others to contribute to life’s unfolding.
I see Gerry’s smiling face now as he was there, sitting in that pub, ready to enjoy a pint of beer and some food in my company. It is my one and only memory of the man but it is enough. It remains forever in my mind and heart as a joyous moment in my life. And the words he spoke come to me over the years and across the divide of death, to give me courage and to encourage me on my way.
“It will be all right. Let things unfold.”