I want to take a break from heavy opinions this week and tell you about individuals who made a difference by inspiring us and giving us hope.

Humour is an important gift in life. It helps to prevent us from taking life too seriously and, even more importantly, from taking ourselves too seriously.

G. K. Chesterton was an English writer, wit, philosopher, Christian apologist and literary and art critic who created the fictional priest-detective, Father Brown.

Even those who disagreed with him recognised his wit and his charm, which was often self-defacing.

Chesterton was a large man who was frequently seen squeezed behind tables in London restaurants.

He joked about his large bulk, saying: "It gives me the consolation of being able to offer my seat on the train to three ladies.”

During one of his literary lunches, Chesterton expounded on the relationship between power and authority.

He described the difference: “If a rhinoceros were to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatsoever.”

It’s an ongoing battle. Abusive power in politics, religion, and finance is one of the most destructive forces in the world today.

Pope Francis often assures us that the greatest evil in Catholicism now is the evil of clericalism – i.e. clerics who abuse canon law to inflate their own importance and diminish the mercy of God – in other words, the careerists.

We rightly oppose power that exploits, manipulates, and bullies people into conformity.

On the other hand, we know that genuine authority is respected, trusted and inspirational.

Power doesn’t have to be destructive. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Oscar Romero used the power of nonviolence to overcome corrupt, unjust systems.

The fact that all three were assassinated did not belittle their power: their moral authority, exercised on behalf of a suffering people, highlighted their goodness.

Small things, ordinary things, are important. The psychologist Carl Young once said: “Whether invited or not, God is always present.”

Whether we recognise it or not, God is in the events of our lives, always giving us an opportunity to make choices that matter.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. wrestled with what God was asking him to do. Shortly before he died, he gave us a lovely insight into life.

He said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

King also said: “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”

You may not be instantly aware of who Hank Azaria is. He was the voice of more than a hundred characters on the television show, ‘The Simpsons’.

Azaria was a close friend of the late Matthew Perry – the wise-cracking Chandler Bing in ‘Friends’, who died unexpectedly last October 28 at the age of 54.

Perry wrote movingly about his struggles with addiction in his memoir and, in the process, helped hundreds of people struggling with alcohol and drug abuse.

In a tribute to his pal in The New York Times last November, Azaria wrote of how Perry helped him confront his problems with alcohol by taking Azaria to his first A.A. meeting.

“We went to this very big gathering. We walked in, and I swear it seemed there were a thousand people in there. He knew the look on my face – demoralised.

He looked at me and said in his Matthew, half-joking, loving way: ‘Isn’t this amazing? God is a bunch of drunks together in a room.’

“At the time, I didn’t know what he meant. I’ve since learned.

“[Matthew] was telling me I needed the support of those people in the room. I needed their stories. I needed to tell them, ‘I don’t think I can make it through the day without drinking.’

“And for me to hear them say, ‘We didn’t, either.’”

Dorothy Day was a laywoman in America who challenged the Church to use its considerable resources to look after the poorest of the poor.

In her time, she was constantly berated by the clerical control freaks. Now, she is a candidate for Canonisation.

She once made this statement: "We have to live our lives in such a way that our lives wouldn't make sense if God did not exist."

I wonder how many of us live like that? Would the way we live make a difference if God did not exist?

Probably, it is more accurate to ask: Does God make any difference to how I live?

Lastly, let me tell you about a great old friend, the late John B. Keane, the playwright from Listowel in Kerry.

It was a privilege to meet John B. and his lovely wife, Mary, especially on the opening nights of his most famous plays. John B. was wise in the way gifted people are.

A family member told me what happened between them on John B.’s deathbed.

This man got a good start in life but was forced to leave his chosen profession because of his own mistakes.

He returned home, got his life together, and eventually succeeded in his new profession.

However, John B. was still worried about him and what the impact of failure might be on him. On his deathbed, the playwright called him into his room to give him some advice on overcoming failure.

Even though he had great difficulty speaking, he said it was essential to move on in life.

This involved three elements. 1. Never be ashamed to ask for forgiveness. 2. Practice and learn to forgive often and generously. 3. Humbly forgive yourself.

Together they recited the Lord’s Prayer. As John B. said, “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses,” he pointed out that the plea for forgiveness came just after, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

He highlighted how the Eucharist and forgiveness are essentially connected. It is only through the Eucharist that we gain the strength to forgive.

That was a pretty good sermon at the end of life. And it still is.