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It pulls no punches in terms of Daniel’s struggles to cope with his diagnosis, the challenges of the cancer treatment, and the emotional rollercoaster of facing his own death, which each of us must face at some point in time. During his final illness, Daniel re-examined his faith through a new lens, as he put his trust in God, discovering what was truly important to him. In this final journal, he chronicles the ebbs and flows of his journey and in an honest unfiltered way, works through his questions and his doubts, coming to a level of understanding, trust and acceptance. His deep trust in God’s unconditional love makes this challenging and inspirational reading.

And as Daniel reflects on his faith and beliefs he writes” Even in my current shock and confusion around the sudden shattering of my cancer-hit life, everything I have ever believed about God, everything I have ever written about Divine love, beauty and compassion incarnate in everything and everyone, is, in no way doubted, revised or questioned - not a comma, not a word. It is all now a continuing journey of the soul, a further introduction to the meaning of love.”

When Daniel O’Leary died on the 21st January 2019 his diary was booked up for 18 months ahead, still full of engagements, criss-crossed out by the cancer diagnosis he had received in June 2018. This life–changing prognosis was traumatic for him and felled him in his tracks. This book reveals a soul in chaos. It has the extremes of a torn kite in a storm, as it sweeps and swoops between hope and despair; throws cartwheels and steadies out; crashes with fear and continues with distressing rawness  and real courage. During his final illness Daniel found a great clarity about what is important in life and what is not. There is great honesty here that can only emerge when the circus of religious activities leaves town, and when people are encouraged to really explore what their Christianity means to them.

And even then, as I know to my cost and current experience, when our familiar way of living is disrupted or challenged by a new bombshell falling into our lives….either to do with a great loss, a great love or a great suffering….. we are still unlikely to let go of our past holy habits, our past devotional certainties, our inherent self- protection from pain, because the dark unknown, the surrender of control, are just too fearful and fearsome. In all of this, as far as I can now gather, the search is not for a new self, but the true self we have always been; not for a new and special name, but reclaiming and recovering the name we always had. And that name is BELOVED…..”

……reminding us of the lines from Raymond Carver “ And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so ? I did. And what did you want ? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

Alongside his desire to be calm and reflective, Daniel finds his anger surfaces also when he looks at the Institutional Church today “During these months of my sometimes angry reflection, of my painful disillusionment, of my sharp criticism of the Institution’s shocking male arrogance and triumphalism, I find comfort and trust, delight and healing, only in the most beautiful face of the Incarnate God, the true heart of the Christian faith”.

On page 166 he comments that David Attenborough cries more now than ever before: the more recent reason being the plight of the young penguins dying in the Antartic ……this triggers off his own moments of personal vulnerability, of tears and weeping and he admits that his heart is broken  at the gravity of his situation, “I cried a lot those late summer days ……. since my first reaction to the news of cancer …. and that response has spread out into other vulnerable dimensions of my life, as though the possibility of losing it soon has opened up a heightened sensitivity to deeper things … a lone seagull swooping across my window can do it …. or a giggling child on her father’s back, or the first browning of the leaves, or memories of my Mother at Christmas. I cry at things of pathos, of beauty, of cruelty, of terror, certain words of intimacy in an email, a touch I know that is full of compassion, a lush descending strain of a Mozart concerto, a look of love …….. they are not tears of doom and gloom, of desperation or sadness. They are the tears of things “ Lacrima rerum” that lie at the heart of everything” ….

Finally on page 197 he writes….. And my secret hope is that in your own hour of need, you may find unexpected graces to hold you,as you ponder these divine words of pure love and being …. Rabindranath Tagore’s poem always rings a bell in my heart….

“I thought that my voyage had come to its end at the last limit of my power;

That the path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted

And the time had come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me and when old words die out on the tongue,

New melodies break out from the heart;

And where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders”

Surely a book of reflections that is worth having …..




Daniel … or Dónal O’Leary’s roots were truly Irish, deep in the soil of Rathmore, a gentle place in Co Kerry,  where he often came home  to refresh his mind , heart and body. He worked as priest in parishes across the Diocese of Leeds for 30 years, and for 20 years taught Theology and Religious Education in St Mary’s University College in London. He was known across the world as a best-selling author, inspiring speaker and retreat facilitator. I had the privilege of being part of one of his inspiring retreats in Dromantine some years ago.

The title of this book may seem depressing at first glance, but the content is anything but depressing. Despite his courage in writing this, his final book, he does not attempt to conceal his anguish: indeed the reverse.  Personal authenticity was always one of his goals, and he sets out to be honest at all costs: the early morning terrors, the inability to see beyond his own pain, especially post- diagnosis, the awful physical difficulties and the blows to his ego. As death was approaching in January 2019, he managed to complete this book which is an incredibly raw and courageous account detailing his thoughts and feelings during his cancer journey.

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