Contemplating the Incarnation

Anthony Redmond

Fr Daniel O’Leary is a well known Irish priest, author, teacher and preacher living in England. Over the past number of years, I have read and reviewed a few of his books, among them Travelling Light, Begin with the Heart, and Unmasking God. He is a truly wonderful and inspirational writer, and his latest book, Treasured and Transformed, is deeply moving, poetical and thought-provoking.

The book is divided into two parts. Many of the articles in the first part have already been published in The Tablet. The second part contains rewritten extracts from his earlier books and also some new material. He tells us that the thrust of the book is to open our hearts to the astonishing understanding of the implication of the Incarnation in our daily lives.

Daniel O’Leary is clearly an admirer of Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry. Kavanagh celebrated God’s presence in the ordinary, everyday things and situations in life. Fr O’Leary discusses God’s presence and closeness in the human condition with all its pain, joy and uncertainty.

One is reminded of that marvellous line from St Augustine: “When you start with humanity you will arrive at God.”  Father O’Leary tells us: “The mystery of faith, correctly understood, reveals that creation, evolution and all the capacities of humanity for death and life are revealed as embraced, healed and transformed from within by the God of Jesus.

“The whole heart-wrenching story of Les Miserables, with its extremes of tragedy, ignominy and despair, with its searing emotion and passion, its human endurance in the face of utter loss, loneliness and longing, is, in faith and fact, the incarnate presence of the Christian God.”

He adds further: “God’s revealed face is always specific and tangible; it is an enfleshing, an embodiment to be endured and enjoyed, reaching its fullness in one vulnerable human being called Jesus. God materialises in human form – the only form in which God’s love can be experienced.”

There is a lyrical quality to Father O’Leary’s writing and his sensitivity and compassion are extremely moving. He has a fondness for the cinema and mentions the film Amour which was about a devoted elderly couple trying to cope with serious illness. It was a film, he says, that made him cry. Watching the relentless stripping away of this aging Parisian couple’s energy to love each other was deeply moving, he says. The cinema was utterly still when the credits ended. Why was this, he asks?

“Because, I suspect, we had been taken to the place of our souls, to that land where our deepest spirit lives – a land we are slow to enter. The context of our lives mitigates against such profound mystery. Too much unhappiness, anger, betrayal, fear and an existential and stressful urgency are filling our days and nights.”

I suppose most of us live our lives on the surface or on a superficial level. We cannot bear too many serious questions, too much reality. We are conscious of the fragility of our lives and anxiety, loneliness and uncertainty are never too far away.

As Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote:  “We seldom find in ourselves alone enough supplies to last the winter of existence.”  We need God to make sense of our existence and to give meaning to our lives.

Fr O’Leary himself says : “It takes courage to set about regaining the lost rhythm of the soul. We generally postpone the work of self-realisation, of the inner journey, of the ultimate questions. Committed to a shallow agenda, we do not live at our deepest truth. We forget that if we do not live our lives abundantly now, we never will. And as death approaches we bitterly regret the greatest tragedy of all – our unlived lives.”

This is a truly fascinating book. It will make you cry with its profound insights and the sheer beauty of its prose.