Seeking out the truth in life

Seeking out the truth in life The boy Jesus disputing with the Doctors in the Temple – a paradigm of how to debate.
A Quest for Meaning: A Journey Through Philosophy, Science and Spirituality, by Gearóid Ó Donnchadha
(Orpen Press, €14.99/ £12.99)

This is a stimulating book by an author who in his lifetime as a teacher invited and delighted in argument and debate.

Gearóid Ó Donnchadha was a very committed priest and a very committed academic. Born on March 24, 1933, he grew up in Killarney, Co. Kerry, and was educated at the Presentation Monastery school, St Brendan’s College, Killarney, and St Patrick’s College Maynooth, where he was ordained in 1957.


He ministered in the early years of his priesthood in his home diocese of Kerry. Thereafter, he studied and lectured in a number of colleges and universities in the US. Retiring to his diocese in 1980, thence to the end of his active ministry, he lectured on sociology in the Tralee Regional Technical College which has now become a constituent of the Munster Technological University. The book is a collection of musings and reflections from his various postings.

At the outset Gearóid sets out his intention. He regards it as a mission to place before an increasingly educated public the facts of an area about which there is a great lack of understanding; the area of the spiritual, of God, of theology, of morality, of philosophy and of the history of religion.

He also has an ancillary aim, namely to promote empathy. This he describes as a human being’s capacity to perceive and understand another human being’s emotions, feelings and thoughts. This, he claims is a crucial factor for a successful teacher – student relationship.

Gearóid highlights the awesome advances in the physical and social sciences during the last half-century. He is particularly interested in psychology and psychiatry and especially the Viennese School of Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Viktor Frankl (1905-1997).

He dismisses Adler’s attempt to explain human conduct in materialist terms and the will to dominate others. And he rejects Freud’s claim that all human conduct is prompted by the sexual instinct. He finds Frankl’s explanation of human behaviour more amenable. Curiously, for one who spent time in a Concentration Camp, Frankl stressed the power of love and the need to respect the rights of others and promoted both of these in his School of Psychotherapy.

Gearóid provides a ‘warts and all’ account of the 2,000-year history of the Church. Underlying his narrative is an ever-recurring theme.


He notes that, of those charged with its development and oversight, some adopted a legalistic approach, while others were more focused on the crucial importance of love and mercy.

This dualism he traces back to the Council in Jerusalem, where Peter and Paul differed on the need for Gentile converts to submit to Jewish religious regulations. In this regard he is severely critical of a number of self-aggrandising popes who he regards to be responsible for an over-legalistic approach in the Church down through the centuries.

In his reflections Gearóid does not omit referring to what have become known as ‘hot-button issues’ in the Church today: married priests, women priests, re-assessment of the moral teaching on homosexuality, marriage after divorce, democratisation of the Church at all levels. On these and other topics, he has vigorous and radical comments to make. However, he is not afraid to challenge the prevailing culture. For instance, he is adamant in stressing the intrinsic evil of abortion.

One thing is certain about this book. It will make you think, and that of course was Gearóid’s main aim in writing it.

Author Gearóid Ó Donnchadha navigating the shoals of his life.