A few weeks before he died, the much-loved priest and spiritual writer, agreed to write a last piece for The Tablet, where so many of his articles had first appeared. In it he speaks directly to his friends and his many admirers of his struggle to make his peace with the cancer that was killing him
Dear Reader, it was June 2018 and I was in fine fettle. Fit as a trout, I was booked for retreats into 2020. One day I passed some blood, bought a pack of suppositories, and carried on. “Nothing serious,” the doctor said, but check it out sometime, just in case. I did. And now I’m writing about the last few months of my life.
I am 82, and the recipient of a cancer diagnosis. I’m falling into an abyss of uncertainty. On the surface, and well below it, my life is profoundly changed – and sometimes it’s a terrible hell of darkness. How do I survive? Do I pray? I have not asked God for a miracle, or to cure me, or to shrink my tumour. Only to open my heart as wide as it will go.
I know many of you are storming heaven on my behalf; you are having Masses said for me, completing novenas, going on pilgrimages, praying for my healing, for the shrinkage of my growing tumour. The prayers are sometimes couched in military terms – they speak of Daniel O’Leary’s “battle with cancer”. But all I have ever wanted is the grace of acceptance, of surrender, of trust in God’s will. Even though the grinning face of death becomes embossed on every new page of these last mornings of my days, that is the face I must embrace gratefully, befriend with my whole self.