Dear Donagh, Thank you for your website, I love it, it’s one of my all-time favourites. I hope I'm not being presumptuous in making a suggestion. I notice you put up new content every four weeks. Why not follow the calendar month instead? It would have this advantage. The new uploads would seldom begin with a Sunday. I checked it, and I found that only one or two months in each year begin on a Sunday. At present you always begin with a Sunday. Some of us are on the lookout during the week for a few ideas for a Sunday homily, and your uploads come just a bit late!
That's my suggestion. I also have a question, before coming to the real question. Where do you get your photos? Do you take them yourself?
Now for the real question. It’s unfair to ask, of course, but I'm just bouncing it, let’s say. Have you any wise thoughts on celibacy? No need to give a long answer, one idea would be enough, something to go on with. I find most of the things written on the subject too abstract, idealistic and unreal. I'd appreciate your reaction. Many thanks, Donagh. JH
Dear JH, I’m really thankful to you for your suggestion. Like all good ideas it’s obvious once it’s said. I’ll ask my nephew, who is our webmaster, to change it right away. (His website, by the way, is (www.acorncode.com).
The photos: I take them myself with a digital camera. I travel a lot, giving retreats mainly in Ireland, but in many other countries as well. In fact I'm in Norway as I write this. I’ll put some Norwegians pictures with these uploads....
Celibacy, in quick time! Yes I have one practical idea.
Do you know Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book, On Death and Dying? She was a pioneer, as you know, in the modern study of death and dying. To recap quickly. From her observation she distinguished five stages that the dying person typically passes through. First there is disbelief, then bargaining, then anger, then depression, and finally serene acceptance. (I’m not sure that I have these in the right order.) This was based, as I say, on observation and experience, not on any theories about how people ought to die! In due course other people soon began to apply it - like all good discoveries - to other areas of life, to see if it was also true there. They found that the bereaved typically went through the same five stages - a little differently, but nonetheless really. The stages can last longer with the bereaved, because they have more time! Then people began to observe patients who had been maimed or who had lost a limb, and they found that they too passed through these stages. It has proved a useful insight into the human reaction to any trauma whatsoever.
Now here’s the suggestion: why not apply it to celibacy! Celibacy is more than just a trauma; it has a positive side. But we tend to talk so idealistically about its positive side that we don’t respect or care for the traumatic side of it. There is a sense in which it is an on-going trauma. I don’t know if all of the Kubler-Ross stages might be identifiable in the living of celibacy, but it is very tempting to identify the stages at which different people tend to get stuck - and especially oneself! There’s a day soon after final profession or ordination to the deaconate when a person says, “What have I done?!” That could be the disbelieving stage! As for the bargaining stage, you’ll have to fill it in from your own experience. The angry and depressed stages are very obvious, and unfortunately they can last for a lifetime. But finally there’s no one who wouldn’t want to come into an open serene space where the agonies and confusions of the previous stages are past. I always say we haven’t really given up something until we have given it up with joy. But it has to be real joy that has emerged from the pain of experience, not a feigned joy learned from books. There are joyless celibates, but there are also joyful and serene ones. We have to mourn the loss of marriage and family, so that eventually our joy will be real.
That's just a quick thought, J. Thanks for your kind words, and for your suggestion.