Jose Pagola and the Algarve

I walked the beach very early this morning (as usual.) Then I sat on the lifeguard’s chair and listened. The noise was powerful. The beach was deserted; It was a shared companionship (those waves and myself.) Nature’s chattering and screaming was beautiful. My mind rambled. I even thought of Augustine who describes the awesomeness of God in nature – illustrating his image with an ant; an elephant; a whale and the waves (blue, grey, green, dark, white). ‘City of God.’ After my long walk on the beach, I thought of Glasgow Rangers, in their pre-season training on the dunes at Gullane. (My joints have their groans and so I feel a wee sympathy for the Rangers team!)
I am in the Algarve. This has to be part of the ‘100 fold’. Priesthood/Church ministry
has its perks! The sun, the beach, the walks, the smells, the sounds, the shrubs, the flowers, the birds all add to an idyllic atmosphere. And I am blessed in the great quietness.
It is fifty years since I very reluctantly set out on this way of life (religious). It has been an exciting fifty years (and continues to be a wonderful gift). My time in the Algarve is the gift of the Maloneys. Oliver (who died here on the 21st March) even in his dying, was arranging for me to come out. He and Connie, believed that I needed to be removed to the Algarve or else I would never take a break. I am privileged indeed and humbled at such generosity.
We celebrated Eucharist last Sunday around the Table as we did here with the Maloneys last year. Bread was broken; stories were shared; blessings were revealed. The challenge too was provocative: Liturgy is not Worship unless it reaches the innards of those present and is celebrated in a language that is real.
Oliver’s books provide my reading material. The more immediate ones are The Furrow and The Tablet (these still arrive). Our many long conversations meander through my mind. I need to do more than just have a break. He would be impressed with my holiday reading even though he might try to dissuade me from ‘doing such work.’ (It could be called that.)
I have read Jose Pagola – ‘Jesus: An Historical Approximation.’ 2012). I miss Oliver. He would have shared a rigorous debate on this book. I miss the working lunches we used to have – where real Eucharist was celebrated as the Bread of each day and the bread of each other, was truly broken.
I wonder what do we read as priests, or do we? What do bishops read or do they? I wonder what we might come up with, if we took Pagola’s book, mixed in with Pope Francis’ (Joy of the Gospel) and tried to remodel our Church; our parishes; our Deanery; our Diocese; our Liturgies. Can we ever ‘minister’ if there isn’t rigorous discussion, serious study and a deep commitment to making Jesus Christ and Gospel relevant in every age? We so badly need also the independence of colleges like All Hallows. The Church lives and we live only if questions are seriously dealt with. And yet too often, those who ask questions have been told that they are disloyal. How can we ever explain, excuse or apologise for what has happened Sean Fagan or Tony Flannery et alia?
Pagola’s book is rich in detail; is rather wordy but fluent; is astonishing in its scholarship; is most impressive in the foot notes. What comes across above all to me, is a confirmation of my own experiences, reflections and the similar obvious wonder and freshness of Christ that I meet each day. I recognise the Jesus of Pagola. I recognise the Scriptures as presented by Pagola. The people in Finglas would recognise this too without reading Pagola.
I cannot claim a deep intellectual grasp of the great progress of Biblical studies since Divino Affante Spiritu (1943). But I know what Scripture does, when it is absorbed, into the daily lives of ordinary people and then is truly celebrated. I know too that the mis-use of Scripture is a gross neglect of Christ (even blasphemous) and this is very evident in much of our Church practice.
I believe that many have left our Church simply because some of what we do, and how we do it – has little or no resonance in the life of so many. I don’t believe much of Pagola’s revelation of Christ has been seen or met in our official church life. Here is a quote from Pagola: “Fundamentalism amounts to a kind of intellectual suicide.” That disease has damaged some of our church life. Literalism and fundamentalism is dangerously rampant in how we have presented Jesus Christ and Scripture. The formality of Liturgy ( an example could be the stupidity of the new Missal – how did our supposed leaders with even basic theology or a sense of the incarnation or a hint of what is Liturgy or any grasp of the English language, allow such nonsense become normative? ). What about the weird and unimpressive arguments used to retain the status quo on women in the church; or the dodgy scriptural language used to justify the present rigidity on priesthood or the so called ‘ipsissima verba’ claims which have been peddled or the ‘spiritualising’ of Christ which so distorts his humanity and much more?
I wish Oliver was here to add his mischievous taunt to the bubbling conversations in my head at the moment. I am distracted. My beach has been invaded – a few people have toddled or jogged onto the beach. The sun is getting too hot for me. I will go back to the house. The four women who came out here ‘to mind me’ will have appeared by now. Any celibate would have to be exhilarated at the presence of such rowdy women. This harem- collective is delightful until they issue contradictory instructions to a very nervous driver! Or scatter feminine preoccupations around the quietness of the house. We will begin shortly to plan food / shopping/ washing/ our prayer leader for the day. The rest of my reading, will be of a simpler and more escapist kind. I am happy to have spent some time with Pagola. I found it powerful. Oliver would be pleased. I could never have read it in Finglas. How have others found this book?
Seamus Ahearne osa

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  1. Seamus, delighted you are having some rest and relaxation.
    I am reading Pagola at the moment. I find it so powerful and energising to meet the man from Nazareth in His own country, with His own people, and to meet Him in the raw daily grind of spreading the Kingdom. To see Him and His life without the “dressing up” of the institutional church. Seeing Him as the first Christians saw him. He is truly real,true man and true God.
    I thoroughly agree that using Pagola’s book and The Joy of the Gospel would provide a wonderful basis on which to produce a programme of evangelisation.

  2. Donal Dorr says:

    Thanks very much, Seamus, for this lovely, nourishing and inspiring/challenging piece. At present I’m working my way through Pagola’s book for the third time. I find that the best way for me to do this is just to take a page, or even half a page, each day and take time to let it sink in. As you say, the footnotes are wonderfully impressive. My heart gives a little extra beat each time I see Sean Freyne’s studies cited in the footnotes.

  3. Thank you, Seamus, for yet another wonderful, refreshing, and challenging piece. I have yet to read Pagola’s book but in answer to your question, “I wonder what do we read as priests, or do we?” I am on my third reading of Scott Hahn’s book, “The Lamb’s Supper.” And I can assure anyone reading this that you will never celebrate Eucharist in the same way again after reading this book. Concurrently, I am also reading his follow-up book, “Consuming the Word,” which is equally as inspirational and thought-provoking.
    These books came to my mind when I read this quote from your piece: “Liturgy is not worship unless it reaches the innards of those present and is celebrated in a language that is real.” And so, I believe that the celebrant has the awesome privilege and responsibility of doing everything in his power to help worship reach our “innards.” I suggest that a woman could have a very important role here.
    Finally, I was struck by this quote from your article: “I believe many have left our church simply because some of what we do and how we do it has little or no resonance in the lives of so many.” Only last night I read that some saint–I forget who–said that nobody would ever leave the church if they really “got” Eucharist and everything it implies.
    Are women better at seeing the need to create more sensitive, prayerful connections during the celebration of the Eucharist, or are we just more critical than our male counterparts??
    Bless you, Seamus! We need to clone you!

  4. Richard Neumann says:

    A great reflection. I was struck with the sentence “Liturgy is not worship unless it reaches the innards of those present and is celebrated in a language that is real”. So honest and true. How revolutionary it is in today’s world.

  5. Sandra Mc Sheaffrey says:

    You ask how others have found the book. It is a lifeline. Iglesia descalza has English translations of Pagola’s gospel commentaries.

  6. Mary Vallely says:

    I am revisiting Pagola’s book which I read nearly two years ago and it affected me in a similar way to Seamus. There are some wonderful gems in it.
    “The reign of God is present wherever people show mercy.”
    “The therapy that Jesus applied was his own person: his passionate love of life, his wholehearted acceptance of every sick person, his power to renew a person from the bottom up, the contagion of his faith in human beings. His power to awaken unrecognised energies in people created the conditions that made the recovery of health possible.”
    The book would make a great gift to someone as an encouragement to a deeper reading of the Gospels and I agree with Seamus that studying it along with E.G. would be a worthwhile exercise for any parish group. I also think that joy is such an underrated emotion. It should be nourished and fed regularly by such readings. We need to exude more joy ourselves! 🙂

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