The late Michael Paul Gallagher SJ’s last book, Into Extra Time, finished just weeks before he died and published by Messenger Publications, was launched in Belvedere House on Tuesday 15 March by his friend and fellow theologian Eamon Conway. The book chronicles his final illness. Its subtitle is ‘Living through the final stages of cancer and jottings along the way’.
Michael Paul’s fellow Jesuits, colleagues and friends gathered first in Belvedere Chapel for a moving ceremony to mark his passing. His friends Aidan Mathews and Fr Dermot Lane read short excerpts from the book in the style of a litany prayer.
Brendan Comerford SJ, a long-time friend of Michael Paul’s, gave the homily. He spoke of first getting to know Michael Paul when the latter was his lecturer in University College Dublin. Not to be outdone by a class and flatmate who’d managed to get an invite to dinner with Michael Paul in Milltown Park, Brendan used the pretext of wanting to know more about the Byron’s poetry in order to wangle a similar invite. Michael Paul took him to his study and presented him with some books on the poet, and after a brief discussion said bluntly,”Now tell me the real reason why you’re here!”
Thirty-one year late and as a Jesuit, Brendan visited Michael Paul shortly before his death. They talked about that night and Michael Paul seemed happy to agree that perhaps he had been a sort of ‘John the Baptist’ figure, pointing Brendan to Jesus.
Eamon Conway echoed a similar theme in his talk later in Belvedere House. He said it was clear from Michael Paul’s book that he wanted to evangelise always in a new way, and in particular to introduce the possibility of faith to those who had problems with the prevailing church culture or those who felt justifiably alienated from the possibility of belief.
He said that on a personal level the book had challenged him to examine his own prayer life, to revisit it with more commitment and enthusiasm.
He noted also the honesty and insights that prevailed in Michael Paul’s recounting of his struggle with terminal cancer. “Faith is the ability to survive our moods” was an apt aphorism from G.K. Chesterton, quoted by Michael Paul. The Ignatian maxim of ‘finding God in all things’ was everywhere in the book, even in the ‘waves of fog’ that Michael Paul spoke of as he tried to grapple with the presence of Christ during his suffering. Michael Paul’s description of dying was of a daily surrender that was ‘low key’ as opposed to, say, Karl Rahner SJ’s more lofty surrendering into the arms of the infinite.
“In the final analysis,” Professor Conway added, “the book was a type of resurrection or Emmaus, with Michael Paul speaking to us with characteristic wisdom and insight from a place where death has no sway.”