But you know him

Last Saturday, 13 May, a man was declared “blessed” in Dublin, Ireland. John Sullivan (1861-1933) was the last child of Sir Edward Sullivan, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and he was brought up in the Anglican Church which nourished in him a deep devotion to his Christian faith.

Following his father, John became a lawyer and, on his father’s death, he inherited a considerable income and liked to wear fashionable clothes about the city. But a new spirit was stirring in him and he started to visit the sick in hospitals and the poor and bring them little gifts.

In 1896, at the age of 35, he entered the Catholic Church where he was to spend the remaining half (37 years) of his life. He intensified his visits to the sick and poor and in 1900 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus. He spent most of his life as a priest in the Jesuit College for boys at Clongowes. There he used to visit the poor and sick in the villages and country area and he brought healing – spiritual and often physical – to many. His reputation for holiness grew and the boys in the school noticed it. Fr Michael Sweetman, himself a renowned Jesuit, wrote:

My first-hand memories of John Sullivan were imbibed between the ages of eleven and seventeen. This is not a bad period for storing accurate impressions of a man. One’s internal falsifying faculties are still undeveloped, and a man gets a chance of appearing just as he is. Fr Sullivan was a familiar figure of school life accepted quite casually as a saint.

Michael describes John Sullivan’s efforts to teach history to boys “in that early adolescent stage of the struggle to avoid education.” But,

It didn’t matter in the least what he said, or how: it didn’t matter in the least how he failed to maintain discipline or teach history. He was giving us a unique lesson in the things of the soul, providing us with an almost unbreakable assurance of the truth and value of our faith. … We took it for granted that this patient clear-eyed old priest … lived wholly for God; only later did we become aware that that was a very unusual thing to do.”

Jesus speaks, in John 14, of the “Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows him.”  And then he goes on, “But you know him, because he is with you, he is in you.” This is the gift open to us that we celebrate at Easter time and Pentecost. People who saw John Sullivan sensed that he lived this gift. He knew. To the casual visitor he was just one of the Jesuits in the community. But those who knew him realised that he was one who lived in union with God and was completely “empty” of self. Such a person is immeasurably attractive and the crowds at last week’s event in Dublin witness to this.

21 May 2017               Easter Sunday 6 A

Acts 8:5…17               1 Peter 3:15-18                                    John 14:15-21

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Post published in: Faith