While cleaning and going through boxes of old papers wasn’t a new year’s resolution for me, I thought it was high time I started to get rid of some of the stuff I’ve been hauling around over the last decade or more. While doing so I came upon the funeral commemoration booklet that accompanied the funeral of Fr. Sean O’Sullivan which was held on March 11, 1989 at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, some 26 years ago this March. I had the privilege of knowing Fr. Sean when he served as Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Toronto when I was first responding seriously to the call to priesthood I had always felt from the Lord. Fr. Sean, prior to becoming a priest, was the youngest member of Parliament in Canadian history and served as MP for the riding of Hamilton-Wentworth.
Fr. Sean had been diagnosed with Leukemia in the early 1980’s and had struggled with its bleak prospects for his future. Near the end of his rather short life of just thirty-seven years, Fr. Sean had the opportunity to say goodbye to those he had come to know so well and his words resound with gratitude to God for his many blessings and the wondrous gift and call to the priesthood. Fr. Sean wrote; A FINAL TESTAMENT:
“A few words in closing… Those who have known me best will smile kindly at my desire to have the last word. It is now time to reflect upon the journey of this earthly life and to look forward in anticipation to the life which awaits us all. To do both is to be filled with an immense awe and equal gratitude: gratitude, foremost, to Almighty God for loving me enough to give me the gift of life. He has graced my life with faith in His Divine Son and in the experience of His limitless mercy. It is never too early – nor too late – to return to the Lord. We are His beloved children. All of us.
He has blessed me with the gift of priesthood. I could never earn nor deserve it. Often, like so many of His gifts, I took it for granted and failed to fully appreciate it. This is the precious gift whereby I most fully experienced His love for me, even though I remained weak and sinful and full of human pride.
I did many things wrong in my life. But one thing I know I did right. I said “Yes” to Christ’s invitation to share His priesthood. Upon writing of this decision to Cardinal Carter, I received a most apt reply:
“The movement you give yourself is from God. Simply look on it as a grace, not as if you were doing something for Him. You are the true beneficiary.”
I thank God as well for the gift of my family and so many close friends. In their love I learned how to love, and felt God’s love reflected. As a poet put it so aptly (William Butler Yates):
“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I have such friends.”
My beloved parents are among the most gentle people I have ever known. Any good that I may have done, I owe to them. They have been the best teachers. Their example of a good faith, quietly lived, showed me the importance and beauty of doing one’s duty gladly; of living out one’s vocation.
My beloved brothers, sister and in-laws, accepted me at all stages of my life, and their good humour prevented me from becoming too self-possessed. My nephews and nieces added to this experience of a large and loving family; people who naturally choose to be kind and gentle, and of help and service to others. This world, so burdened by hurt, needs such good people. I love them all – and shall, forever.
So, I do not say good-bye. Rather, it is time for me to say farewell – until we meet again. For my belief in Jesus Christ assured me, as it did St. Paul, that life is about to change, not end. I have not left you. I have simply been called ahead, along the road which we all must travel.
It is fashionable to say that one has no regrets. But, of course, being human, I do have regrets.
I regret all the good I could have done and did not do.
I regret any harm or hurt I may have in any way caused others. As Pope Paul VI expressed so I also ask…
“forgiveness of all those I may have offended, failed to serve and love enough;” gladly and without reservation I “forgive those who should have desired forgiveness from me. May the peace of the Lord be with us!”
Life’s experiences have taught me that love and suffering are mysterious links to God. We must take the risks of love and continue to do so, even when that involves suffering, hurt and misunderstanding. Always love. Never be afraid to love. And complete love through generous forgiveness.
Since April of 1983 I have known of my likely death from Leukemia. The wonders of modern medicine have been surpassed only by the tremendous human kindness of such dedicated doctors, nurses, their co-workers, and those countless individuals whose prayers and concern have touched my heart.
So, while it has not been of my timing or choosing, death now awaits. In His mercy, God has allowed me this time of grace to put my house in order and to prepare for that transition. He has given me this extra time of prayer and the special comfort of His Blessed Mother. I do not know how God or prayers work – just that they do. Devotion to Mary is not some Catholic abstraction or pious nicety. In honouring Mary I have felt closer to her Son; I have experienced the grace of her loving protection.
The Lord has given me the opportunity to suffer, as all priests must, – for my own sins and, with Jesus, for those of His people. Again, I think of Cardinal Carter’s prophetic letter on the eve of my Ordination:
“The Priesthood of Christ has been the joy of my life. No privilege of the highest order can compare with it… I offer you a life of dedication, sometimes a very real hardship, but, with grace, perseverance and self-donation, a life of joy and fulfillment… It is exactly on the Cross that we are our truest priestly selves.”
From the beginning I have offered any suffering in reparation for my sins; for the strengthening of the Church; and for the grace of mutual forgiveness. In death I renew those prayers of supplication to our loving Father.
I said that I would like to have the last word. But, of course, God always has the last word.
As St. Paul observes:
“None of us lives as his own and none of us dies as his own… Both in life and death we are the Lord’s.”
He has now issued the word of invitation to come home. Without merit of my own, trusting only in His abundant mercy, I am going gently towards the goal. Again, I thank God for a wonderful life, and for all those who have immeasurably enriched my life by their love and kindness.
I promise to remember you all and to pray for you. And I ask you to continue to pray for me. In that loving dialogue with God, the source of all life and goodness, we shall never be separated. In your charity, please pray for my soul, that God will heed your prayers and welcome me into eternal life.
My dear family and friends: I thank, love and bless you all in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Sean Patrick O’Sullivan
December 14, 1988
Feast of St. John of the Cross
As benefactors of a great privilege to pray for others l remember my Aunt Mary Fry, (d. Sept. 5, 2013), my father, John Forget, (d. July 8, 2014), Fr. Sean O’Sullivan, and all those many parishioners of St. Leo the Great and the many family and friends I have known who have died and have been commended to the Lord and the wondrous, unfathomable life He promises us forever. God bless and grant heavenly, eternal rest to them all.