Kevin O'Brien as J.R.R. Tolkien on the "Hobbit Hole" set for the television special Frodo's Journey.

Who am I?  Here are some clues ...
  • Author of two books, The Church of the Kevin (listed as one of the Best Books of 2010) and A Bad Actor's Guide to the Meaning of Life (to be published in 2017 by ACS Press and distributed by TAN Books).
  • Creator of Grunky (whatever that is).


Love and the Meaning of Life

Here's an article I wrote for an upcoming issue of the St. Austin Review about my course Love and the Meaning of Life ...


Love and the Meaning of Life
by
Kevin O’Brien

I am teaching a course for Homeschool Connections called Love and the Meaning of Life.  I teach online using a webcam.  My students, from around the world, are intelligent and sensitive high school aged teens who are homeschooled - and who, much to my delight as a teacher, are eager to learn.


This course examines the most crucial question of all.  What is love?  And what is the Meaning of Life?  Obviously the Meaning of Life is Love, since God is Love (1 John 4:8).  But what is love?  And how are we to fulfill the great commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor?  And, as this issue of the St. Austin Review asks, what is “True Love” and how does “Passionate Reason” relate to “Romantic Feeling”?


In this course we examine Love and the Meaning of Life using both fiction and non-fiction as our guides.  Here’s a brief review of what we’ve learned.

Scripture - We begin by looking at a few passages about love from the Bible, the most famous of which is St. Paul’s great Hymn to Love from First Corinthians 13.  And yet, while Paul declares that Love is greater even than Faith or Hope, and while he enumerates many of the characteristics of love, his praise of agape tends to go in one ear and out the other, especially since it is so familiar to us, and since my students often hear it read while nodding off in church.  Thus we need to examine love more closely, and from other perspectives.


Socrates - Students tend to be hooked more by what Socrates says about love than St. Paul, for our selection from Plato’s Symposium is not familiar to them.  In the midst of the Symposium Socrates relates an encounter he had with a wise woman, Diotima, who taught him about Love, or the aspect of love the Greeks called eros.  Eros, says Diotima, is a quasi-divine character, a mean between men and gods, who bridges the gap between mortals and immortals.  Love is a kind of beggar, always in want and desirous of and eager for that which is beyond him (compare Psalm 42, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God”).  Love is therefore humble, recognizing his vulnerability, his want and his incompleteness, which is made complete only by the beloved - by God - who is beyond this earthly realm.  And yet Love, though poor and in want, already possesses a richness; Love has something of God - something divine - already in him, even now, even as he desires; for if he had not a kind of hint of heaven, he would not long for God as he does.  Eros is thus a kind of grace, a foretaste of the Divine.  What, then, is the connection between the agape of St. Paul and the personified eros of Socrates?  This becomes the main question in our course.


The Call - In this course, the first work of fiction we study is my own one-act play “The Call”.  It is the story of a young man named Samuel who feels that his life is pointless.  He has the heart of a poet but the bank balance of a poet as well.  He is certain that life is either utterly meaningless or has a deep and profound meaning he has not discovered yet - and yet his brother Eli, who is a financial success with a big house in the suburbs and more than one marriage under his belt, chides Sam for being chronically unfocused and chronically underemployed.  Eli sees a “vocation” as being a career and a way to make money and buy things; Sam sees a “vocation” as being a “call” (which is what the word literally means) - but a call from whom?  A call to what?  At one point, Sam meets Sister Maria, a woman religious, who understands that, for her, the “religious life” was a vocation, a “call” from God, and that the deep and profound meaning of life comes from answering this call, and answering it with love.  


And yet Sam responds, “I can’t love!  It hurts too much, hurts like writing the great poem that only suffering can produce.  And I can not endure that  suffering – or the sweetness of that poem.  It tears out the core of my being!  I can’t live that way!  I can’t love God.  That would take me past the breaking point.  And I’m already broke!”


I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say that my students liked this play more than most of the material we read, for it engages the problem of “how to love” for a young person in a world where all things - including love - seem to have become devoid of meaning.


The Four Loves - Sam’s reluctance to endure the heartbreak of love echoes something C. S. Lewis says in his book The Four Loves, based on talks he gave on BBC Radio.  One of the favorite passages in that book for most of my students was this: "There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”


Lewis looks at four aspects of love, all of which, he says, need a kind of pruning or discipline in order to be properly ordered, a discipline without which any of these “four loves” can dominate us and can turn into something other than love.  Two of Lewis’ “four loves” are eros and agape, which, when separated from one another, cause nothing but trouble - a lesson we learn from other books in this course.


Wuthering Heights - For instance, Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is clearly all eros and no agape.  His love for Catherine is not exactly lustful in the sexual sense, but it is possessive.  He desires her as an addict desires a drug and he will do anything to possess her and anything to hurt those he thinks are keeping her from him.  But the positive side of eros is also illustrated in Heathcliff, for his love for Catherine has a religious aspect to it - it seeks for something beyond, something beautiful, something that echoes the song of the divine, and something that (as in the most evocative of 19th century Romantic fiction) is attainable only in death - only by passing into the infinite; for eros, in this world, is incapable of being fully satisfied.  As St. Paul tells us in First Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face”.  And it is the “then” - the beyond - the infinite - that can only bring Heathcliff to Catherine “face to face”.


But it is not only the “then”, but also the “now” which unites them, in so far as eros is tempered by agape - in so far as lust is mortified by self-sacrifice and forgiveness - in so far as desire is transmuted into condescension and compassion.  For the real solution of the Problem of Love in Wuthering Heights comes in the next generation, when the new Catherine (Cathy) and the new Heathcliff (Haerton) forgive one another and find that when agape redeems eros lovers can live in peace.


The Lame Shall Enter First - But while Heathcliff shows us eros without agape, you might say that Sheppard in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “The Lame Shall Enter First” shows us agape without eros.  Sheppard is a kind of “super social worker” who decides to reform Rufus, a homeless juvenile delinquent, at the expense of his own son, Norton.  Sheppard’s love is unreal, suppressing emotion and even faith in God, for the sake of a mere project.  Sheppard is a kind of materialistic Pelagian who believes that we can lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  His “condescending” love becomes “condescending” in the bad sense of the word: it becomes patronizing, insipid, complaisant - and even worse, clinical.  Man is improved by means of planning alone; Jesus is a myth and Social Work can save us - or so our False Sheppard thinks.  This is a form of goodness, but as Rufus the bad boy exclaims, “I don't care if he's good or not. He ain't right!”  In other words, Sheapprd’s love is divorced from reality; it is a hollowed out parody of love, and the fullness of this realization does not hit Sheppard until the story’s tragic conclusion.


God is Love - The need for understanding and achieving a love that is real, and avoiding a false love that is good but that “ain’t right” is addressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).  If eros can be thought of as “ascending love” - a love which is needy and rises to that which is beyond - and agape can be thought of as “descending love” - a love which is giving and “condescends”, lowering itself for the sake of that which is below and in need, then, Benedict says, “Eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.”


St. Francis, Dante and Shakespeare - And perhaps the high point of Christian culture, when this insight about the unity of love is best realized and expressed in life and in literature, comes in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, especially in the lives and works of great saints and poets.  In our class we therefore read selections from


  • Chesterton’s St. Francis of Assisi, in which G. K. Chesterton explains how the apparent contradictions in St. Francis - the exuberant and impulsive saint who was so often ascetic and self-denying, the poet who praises all of creation but also praises “Sister Death” - Chesterton explains how these apparent inconsistencies are united and explained by the word “love”.  Francis is a lover, and his love of God a kind of romance.  


  • We read as well selections from Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which Dante the Pilgrim, in traveling through hell, purgatory and heaven realizes that his eros for Beatrice, when purged of sinfulness and selfishness, and when directed by his lady and by Our Lady to the beatific vision of the Holy Trinity, is the beginning of a love that transcends mere earthly desire.  Dante’s adventure forms in him (and in us) a purified human love that becomes more and more able to see face-to-face the love of God, the divine and perfect love “that moves the sun and the other stars.”


  • And we study as well Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, the famous comedy in which the lover Benedick, who disdains love and vows “to live a bachelor” is made to forego his foolish hubris by engaging the challenge of his lady Beatrice - the challenge to right the wrong of her slandered cousin Hero.  This convergence of the dual plot of Much Ado makes Benedick grow up and take love seriously, illustrating what Chesterton says elsewhere, “The philosophers of today have started to divide loving from fighting and to put them into opposite camps. [But] the two things imply each other … To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust… but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack.”  Realizing this is often an insight for my students, an insight that borders on revelation.  Love is not simply “being nice”.  It is, on the contrary, a real and living thing, a thing with a backbone, a thing that fights for what it loves.


The Fantastick Tolkien -


  • We also touch on a few other works in this class, including the world’s “longest running musical”, The Fantasticks, which is an adaptation of Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand, and which deals with all of the issues mentioned above: romantic love (eros) being necessarily frustrated (in this play by a pair of fathers who create a false feud between them, knowing that this obstruction will draw their respective children, Matt and Luisa, together), and “true love” (agape united with eros), which in The Fantasticks comes only with marriage and with the painful reorientation of eros to the real world.


  • And we finish our course with the remarkable letter of J. R. R. Tolkien to his son Michael on “how to love” (Letter #43 in The Letters of JRR Tolkien), advice the elder gives to the younger, who is about to embark on the great adventure of life.  Tolkien deals with the great challenge of how to sort out your emotions and desires, how to move beyond mere “Romantic Feeling” to “Passionate Reason” - how to achieve a love that is fully Christian, a “true love” that is fully true.


Tolkien ends his letter with one of the greatest passages in all of English literature.  As we began our course with St. Paul’s great Hymn to Love, so we end it with Tolkien’s great praise of Love Incarnate, his praise of Love Himself condescending to appear in the humble appearance of bread and wine.


Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. .... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires.


***

For more information on Homeschool Connections and on courses taught by Kevin O’Brien, Joseph Pearce and others, visit homeschoolconnectionsonline.com.

2018 Murder Mystery Dinner Theater Season

Here are the shows I've written and will be performing in 2018.  You can find out more from my website Upstage Productions.








MAY - WHO WANTS TO MURDER A MILLIONAIRE?

***

JUNE, JULY, AUGUST, SEPTEMBER - VARIOUS SHOWS

***



OCTOBER - DR. WHO DUNNIT?


NOVEMBER - A FEW GOOD MURDERS

How the Debate Class Works

I just got a question about this on Facebook, and here's what I said ...

I assign debating partners at random. Students typically get to choose from a short list of available topics. They are told they must be either "pro" or "con" (for or against) the topic we're debating - and they are told which they must be. For our final debate, they must be prepared to argue either side of the issue, as they won't know if they're arguing "pro" or "con" until the debate starts! This teaches them to prepare for both sides - which will help them have some idea of what their opponent might be arguing.

Some of the topics are serious, but some are fun and kind of silly, which keeps the pressure off. All students must have a working mic to participate in this class. And each debate is short for any particular student, typically "pro" gets 2 minutes to present a case; "con" gets 2 minutes to respond; and then each gets a 1 minute rebuttal. 

We will have three debates over the course of the semester, and in between we will analyze rhetoric and how to argue effectively. We will look at common mistakes of logic and the merits of various techniques of persuasion.

Also, I touch on "Argumentation on the Internet" (such as it is) - which is probably how most of these young people will use their debating skills in real life. That could be a whole course in and of itself!

And we have fun along the way! I realize that there's probably no greater stress that a student feels than having to present something live in class, so I try to be supporting, calm the nerves and keep everybody engaged and enjoying themselves.

I will grade based on both presentation techniques and the work done to prepare for each debate. There will be quizzes along the way, but the parents are the ultimate arbiters on how their children are doing. My grades are not the last word - yours are.

Feel free to message me if you have any other questions!

How People Argue "Eristically"



In philosophy and rhetoric, eristic (from Eris, the ancient Greek goddess of chaos, strife, and discord) refers to argument that aims to successfully dispute another's argument, rather than searching for truth. - Wikipedia
You know you're in an eristic or bad faith discussion with someone when he or she does the following ...


  • Your opponent refuses to engage the most important points you're making.
  • Your opponent focuses on issues that are minor or tangential to your main argument.
  • Your opponent demands evidence to support your tangential points, while providing only opinion and no evidence to support his own claims.
  • Your opponent directly or indirectly attacks your motivations, thus moving the discussion away from the issue to your character.
  • Invariably, if you're arguing with an eristic "Devout Catholic", you'll be told (in so many words) to go to confession for defending your position with any zeal, fortitude or persistence; or, in lieu of that, you'll be referred to a Scripture verse that implies that you are lacking in charity for standing up for the truth.
  • Your opponent will completely ignore tone, context and the obvious connection between ideas in anything you say.

It is futile to argue with such a person.  Your opponent is not interested in discovering the truth.  To engage such a person is not only frustrating and a waste of time, it is a sin.  It is casting "pearls before swine" (Mat. 7:6)

Some Clarifications on Love

Mr. O'Brien as El Gallo, teaching our class on The Fantasticks.
Love and the Meaning of Life is a fun class!

Grace F. asked three questions that I answer below.  


1. How can Beatrice and Benedick's relationship in Much Ado about Nothing thrive if it's based on overhearing the "lies" told about them by their friends when they were eavesdropping?


2. How does the lie about the false feud between the fathers in The Fantasticks affect Matt and Luisa?


3. Is the love we have for family members - who sometimes drive us crazy - eros or agape?


These are great questions.  I did my best to answer them below.



  • I think the "lies" in Much Ado that are used to bring Beatrice and Benedick together are not lies at all.  It's fiction.  In other words, their friends are staging mini-dramas that they know Beatrice and Benedick will overhear, and the dramas are telling the truth through a kind of fantasy.  Beatrice and Benedick really do love one another and when they eavesdrop they become audience members in little plays that show them a truth they don't want to acknowledge.  This is how all fiction, especially drama, works.  We may have gone over this in Drama class.  Do you remember in the Bible where the prophet Nathan tells a parable or a story to King David about a man who steals another man's sheep and it makes David furious, and Nathan says, "The man in this story is you"?  Nathan is not lying to David when he spins his yarn about the rich man who steals a sheep; he is using a form of fiction to convey a great and deep truth, the way Our Lord uses parables in the gospels.  

  • In the case of The Fantasticks, however, I think we're dealing more with symbols than real characters.  Matt and Luisa represent sort of Everyboy and Everygirl.  And, in general, eros is intensified when it is frustrated.  We see this especially in Wuthering Heights and other romantic fiction.  The more Catherine is unreachable to Heathcliff, the more he wants her and the more violent he gets in his attempts to get her - including, in a sense, after she's dead.  And so the "feuding fathers" in The Fantasticks is a fiction that is really a lie, a lie designed to make the young lovers more ardent in keeping them apart from one another - because eros is all about the unattainable.  In Much Ado, Beatrice and Benedick really do love one another; in The Fantasticks, the fathers are not really feuding, only pretending - in order to stoke the flame of their children's love.  But, you see, once the obstacle is taken down and the wall falls, Matt and Luisa are still bothered by an unfulfilled eros, a desire to find something greater beyond.  They don't find agape, or the self-giving and humbling love of family life until they both "sow their wild oats" (in a sense) and get hurt by the world in the process.

  • I don't think eros is a term that would apply to the family.  But remember, using these different words to refer to Love is a bit misleading because Love is One.  The face or aspect of love that we call eros is a love that typically seeks something above and beyond.  The face or aspect of Love that we call agape is "condescending", willing to be limited, home bound, humble.  Lewis would say that the love of family is storge - deep affection that is not always the same as "liking".  It's very easy to love your aunt and uncle, for instance, without really liking them very much.  When it comes to family, you typically have to make the best of it and get along.  And this is a good thing and a humbling thing.  Chesterton says, “The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born.”  

A NOTE ON LYING: Lying is communicating something you know to be false to someone else for the purpose of deceiving him or her.  

In drama or fiction, the audience member or reader is aware that what's being communicated to them is "pretend" or make-believe, and so they are not deceived, and therefore fiction or drama is not lying, for the communication does not involve deception.  It's a kind of game whereby a truth is often communicated through imaginary or fantastic means.  

In the case of Beatrice and Benedick, they were deceived in as much as they thought what they were overhearing was a natural and not a staged conversation, but they were not deceived in hearing from others how much they loved one another, for that was true.  In The Fantasticks, Matt and Luisa are indeed deceived by a lie, which is the false feud between their fathers.  And The Fantasticks is not so much about the actual love between Matt and Luisa (who are more symbolic characters than actual or psychologically real ones), as it is about "eros", or our desire for that which we can't have.  When Luisa was unattainable, Matt burned for her; after they're together she's "just the girl next door".  When Matt appeared to be as swashbuckling and romantic as El Gallo in rescuing her from the pretend abduction, Luisa desired him.  When they are brought together, however, they find the reality does not match the romance and the bandit seems better than the boy.  See my Study Guide on Moodle - or the next issue of the St. Austin Review, where I write about this!

Westward Ho!

Today some of my female students in Love and the Meaning of Life were praising Christopher West and his ilk.  

I don't want to post this directly, but here's my response.

Person to Person

Here's an article on Aleteia about St. John Paul II that relates to what we were saying in class in Love and the Meaning of Life about Agape without Eros as clinical and heartless and Eros without Agape
as possessive and consuming ...

In his book Love and Responsibility, he writes, “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” This holds true for every encounter we have with another person, whether it’s a family member, a co-worker, a friend, a stranger, or an enemy.
The way John Paul II lived his own life is an example of this time and time again. For him, the problem with the rise of technology, politicizing everything, or investing too much time in work is not that they cross some philosophical boundary, but that they objectify people.
To really know a person, we need to pause and take the time to personally connect. The life of St John Paul II shows that a happy life is not about adhering to any ideology or proving ourselves to be right or successful – it’s about people. Every person matters. Every person is valuable. Connection and friendship are the ways we honor that.

Heart Speaks to Heart - with Miraculous Grace

[Next week in my class Conversion of Mind and Heart we will study the conversion of Bl. John Henry Newman.  Here's an article I wrote back in 2015 about Deacon Jack Sullivan, a friend of mine and the man whose healing was the official miracle that led to Newman's beatification.]




From left to right around the table: Dale Ahlquist, Deacon Jack Sullivan, me, my son Colin, my wife Karen, our friend Jane Davies.

I've known Deacon Jack Sullivan for many years.  I got together with him again this past weekend, and he left with me a document that I'll be quoting from.  It's an account of his miraculous healing (I have taken the liberty of emphasizing some of what he says in boldface) ...

This story of mine began on June 6, 2000, when I embarked on a rather incredible and mysterious journey.  You see, I suddenly awoke that morning with excruciating and debilitating pain in my back and both legs.  At a local hospital a CT-scan revealed a serious succession of lumbar disc and vertebrae deformities turning inward and literally squeezing the life out of my spinal cord, causing severe stenosis.  I was in complete agony day and night.  Walking was nearly impossible as I was completely doubled over like a shrimp, only facing the ground.  

Paralysis was a distinct possibility for Jack.  The chief of spinal surgery at a major Boston hospital told him, "Without question, yours is the worst back I've seen in all my years of performing spinal surgery." The doctor scheduled Jack for surgery and told him to scrap his plans to finish his training in the diaconate formation program.  Jack was upset not merely because of his agonizing pain, but because his crippling condition meant he would perhaps never become a deacon in the Catholic Church.

Returning home, I was totally distraught realizing I would have to drop out!  I turned on the TV to get my mind off this calamity.  Switching channels, I accidentally stopped at the EWTN channel.  It was there that I was introduced to Cardinal John Henry Newman.  The program dealt with Cardinal Newman's uniquely difficult life and the crisis he faced in his vocation as an Anglican priest.

The program featured an interview with Fr. Ian Kerr, one of the major biographers of Newman's.  Fr. Kerr explained the great challenges that Newman faced over the course of his life, especially in his conversion to the Catholic Faith.  The program ended with a suggestion that if any viewers were to receive a "divine favor" through Newman's intercession, they should inform the postulator of his cause.  At the time, the Church had been waiting 110 years for a miracle to beatify him.

Jack continues ...

Because of this request, I prayed to him with all my heart, "Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so I can return to classes and be ordained."  I didn't pray for complete healing for that would be too presumptuous; merely to grant me this small "divine favor" which at that time was so urgent.  Then I went to bed.  To my amazement, I woke up that following morning completely pain free, when for months I was in constant agony.  Remarkably, I could walk normally with complete strength in my back and legs.

Jack describes how his surgeon was astonished, for the MRI and Myelograms revealed that his spine was just as disfigured as it had been.  There had been no physical change and no reason why Jack was suddenly pain free and able to walk.  But Jack's joy was not confined to his deliverance from pain, as his baffled surgeon made a recommendation ...

He then suggested that I should cancel my surgery and RETURN TO MY CLASSES!

All along, Jack's focus had been on completing his training and becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church.  As the capital letters above indicate, health for him was not an end in itself.  A healthy back and freedom from pain were both good things in and of themselves, but also they were means to an end.  They were gifts from God to be used for the Kingdom.

But as soon as diaconate classes ended, and Jack had miraculously completed the third year of his formation program, the pain returned in full force.  Immediate surgery was required.

My dura mater (protective fibrous lining surrounding the spinal cord housing the spinal fluids) was very badly torn.  It also seemed very unlikely that my badly damaged and compressed spinal cord would decompress to its normal size because nerve tissue normally can't regenerate.  For days thereafter I continued to suffer incredible pain, day and night, with no relief in sight.  Even high dosages of morphine didn't help.  On the fifth day after surgery as I laid motionless in my bed, I was informed by one of the doctors that I "should forget about returning to my classes," scheduled to begin in three weeks, "because it would take many months to recover, if at all!"

And now the miracle continues ...

Upon hearing this tragic assessment, I suddenly felt a strong urge at least to try to get out of bed; to attempt to walk!  Inch by inch I slid to the edge of my bed in horrific pain.  With the nurse's help, I put my feel onto the cold floor, leaning on the bed with my forearms for support.  It was this moment of agony and frustration that led me again to prayer.  The exact same prayer I said the year before and under the same circumstances.  "Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so that I can return to classes and be ordained."
Suddenly I felt a tremendous sensation of intense heat and a strong tingling feeling throughout my body.  It seemed to last a very long time.  I also felt an indescribable sense of resplendent joy and peace, the likes of which I had never encountered.  It was as though I was in God's presence and lifted up to heaven!  Then I felt a strong surge of strength and feeling of confidence that I could finally walk!  When I began my prayer I was leaning on my bed in utter agony.  But when this experience subsided, I found myself standing completely upright.  I then shouted to the nurse, "I have no more pain!"  

Jack then began bounding about the hospital room and walking briskly up and down the hall, the nurses worried and concerned, flocking about him and urging him to return to bed.

I was discharged two hours later without any need for pain medication nor rehabilitation!  Within a few days I was walking a mile or two daily.  Oh ... the date of my healing?  This wondrous event occurred on August 15th, the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption, body and soul into heaven.  It was later determined that my recovery and regeneration of the nerve tissue of my spinal cord on that unforgettable day was unexplainably accelerated in one mysterious moment.  And to everyone's astonishment, I returned to classes on time!

To make a long story short, the Vatican assembled a "team of spinal surgeons from all over Europe", who examined "all the films and medical records" and "unanimously voted by secret ballot that there was absolutely no medical or scientific explanation for my recovery."  This became the official miracle that led to Newman's beatification.

Jack Sullivan completed his classes and was ordained a deacon, and served with Pope Benedict XVI at the beatification Mass for John Henry Newman in England in 2010.


Pope Benedict (center) and Deacon Jack Sullivan (far right) at John Henry Newman's Mass of Beatification.

Jack reflects upon his miraculous healing (the capital letters are his) ...

I believe these remarkable events beautifully describe the concept of our communion with the saints in heaven.  I soon realized that THIS COMMUNION IS SELDOM A ONE-TIME EVENT, BUT USUALLY AN ONGOING PROCESS OF GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT IN REVERENCE AND FRIENDSHIP ALWAYS LEADING TO SOME GREATER GOOD, SOME HIGHER PURPOSE, FAR BEYOND OURSELVES!

And included in that is a share in the sufferings of your saint, which is a share in the sufferings of Christ ...

We must often endure similar sorrows, and afflictions of the saint whose intercessions we seek, before we can possibly share in that saint's victory!

***

Now, Newman is not easy for many people to approach.  His writing is formal and his thinking quite deep.  He has a great sense of the need for austerity in religion - even severity - and this goes against our modern inclinations.  So at lunch I asked Deacon Jack, "How do you reconcile the friendship you feel with Cardinal Newman with what is sometimes a coldness in his writing and with his imposing intellect?"

"They key is sanctity," Jack responded.  "You've got to understand Newman through his holiness.  That's the key to everything he wrote and to everything he experienced and stood for."

John Henry Newman stood for the true Faith, a Faith we come to ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem, "out of the shadows and images into the truth", out of Unreality into Reality.  Newman always fought against the False Faith, what Deacon Jack Sullivan describes as man's attempt "to re-create for himself a humanly designed Heaven on earth to replace Almighty God's eternal Kingdom."

Finding this True Faith is finding not only "what a friend we have in Jesus" (to quote the old hymn), but finding what friends we have in one another - our friends here on earth and our friends in heaven.  Communion with this Truth is communion with a Person - with the Persons of the Trinity and with other persons on earth and in the Kingdom.  It is friendship.  It is when heart speaks to heart (which was Newman's motto).

For Deacon Jack Sullivan carries with him not only the effects of his miraculous healing, but also his deep and abiding friendship with the man whose prayer healed him. It is that friendship that is one of the marks of sanctity, of holiness; it is such friendship that is one of the blessed joys of heaven.



***

Here's our short movie on Newman's conversion, filmed on location where it happened in Littlemore, England ...




... and here I am as Bl. Dominic Barberi, the Passionist priest who received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church ...