Deacon Jack Sullivan of St. Thecla Parish in Pembroke experienced the miracle that led to the advancement of the cause of beatification of English Cardinal John Henry Newman.
The Vatican ruled in 2009 that he was miraculously healed from a debilitating spinal condition that his doctor had said could have resulted in paralysis. The cure took place 10 years ago, as he was in formation to become a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Boston.
Deacon Sullivan has been invited to assist and proclaim the Gospel at the Mass of beatification for Cardinal Newman celebrated by Pope Benedict during his September visit to England.
In addition to assisting at the beatification Mass, Deacon Sullivan and his wife, as guests of the Archbishop of Birmingham, have been selected as one of the couples to personally thank the pope for the beatification. They are also slated to meet the Lord Mayor of Birmingham at his residence and attend an ecumenical service at Westminster Abbey offered by Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Following the service, Deacon Sullivan and his wife will be guests of honor at a special dinner.
The Pilot spoke to Deacon Sullivan Aug. 10 about his current health, the upcoming trip, and the impact of the papal visit.
Q: How has your health been?
My back is in great condition. I have been as active after this incident as I had been before it. We have a large yard with landscaping, and I love working outdoors and gardening. I still do that, and enjoy it very much. I walk one to two miles every day.
Q: Your prayers to Cardinal Newman have been cited in your cure. Now that you have been cured, are you still devoted to Cardinal Newman?
I have so much, through my prayers to him. He has changed my life dramatically from one of total confinement -- I probably would have never walked normally again or I could have been paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life -- but with the healing I was able to realize my greatest strength, and that was to return to classes and be ordained. I was able to resume my work and provide for my family. Every morning, I say a prayer to him in thanksgiving. Since my healing, I have never missed a morning where I do not thank him with all my heart for his love and his concern.
Q: Your illness and cure has garnered a lot of media attention, both locally and internationally. How are you living that experience?
I know it's important that people get to know who Cardinal Newman was and what he wrote about. Much of his materials are relevant to today and offer a lot of insights into our problems. I enjoy talking about Newman both at my parish and to those who have asked me to speak at other parishes.
It (the media attention) is something I am not used to. I do not think I ever will get used to it. I understand the necessity of it. Newman is a tremendous example for all of us. The more people know about Newman the better they can emulate his virtue and meditate on his insights.
Q: What can Catholics in our time take from the example of Cardinal Newman?
More than anything else, Newman wrote so extensively about this notion of the goodness of God, the love God has for each one of us, how important we are and that almighty God has plans for each one of us. If we persevere through our difficulties and advance in our faith, God does nothing for us that is not "for our profit," as Newman says. In other words, there is always some good that will result -- some purpose that will be achieved -- if we persevere through misfortunes, difficulties, and daily problems, and to practice our faith, which is most difficult when we are enduring hardships and problems.
One of the statements that really caught my eye that is so true, which Newman wrote about and is so relevant today, is the notion of what is true religion, why is it meaningful, why is it necessary for the fulfillment of mankind. He said true religion has two sides to it -- a beautiful side and a severe side -- and we will surely stray from the path that leads to life if we indulge ourselves in the beautiful parts of our religion while casting aside what is severe.
I think trusting in God's love for us is the message here that Newman brings to every person who reads him and prays to him. If God, out of love, created us, and even out of greater love sent his only begotten son to endure tremendous pain and agony and pay the price for us, if he does that much for us how could our loving father ever abandon us? This, more than anything else, Newman wanted to bring to the forefront: not to be anxious, but have trust in God's love and things will always work out.
Q: Regarding the upcoming papal visit, what are you looking forward to most?
Being a deacon at the Mass. I just could not imagine that ever happening. All I wanted to do was to be one of the deacons in the archdiocese. To me that was a tremendous goal that was fulfilled -- a life's dream. Never did I realize at a time I would be a deacon at a papal Mass.
Q: England, and most of Western Europe, has become increasingly secular in recent decades after a long history of Christianity. What will be the value of the papal visit and what do you hope or expect Pope Benedict will accomplish there?
He wants to bring hope and the love of God, and remind people, more than at any other time, we should seek to be united with God for the sake of our own fulfillment. Man does not have all the answers, and on occasion seeks to make a heaven on earth, but always with bad results. We have to acknowledge our creator and constantly develop a sense of trust, return that love that we've received and be grateful for all the gifts that we have. The Holy Father wants to remind the people that Christ is there for them, the Church is there for them to help them any way we can through these difficult times.