A Heart on Fire:
Jeffrey Sullivan, SJ
During a sophomore theology class, an earnest student once asked me if I had a favorite passage from Scripture. Without hesitation I told him, 2 Kings 2:23-25. Of course, the student asked, “What does that passage say?” I responded, “It’s the one where the prophet Elisha commands two bears to eat the 42 boys after they made fun of him for being bald.” After a comedic beat I continued, “That seems like an appropriate judgement for those who make fun of their elders.” Responses varied from laughter to boos to the sound of palms slapping foreheads. This is the exact type of clever joke my father likes to tell. In that moment, I realized that I am my father’s son.
Not unrelated to this story, my favorite passage actually comes from John 5:19-20. “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son […] and he will show him greater works than these; so that you will be astonished.”
After nine years of Jesuit formation, it is still clear to me that my Jesuit formation actually started with my parents. Married for more than 40 years, my parents have kept their faith and have kept their sons at the center of their lives. Even though neither of my parents completed their bachelor’s degree, they sacrificed financially to ensure that their two sons would receive a Catholic education — from kindergarten to college (Xavier for my brother, Creighton for me). Even before I joined the Society of Jesus or formally took vows, my parents’ quiet and steadfast persistence in their work, family, and faith had modeled the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
My undergraduate experience at Creighton completed what my parents had started. Whereas my parents taught me the virtues of hard work, honesty, and Hoosier hospitality, the Jesuits at Creighton transformed these virtues by teaching me about Ignatian spirituality, social justice, the global society, and “the magis.” Jesuits such as Frs. Daniel Hendrickson, Dick Hauser, Don Driscoll, and John Fitzgibbons became mentors and father/brother figures for me. Most importantly, they modeled what the ultimate “Father” is doing in the world. They also encouraged me to keep expanding my horizons by looking for God in all things and in all places.
Since then, I have been blessed to have worked with victims of domestic violence in Milwaukee; to have taught at the Working Boys Center in Ecuador; to have accompanied the students of Red Cloud Indian School; to have walked with teenagers from the Mexican-American neighborhood of Pilsen in Chicago; and to have taught at Loyola Academy on the North Shore of Chicago. I am currently studying theology at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, Calif. God willing, I will be ordained a priest in 2020.
I do not have any designs regarding my future ministry as a Jesuit. However, I trust that no matter what I do as a Jesuit, I will continue to be, as the evangelist John wrote, astonished by the Society of Jesus, the world, and God — because this is what my father, my mother, and my brother Jesuits have taught me.
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