Clothing of Jeffrey Sullivan

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On the feast of St John Henry Newman, October 9, the Very Rev. Provost Paul Pearson clothed Br Jeffrey Sullivan in the habit of St Philip, and he thus began his noviciate at the Toronto Oratory. 

Jeffrey Sullivan was born in 1992 in Ottawa, Ontario. Interested from an early age in computer programming, he worked as a freelance website developer during high school; this led to studying Systems Design Engineering at University of Waterloo. Jeffrey completed several internships, including a summer in California helping to develop next-generation wearable technology at Google. After graduating first in his 2015 class, Jeffrey was hired full-time by Google at the Waterloo office. As a Senior Software Developer, he was responsible for making the Gmail website faster for over a billion users. Having experienced during this time a deepening sense of being called to the priesthood, Jeffrey discovered a home for his vocation in the Toronto Oratory; he is especially drawn to the emphases on liturgical beauty and the intellectual life, practiced in community and directed toward the worship of God. Along with his technical expertise, Br. Jeffrey brings to the Oratory a passion for the liberal arts, and a keen interest in the philosophical and societal challenges of new technologies.

The following is the Father’s address on the occasion.

Clothing of Jeffrey Sullivan (October 9, 2020)

Talking to members of religious communities from around the world, I have heard a fairly consistent narrative about their joining.  The day of being clothed in the habit and beginning the novitiate is dramatic and exciting.  The new member is filled with a generosity of spirit, a readiness to give himself away.  He is convinced that he is finally doing something meaningful with his life, something supernatural, something heroic for God.  The commitment to a life of service, to growth in holiness, is something we want to shout out loud.  It seems to be the only thing that matters.  Filled with these desires, we dream of the great works we will do for Our Lord.  But we also feel the courage to picture the crosses we will cheerfully bear in union with him.  We are ready for something heroic—a great spiritual adventure.

But often the senior members can be rather dismissive of these highfalutin enthusiasms.  “Who do these novices think they are, with their heads in the clouds?  That idealist outlook might work at the beginning, but once you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ll know better!”  The everyday struggles of life in community take the shine off our image of our life.  The mundane routine of our duties dulls any sense of the adventure.  They look back in their own memories on the newly-clothed version of themselves and think, “How could I have been so unrealistic?” Over time, we seem to make our peace with the grittier picture of our lives, with a bit of embarrassment about our youthful rose-coloured glasses.  We aren’t being hardened or cynical; we’re just being realistic.  So at least we might tell ourselves.

Many of Our Lord’s neighbours had a similarly dismissive reaction to his preaching and miracles.  “Is this not the carpenter’s son?”  Nothing special happening here!  Those other people might be taken in, but we know better.

But this is not the clear-sightedness of experience.  It is not the victory of prudent pragmatism over naive idealism.  It is the predictable natural response to a supernatural reality.  We can’t expect our natural perceptions to take in something that is beyond the realm of nature.  It was precisely those who had know Our Lord best in an everyday way who had the hardest time accepting his supernatural message and divine personality.  “For Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country” (John 4:44).   Seeing a supernatural reality for the first time requires the infusion of a special virtue—faith.  It is beyond our natural faculties.  Maintaining an awareness of something supernatural takes constant effort.  Of course, it doesn’t come naturally!  If we allow ourselves to be immersed in the everyday routine of our life without lifting our minds and hearts to the supernatural reality we are living, it is all-too-easy for our supernatural perspective, a gift from the start, to wane.  If all we think about are the annoyances that living together can bring, the unreasonable demands of those we serve, the lack of support we perceive from church leaders, or all of the Covid protocols we are asked to follow, we run the risk of losing any supernatural awareness at all of the lives we have been called to live.

We need reminders—like today’s clothing ceremony—to keep us on track.  What we felt in the beginning (and what I hope Jeffrey is feeling today) isn’t a youthful daydream or naive idealism.  It is a normal response to a wonderful supernatural reality.  We are part of something supernatural, something greater than ourselves, something bigger than our own ambitions.  We are being called to prepare ourselves and those around us for our intended place in God’s kingdom.  We are guaranteed that everything we need for our salvation and sanctification will be provided for us in the life God sets before us.  Our life is filled with reassurances of our supernatural dignity and the promise of an eternal reward.  As the final words of the clothing ceremony remind us, Sis fortis in bello….  “Be strong in battle and fight with the ancient serpent and you will receive the eternal kingdom.”  We have been called to something that shines with the splendour of glory.  That isn’t a youthful enthusiasm.  That is simply the spiritual reality of our lives and we are blessed to be called to it.  By Saint Philip’s intercession, may we never lose sight of that blessing or fail to be grateful for it.