Restoration

Restoration

Posted July 24, 2009:
If God Said It, He Meant It

by Fr. David May.

This is adapted from the funeral homily for Fr. Sharkey. The readings are Wis 3:9, Ps 122, Jn 6:51-58

I want to begin with a little story about Fr. Sharkey—a story which dramatically expresses his love for the Eucharist.

I was a seminarian at the time, in Ottawa. So this would have been in 1978 or ‘79, somewhere around there.

Fr. Sharkey had been invited to give a weekend of recollection at the seminary. It started out on Friday evening very beautifully and peacefully with a reflection, if I remember correctly, on the wedding feast at Cana and the New Jerusalem and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb that it symbolizes.

On and on it went; every symbol you could think of was pulled into that talk. I was pretty sure it was nothing like anything most of the seminarians had ever heard before.

However, between that talk and the afternoon talk on Saturday, someone—not me!— said something to Father Sharkey, something which indicated that the true faith was not being totally adhered to in that seminary. So Father decided to address that problem in the afternoon conference.

The Gospel he chose to illustrate what he wanted to say, was John 6:51-58. I am the Bread of life….

So he read this gospel, and he said something like this—and I’ll only give you the short, mild version, which was spoken loudly, forcefully; shouted: "If he said it, he meant it! If he said this is his body, it is! Who can question God? This is the center of our life. Without this, a priest is nothing! Nothing!" That was the introduction to the talk!

I thought to myself two things: 1) Oh, no! and 2) He’s leaving tomorrow, but I live here!

At the end of that talk, he stepped away from the ambo, genuflected in front of the tabernacle, and shouted, "There! I just genuflected. What does that me-e-e-e-an?" Then he walked out of the church.

What did that teach me?

(1) That the transcendence of God is awesome. When God speaks, the Holy One has spoken. This One demands obedience. Not out of fear but out of reverence and awe-filled love.

(2) What love for us the Father exemplifies in his gift of the Eucharist.

(3) Not to be afraid to defend the truth.

What a great lesson for seminarians on how to be a priest!

That’s when I learned a little bit more about Fr. Sharkey than I had known before.

In talking about Fr. Sharkey, the only place one could start with is the Eucharist. Anyone who knew Fr. Sharkey knew that the Eucharist was the center of his life—not just devotionally, but as power and life, as the center, the burning heart, of everything.

This is the Living Bread that consumes death in us. This is the Living Bread that becomes a flame in us. This is the Bread by which God himself abides in us, lives in us. And this is the Bread that Father Sharkey offered his life for, and offered his life to.

When this love consumes us, that means what we saw in Fr. Sharkey: a devotion to Christ, a love for Christ, preaching Christ, praying to Christ, turning to Christ, calling on Christ. Christ is at the center of all, because the Eucharist is the center of all.

For some years now, we have had adoration in the Madonna House chapel above our dining room. In the years when Father was able to go, you could guarantee that the 7:00 a.m. slot on the sign-up sheet would be taken. You’d see his name across the list—Sharkey, Sharkey, Sharkey, Sharkey and Sharkey. Every day.

But the real thing about Father Sharkey—and anyone for whom the mercy of God in the Eucharist has become the center of one’s being—is that there’s a light and a joy at the heart of one’s spiritual life. And a tenderness that comes from the Lord in the Eucharist.

Those who knew Fr. Sharkey, really knew him, knew his tremendous tenderness, and a beautiful, holy, joy of faith and peace that were at the core of his being.

This stayed till the end, through all his sufferings. We saw glimpses of that tenderness, those of us who knew him, many times, but now and then it came out publicly, too.

There was, for example, the Holy Thursday when Father Sharkey was the celebrant. He got up to preach. It was an unforgettable homily, because he didn’t open his mouth! He stood there for ten minutes in silence. Since nothing came, nothing that he could say, he sat down.

The impression one had was that he was so overwhelmed by love of the Eucharist that he couldn’t speak.

There was also a spiritual reading at the farm when Father Sharkey was reading excerpts from the poetry of St. John of the Cross. Suddenly he started weeping. And believe me, you did not normally see Fr. Sharkey weep!

The "words" and the blessings that Father gave in these last days were signs of that tenderness. What a gift this was! This is the tenderness Christ wants for all of us. I speak it not only as a tribute to God’s grace in a priest, but as a reminder to all of us of a grace being offered as we celebrate the Eucharist, day by day, week by week.

The Eucharist is the Living Bread consuming death in us and replacing it with light and tenderness, the tenderness of Christ, which conquers all.

The other thing I want to talk about in connection with Fr. Sharkey is sacrificial offering in atonement—the holocaust that God asks of certain chosen souls. In the mind of the world, this is a horrible thing, a disastrous thing, but to the eyes of wisdom and the eyes of faith, it is an offering accepted, and an entry into life.

We saw this in Fr. Sharkey in these last few years, in these last few months, and especially these last few weeks—when his suffering was intense at times, overwhelmingly intense to behold. This was not something different from what he’s been living, but a fulfillment and a culmination of what he had been living.

Father was a poustinik. He entered the poustinia in 1972; he was assigned there. He was never assigned anywhere else, and so on his curriculum vitae, poustinia was the end of the story. There was nothing else to write after that except: then he died. No comment was needed. It was an offering.

In joining Madonna House, Fr. Sharkey continued to be a Dominican. I once asked him how he related being a poustinik with being a Dominican. Father answered, "Well, to me the poustinia is the heart of what it means to be a Dominican: contemplation that overflows into teaching and preaching. I feel that by God’s mercy and providence, I’ve been offered a beautiful opportunity to be true to my charism as a Dominican."

We know that the poustinia is for kenosis—Greek word meaning: emptying. Let me read to you a little word from Catherine Doherty about that topic, because I believe it applies so clearly to Fr. Sharkey. This is an excerpt from Poustinia, the book, from the chapter, "Kenosis":

"We must surrender our intellect and our will, in the natural order of things. When we detach ourselves from these, we seem for a while as if we’re totally bereft of our personality. Actually, what we have done is hand them over to God.

"The Russian word for purgatory is close to the English word for laundry. We hand our mind and will over to God to be laundered, to be washed. How are our minds and hearts washed by Christ? The only way I can describe it is to say that they are cleansed as we pass through some experience of nothingness.

"There are periodic moments in which you are as dead. Do these moments last a minute? An hour? A day? You don’t know. You only know that afterwards your mind and your will have returned to you cleansed. You are more alive. All I can say is that our minds and wills are cleansed when we allow Christ to lead us through nothingness to the heights of the mountain.

"Before that moment arrives, there will be a terrible amount of willpower exercised" (Fr. Sharkey, times six) "in our prayer, our retreats, and our returns. But at some point you will be cleansed. This is no joke. This is a real fight. This is the desert. Now we are able to discern the will of God."

In years past, I heard Father talk about "getting to the bottom of it." He meant the bottom of his resistance to God. He said, "Did you ever notice the smoke on the island, apart from chimney smoke? That’s my poustinia. That’s me," he said, "struggling to let go of my anger at not being the center of the universe."

I heard him say it! It was a deep struggle. He didn’t elaborate on it, and he wasn’t one to talk about himself in that way, but occasionally he’d give you a little glimpse. He once said, "That’s why I’m glad I read Dante. The Inferno has a bottom. And then you start up." Hell has a limit, but not Christ’s love—nor his victory. Great word!

Out of this experience comes the grace of spiritual fatherhood. The kenosis that we all have to live as Christians, so Christ can live in us, is, in a special way, the burden and the gift of those called to be spiritual fathers or spiritual mothers, those called to carry others.

"This is no joke," said Catherine. "This is a real fight. This is the desert."

A spiritual father has to bear the struggle of those he is given charge of. He is one with them in that struggle. He’s allowed to know his own weakness, in the depth of his being so that he can be compassionate to those who struggle in the depths of their beings—which is all of us.

This is the grace of spiritual fatherhood.

So he’s one with those who struggle—but with hope. Having struggled to "get to the bottom of it", he can be there with them when they arrive at the bottom.

Out of his own struggle can come a word, a word of light, a word of truth. It’s spoken to the bottom, because now it’s time to come up—with Christ.

He lived it so beautifully without fanfare.

I’d like to close in thanksgiving to God for the work he has done in our brother, our priest, and our father, with a prayer that Fr. Sharkey handed to many of his directees, a prayer by St. John Eudes.

O Jesus, my crucified love, I worship you in all your sufferings. I ask your pardon for all the times I have failed you in the afflictions you were pleased to send me unto now.

I embrace the spirit of your cross, and in this spirit, as in all of heaven and earth, I welcome with all my heart, for love of you, all the afflictions of body and soul, which you may send me.

And I promise to find my glory, my treasure and my joy in your cross—that is, in humiliations, privations and sufferings, saying with St. Paul, "Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." As for me, I want no other paradise in this world than the cross of my Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

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