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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Theology of Kindness

Remembering Monsignor John and Sister Mary

Welcome 2011, even as the somber imprint of 2010 shall be forever with me. In late spring, dad died. In early summer, my late mother's only sister passed. Late summer claimed Guido deMarco, the revered former president of Malta and UN General Assembly, who had taken a special interest in his country's new American Ambassador. Christmas would call my Malibu neighbor, Bill(y) Miller, whose natural joviality brightened more than a few soggy coastal days along La Costa Beach. But it was a roughly 4-second slide off a canyon road that would leave the deepest scar.

There has not been a day, an hour, even a minute since I have not grieved for the loss of Monsignor John V. Sheridan and Sister Mary Campbell. Last week, waiting for a CT scan and ECG in a Maltese hospital before undergoing the follow-up major surgery to that John and I endured side-by-side in the UCLA trauma unit, I happened to encounter for the first time blog commentary thoughtfully invited by the community spirit of The Malibu Times. These expressions of love readily tapped into my own memories of these clerical Irish twins, including our last joyful moments together (and they were joyful, since somehow God sheltered all of us from the apprehension of fear almost literally to the final moment). Sister Mary went immediately by angelic acclimation to God, whilst John and I held string rosaries given us just minutes earlier at a Mass and lunch for the anniversary of the Sisters of Saint Louis. The highway patrol and Calabasas rescuers were commendably quick with a transporting helicopter, but not even these local heroes could outpace Mary's early check-in to fashion John's heavenly study.

Some say age determined survival. Maybe. But it is just as plausible that God saw two unblemished souls of extraordinary kindness, and their younger charge, with work yet to do.

The fact of suffering and death, observed C.S. Lewis and others, is undoubtedly the single greatest challenge to faith, since its distribution and occurrence seems so entirely random, and therefore unfair. This was not John's way. Forty years ago, when almost exactly my age, John wrote: “Death [to a person of faith] is not the eyes' last episode following a long or short illness, old age, dotage, [or] auto accident . . . It is release from the bonds of mortality . . . [of] sin, sickness, pain.”

The monsignor's words were not gratuitously extolling death, but rather urging us not to fear it, and, in that intrepid confidence of faith, to seek the fullness of life. That is the way John walked ever confidently among the beautiful hills above Malibu. With Mary following closely, John can be felt there today, inviting us to his path of unconditional kindness, and calling our names even as he self-deprecatingly proclaims not to remember them.

And if you look to a very far horizon, you will find me, wounded physically, but redoubled in faith with a pounding heart proclaiming, “Death, where is your sting.” And through that persistent tear that lingers in my eye, I will spot His sheleighlee lifted high, so that I, and the vast numbers whom he loved, and who love him still, might follow.

Douglas W. Kmiec is a professor of law (on leave for foreign service)