Sars hated- okay I won’t say hated even though I said it- he strongly disliked the word “Reverend”.
“It comes from the Latin Reverendus”, he would say in that teaching voice he used-‘he who must be feared,’ not a fitting title for a minister of Jesus Christ. I like the title Father MUCH better. The word ‘father’ speaks of love, not fear.”
And that was Sars. He was loving, he was generous, he was witty, he was smart. He was intensely curious. He collected facts and quotes and songs and stories. He loved a good joke and turn of phrase. He loved being a priest, and he loved “Holy Mass.” He was NOT a housekeeper. I found myself wondering how he’d lived this long with some of his habits… He was protective and opinionated and gracious and probably the pickiest eater I’ve ever had the pleasure to cook for. He loved his family, he loved being Irish. He loved people. And they loved him back. Fiercely. He loved to tell stories and anecdotes about himself and others- and God forbid you get him in front of an audience that encouraged him- he would go on forever, and sometimes, especially in these last few months, he would pay the price for days afterward.
He loved so much. In other words, he was a father.
He was a father to me, adopting me, even though I have a fantastic father and family of my own- he and Vernie adopted them too, as he probably did many of you. He was my hometown pastor, visited me in Europe, wrote a lot of letters, asked my opinion about things, encouraged me, made me feel important. He stuck by me- even when he didn’t agree with me. He stuck by me when others did not. He gave me the keys to his and Vernie’s house, indeed, designating a room to be my own. I talked to him every week and then as his illnesses became more confining, every day. Finally, he took me in when times were hard and God seemed to know we both needed each other.
Like all fathers, he could drive his children crazy. We were about as far across the spectrum from each other politically as two people could be. We differed in our opinions and tastes. We had irritations, inconveniences and miscommunications. He could be stubborn and not want to do what the doctors told him- for one of the smartest men I’ve ever known he could play dumb superbly- like an innocent child, when he didn’t want to do what was recommended. I’m sure I drove him crazy, too.
But for all that, I never once doubted his love and care for me. I hope he never doubted mine.
That’s the love of a father. It’s not always perfect, but it’s always there.
I have a favorite Sars story. He had just moved in with Vernie to the house on N. Western, and the doorbell rang. On the front porch was a man who said, “I’m with the Seventh Day Adventists and I’d like to talk to you about Adventism.”
“I’d love to hear about it,” Sars said. “But first explain something to me. Why are you Seventh Day Adventists so slavish in your obedience to the Pope in Rome?”
“What?” said the man “We are not! I would never follow the Pope!”
“Now wait just a minute,” Sars said. “Not so fast. In 1582 Pope Gregory the thirteenth, with a stroke of his pen, eliminated from the calendar 11 days. Now if you weren’t so fastidious in following the Pope you’d be celebrating the Sabbath on Wednesday and Thursday, not Saturday and Sunday- so you are following the Pope.”
Needless to say, the poor man left rather quickly, very confused. “Poor soul,” Sars always said at the end of the story….
Sars’ favorite passage was John 16.27- “For the Father himself loves you.”
He believed it, he did his best to live it, and he died knowing it.
But more importantly, he made sure as best he could by word and example that we knew it too.
The love of God the Father is seen and felt in the love we all share for this man, Father Sarsfield OSullivan. It is in our stories, our tears, our laughter, and our fumbling attempts at loving.
The love of God is always there.
It’s always here in our hearts.
And so is Father Sars.