The death of Malibu’s Msgr. John V. Sheridan after a serious car accident has prompted U.S. Ambassador to Malta Doug Kmiec to reflect upon the priest’s life and the nature of faith.
On Aug. 25 Kmiec was driving in California with his friends Sr. Mary Campbell and retired pastor Msgr. John Sheridan when they suffered a single-car accident. Sr. Campbell, 74, died at the scene, while the 94-year-old monsignor died early in the morning on Sept. 17 from heart failure.
Kmiec praised his confessor Msgr. Sheridan’s “magnificent life of priestly fullness” in a recent column in The Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Recounting a visit the day before he died, Kmiec said he “prayed into his ever kind, but then, physically pained eyes.”
“Those wonderful eyes that welcomed all and with every twinkle said ‘I understand; I am with you; nothing further is required; come walk in the beautiful hills at my side’.”
The ambassador saw “something distinctly proper and natural” in the scene of Msgr. Sheridan surrounded by surgeons:
“Here was the Monsignor surrounded by the most splendid minds in medicine holding forth by the sheer beauty and spiritual strength of his presence. The metaphorical portrait of Christ teaching on the mountain-top filled the room with the Holy Spirit in every respect.”
Kmiec said he entered the room and reached for the priest’s “gentle hand of kindness” which he had held immediately after the accident to pray the Rosary together.
While in his last weeks Msgr. Sheridan seemed to respond less by voice than by look, Kmiec thought the priest’s eyes did not ask why he himself was suffering, but rather sought to search for “the light of faith” in his onlooker’s eyes. His eyes did not presume to know God’s mind, but asked whether visitors still had “a believing heart.”
“I gave the great monsignor my ready affirmation, and as I did, it seemed as if his hand relaxed. Msgr. John's wit and intelligence towered over just about all, including myself, and his power of discernment of the truth was unsurpassed,” Kmiec wrote in The Tidings.
However, the ambassador confessed he was not sure whether his affirmation was without doubt.
“Forgive me, John, with so much of the present time occupied by horror and unbearable grief, I would be pretending if I said I grasped how this unneeded pain given to you is compatible with the idea of our being justified by a Savior whose own suffering is held forth in Holy Scripture as sufficient to redeem us all.”
This dilemma, to Kmiec’s mind, is “the crux of faith.”
He reported that Msgr. Sheridan recounted his first near-death experience at the age of 17 when County Longford doctors had given him up for dead.
At the age of 58, the priest wrote that death was “a source of radical frustration and loneliness.”
Wishing that he could eliminate this loneliness from those grieved by the priest’s death, Kmiec pledged:
“If the way to see your welcoming and smiling face again, my dear Msgr. John, is to banish all doubt, then whatever time remains for me to walk the Malibu hills or the ancient pathways of St. Paul in Malta is time happily dedicated to keeping the faith alive,” Kmiec’s essay concluded. “…all of us who knew John Virgilus Sheridan have known and felt intimately the Lord's saving goodness, and we yearn for it still. Msgr. John V. Sheridan, Requiescat in Pace. I love you.”