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A Book Review . . . Unity Of Friendship, Charity, And Family

November 29, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN

Go to Heaven: A Spiritual Roadmap to Eternity by Fulton J. Sheen (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2017), 250 pp.; $16.95. Available at www.ignatius.com or call 1-800-651-1531.

A reprint of a book first published in 1949, this masterpiece, like any great spiritual classic, provides riches for the mind as it elucidates the timeless teachings of the Church, serves as an eloquent apologia for the many doctrines of the Catholic faith, offers the best catechesis for adults inspired to enter the one true Church, and makes Christianity a living religion abounding in wisdom, love, and joy.
No matter how much a person knows or loves his faith, he will gain greater depth of comprehension and deeper appreciation for the pearl of great price.
Examining modern man’s struggles in the first chapter, Sheen diagnoses man’s peculiar dilemma as an alienation from himself, his neighbor, and God. Instead of a unity of body and soul and mind and heart — an integrated person ordered by the hierarchy of the intellect governing the passions and the soul ruling the body — man is “so dissociated, so alienated from himself that he sees himself less as a personality than as a battlefield where a civil war rages between a thousand and one conflicting loyalties.”
These tensions that Sheen observed in the 1950s have their updated versions in such contemporary conflicts as career versus family, modern ideologies versus the Church’s social teachings, secular schools versus Catholic education, and moral relativism versus the unchanging teachings of the Church’s Magisterium.
Sheen associates modern man’s alienation from his neighbor with a loss of tradition and of “the accumulated heritage of the centuries.” Alienation manifests itself not only in world wars and class conflicts but also in avarice and self-interest that govern economic policies.
When Christian teaching that enjoins charity and love of neighbor no longer shapes politics, economics, or human relationships, then it follows that “it is only a step from refusing to live with others to refusing to live for others.” Divorce, abortion, and euthanasia provide further contemporary expressions of this alienation from others, forms of disorder that violate the natural unity of friendship, charity, and family.
“No divided is person is happy,” Sheen writes, as alienation from self then erupts into conflict with others and with God: “A person with a fight inside itself will soon have a fight outside itself with others.” This same person will then incite a quarrel with God.
Dogmatic atheism to Sheen reflects self-hatred and rejection of moral certainties — a desperate attempt to vilify religion by hatred in order “to escape the irrationality of godlessness.” This modern malaise Sheen identifies with contemporary man’s unwillingness to embrace what he calls “the romance of repetition” — the life of vocation “consecrated to a single purpose and a final end” instead of the pursuit of novelties, thrills, and glamour.
This romance of repetition does not mean a monotonous existence but a life centered in essential priorities and primary duties that require regular, habitual care and vigilance: “The Christian finds a thrill in repetition because he has a fixed goal; the modern pagan finds repetition monotonous because he has never decided for himself the purpose of living.”
The second chapter explains the way all this discord caused by sin and crime that produce alienation undergoes transformation. Asking “Could that discord be stopped?” Sheen answers “Not by man himself,” but only by “the Eternal coming out of His agelessness into time” can a new order (“a new symphony”) remove the dissonance of strife and bring harmony. Like a generous father or brother who pays for the debts of a prodigal son, “Our Lord takes upon himself all the discords, disharmonies, all the sins, guilts, and blasphemies of man, as if he himself were guilty.”
Unlike Socrates, Buddha, or Confucius, Christ does not qualify simply as a wise philosopher or good man but a second Adam, “the man through whom the human race starts all over again.”
Christ reeducates a world dominated by security, revenge, popularity, pleasure, lust, war, and comfort by the sublime teaching of the Beatitudes that confront all the glib clichés about happiness. This new vision to reorder the world fearlessly declares the heroic greatness of a lofty morality enjoining man “to love Him above parents, to believe in Him even in the face of persecution, to be ready to sacrifice our bodies to save our souls in union with Him.” Christ did not tolerate sin until it became intolerable, but ordered that the evil tree be cut immediately lest it produce bitter fruit.
Nothing in Christ’s teaching accommodates mediocrity or the lowest common denominator. Returning love for hate, carrying the cross rather than returning evil for evil, and forgiving seventy times seven have no moral equivalents in philosophy or other religions.
Christ exposed the cant of worldly wisdom with the expression “You have heard” (Moses allowed divorce) only to refute it with the hard truths of divine authority: “What God has joined, let no man put asunder.” Thus Christ came to heal fallen human nature, lift man beyond the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and to bless man with the divine life of eternal happiness — “to sentence the old man in us to death.”
This new man that Christ forms grows in divine life by the sacraments that bestow supernatural gifts. All the difference in the world separates those who dwell in a state of grace from those devoid of this blessing. This spiritual rebirth does not follow any course of evolution or gradual change, “some push from below, but a gift from above.”
As Sheen explains with a perfect analogy, just as minerals pass into plant life and plants enter animal stomachs and animal flesh goes into human bodies, man himself enjoys “the privilege of being assimilated into higher power” effected by sacramental grace. As plants die when consumed by animals and animals perish when eaten by man, men enter into divine life when they die and are reborn: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”
To live a sacramental life, man must die to the lower life of worldly standards, just as man gains his life by losing it according to Christ’s teaching.
Through the state of grace bestowed by the sacraments, the mind grows in light, the will grows in love, and the soul grows in faith. Two persons with the same education and intelligence — one with the knowledge of faith and the other devoid of sacramental grace — both beholding the Host on the altar will perceive different realities: “The one sees bread, the other sees Christ, not, of course with the eyes of the flesh, but with the eyes of faith.”
Faith, explains Sheen, perfects reason in the way a telescope improves vision. Faith is never blind but founded on the authority and word of God, and faith expands the intelligence to comprehend the truths that unaided human reason cannot fathom.
To enter, then, into this higher life of grace and faith, man needs incorporation into the life of God and the Mystical Body of His Church. Just as Christ became incarnate in the body of His Blessed Mother, He dwells in the Mystical Body of His Holy Church: “Christ is living now! He is teaching now, governing now, sanctifying now.”
Like a branch of a tree, man is a cell in that Mystical Body, receiving the Bread of Life, the strength to carry crosses, and the medicine that heals the wounds of sin. This new life in God perfects human life and elevates it supernaturally so that man becomes “a sharer of the divine nature.”
In this elevation of human life into divine life, love rises and grows as manifested in marriage because “the movement of the heart is an upward spiral” as the spouse and child become the gifts of God for whom a person sacrifices, and “the love, which once meant pleasure and self-satisfaction, changes into love for God’s sake.” This purification of love sanctifies and ennobles marriage and instills a “reverence for the mystery of creativeness” in human procreation that imitates the fruitfulness of God’s generosity.
This entire progression into divine life, sacramental grace, and the ascension of love has as its inevitable destination the four last things of death, the final judgment, Heaven, and Hell — the end of human life that sophisticated modern man conveniently ignores, even though “every thought, every deed . . . is registered and recorded.”
When God sees the human soul in the state of grace and sees its conformity to the divine image, God will keep His promise and say, “Come ye blessed of My Father.” When God beholds the soul that does not reflect the image of God because it remains in a state of unrepentant sin, God judges with the words “I know you not.”
While the modern world views Purgatory as an unfounded fictional realm invented by superstition, Sheen explains that Purgatory tempers God’s love with God’s justice to allow for the necessary purification for admission into Heaven. Because nothing “defiled” can enter the heavenly Jerusalem, “Justice demands that nothing unclean, but only the pure of heart shall stand before the face of a pure God.”
Purgatory, however, also is a place where “the love of man tempers the injustice of man,” meaning that the prayers for the dead can atone for all the ingratitude, insults, and injustices the living carelessly inflicted upon the dead when they were alive. The love that was taken for granted, the affection that was not appreciated, and the sacrifices that never received their proper thanksgiving can receive their due when these unspoken words finally express themselves through prayers for the dead as recompense for the “words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”
Purgatory gives consolation for both the living and the dead. For the living it provides one last chance to atone for callous indifference: “Take away Purgatory and how bitter would be our grief for our unkindnesses and how piercing our sorrow for our forgetfulness.” For the dead it brings the joy of knowing they are remembered and cherished in the knowledge that love never dies and love is stronger than death.
To learn of all the chapters in the spiritual life from birth to death, of the adventures of the soul from Baptism to final judgment, and of the mighty acts of God in man’s journey from a fallen world into a heavenly Paradise, this classic by the Venerable Fulton Sheen provides a map like no other and leaves out nothing valuable or essential to know, see, and remember — an education of the highest excellence.

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