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Catholic Heroes . . . Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

February 9, 2021 saints No Comments


“We have almost forgotten that we are in a great mortal combat; the forces of good and the forces of evil. Today we are beginning either to domesticate the devil or to deny him” — Fulton J. Sheen.
Before there was EWTN with Mother Angelica, there was Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. The Venerable Sheen is proof that Catholic orthodoxy is dynamic, popular, and riveting. The priest who was born before the advent of broadcasting would go on to be a radio, then a television “star,” which only God could have foreseen. When network executives one day placed his television show prime time opposite Milton Berle, he wiped him in the ratings, the source of many jokes on both sides. Sheen would go on to air on over a hundred stations just with his one show alone, Life Is Worth Living, and sometimes to as many as 30 million viewers.
Born in the nineteenth century (1895), Sheen was the eldest of four brothers, the second generation born in the U.S. of Irish immigrant farmers. Like so many saints of the past, he was sickly, having contracted TB as an infant. One account states Fulton was his mother’s maiden name. In his book, A Treasure in Clay, he states his family started referring to him as “Fulton’s baby” as a family joke, he cried so much as an infant. His given name, Peter John Sheen, evolved to Fulton J. Sheen, as a result.
Sheen knew from a young age, however, that he had a calling to be a priest, serving as an altar boy, valedictorian of his high school class in Peoria, Ill., going on to St. Paul’s Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. He was ordained in 1919, just after the end of the “Great War.” He continued studying next at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., going abroad next to earn doctorates first in Belgium at Leuven’s Catholic University and next at Rome’s Angelicum. At this point he was fluent in French and went to England, teaching a year at St. Edmund’s in Ware, the oldest post-Reformation school of its kind.
At the same time, he was posted at St. Patrick’s Church in Soho and could have continued teaching in places like Oxford, only he was called back to Illinois by his bishop in 1926. It was, in part, to test his obedience. No fault was found!
The next year he was sent to Washington, D.C., where he began teaching at the Catholic University of America.
Around this time he also began writing the first of the approximately 70 books he would write during his long lifetime. G.K. Chesterton wrote the introduction to the book, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy. In 1930 he began a new project, serving as a host for radio’s “The Catholic Hour,” a show which lasted 22 years, an eternity on radio. He only left to become auxiliary bishop in New York, when he also switched to television and hosting, Life is Worth Living.

Shows And More

The Catholic Hour/Radio (1930-1952)
Life Is Worth Living (1952-1957)
The Best of Bishop Sheen (1958-1961)
The Fulton Sheen Program (1961-1968)
Easter Sunday Mass (1940) — First televised religious service
Head, Society for the Propagation of the Faith (1958-1966)
Ministr-O-Media, cassette distribution ministry founded in 1974

Sheen had a great gift for rhetoric. Indeed, he had studied speaking with a voice instructor while in Rome. His use of tone, emphasis, volume, silence, and resonance, all timed beautifully with his subject matter, held the listener or viewer captive. His speaking approach was a mix of humor and drama, and he spoke extemporaneously. He would rehearse thirty hours for a single hour-long program. Below Sheen is speaking of God’s grace described in St. Thomas Aquinas. As he explains, we can do nothing without God in our fallen state, not even avoid sin; we must therefore be all the more open and cooperate with His grace to merit what God sees fit to bestow on us.
“[Said with great emphasis] Gratia gratum faciens. That which makes us pleasing to God. Take for instance one of the charisms. Take preaching. Now I can preach. God gave me power, He gave me that gift; He gave me that charism. Because I preach Christ, because I preach the love of Christ, it’s very easy for people to say, ‘Bishop Sheen’s a holy man.’ Not at all! I’m not holy because I have the charism of preaching! Not in the least! I became holy before I get up and after I preached! I’m only exercising a gift that God gave me, that’s all. So, let no one become proud of these gifts…they pass away, St. Paul said.”
The archbishop once commented: “A Catholic who does not strive to spread his Faith is a parasite on the life of the Church.” He loved to preach to all faiths — indeed, he sought eagerly to win souls for Christ and — made many converts. Some were famous, from violinist Fritz Kreisler and writer Clare Boothe Luce, to unknown but equally important souls in the eyes of God. Those who tuned in to hear his broadcasts were of mixed faiths or his ratings would not have been nearly so high. Compare this to the “relevant” homilies of today; those who try to water down orthodoxy lose Catholics at their parishes, they do not gain them. In the end, the soul knows Truth when it hears it.
He was a strong opponent of Communism, words that are all the more relevant in today’s day and age where many left-leaning liberals feel socialism and Communism naively may be safely embraced at no cost to themselves.
He had a great love of the Blessed Sacrament, asking people in later years, “Why not spend a holy hour to make up for an abortion every 30 seconds.” It was his practice for over half a century. Writing in his book, A Treasure in Clay: On the Day of my Ordination, he said he made two resolutions:
“1. I would offer the Holy Eucharist every Saturday in honor of the Blessed Mother to solicit her protection on my priesthood. The Epistle to the Hebrews bids the priest offer sacrifices not only for others, but also for himself, since his sins are greater because of the dignity of the office.
“2. I resolved also to spend a continuous Holy Hour every day in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In the course of my priesthood I have kept both of these resolutions. The Holy Hour had its origin in a practice I developed a year before I was ordained. The big chapel in St. Paul’s Seminary would be locked by six o’clock; there were still private chapels available for private devotions and evening prayers. This particular evening during recreation, I walked up and down outside the closed major chapel for almost an hour. The thought struck me — why not make a Holy Hour of adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament? The next day I began, and the practice is now well over sixty years old.”
By 1979, he had been suffering from heart trouble for some time and even undergone open heart surgery. On December 9, he was found in front of the Tabernacle, having passed away, praying in the presence of Our Lord.
Just two months before his death, he was surprised by a visit by Pope St. John Paul II, who embraced him and Fulton Sheen was visibly moved. And nine days later, he sent Sheen a letter to congratulate him on 60 faithful years in the priesthood.
As a final post-note, we know that John Paul II was the “Pope of Life.” Sheen also spoke on the sanctity of life, urging many to also spiritually adopt an unborn child so that he or she might not be aborted.
As President Biden has just reversed the Mexico City Policy first implemented under President Ronald Reagan (and expanded under President Donald Trump), American taxpayer funds will again be flowing abroad and worldwide for abortions. Why not spiritually adopt a child today and pray for the archbishop’s canonization, as well? Sheen’s prayer follows.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn child that I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion” — Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
A miracle has been approved by Pope Francis, to move the way forward for the archbishop’s beatification date, which has yet to be set. The miracle involved a miraculous resurrection of a stillborn baby. Given the nature of the miracle, we would like to prayerfully dedicate this column to all those working to preserve the sanctity of human life, including the recently deceased Joseph Scheidler, RIP.

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