My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fulton Sheen's Cause Suspended...

My faithful readers, I come to you with very sad news tonight:

Fulton J. Sheen's cause for canonization has been suspended.

Read the full story in the Press Release here.

And Bonnie Engstrom's take on it here. (She's the mother of James, who allegedly came back to life through Sheen's intercession.) Both the medical experts and the theologians approved the miracle.

Please storm heaven with me!

Write the Vatican if you're so inclined!

Tell people why Sheen is still relevant, why we need his example in our world!

Write the Archdiocese of New York!

God Love Y'All!

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.
If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why Fulton Sheen? Why Now?

Today is a very exciting day for all those who love Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

The Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation’s press release says:
The seven-member theological commission who advise the Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican unanimously agreed that a reported miracle should be attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen. …  With the recommendations of the medical experts and now the theologians, the case will next be reviewed by the cardinals and bishops who advise the Pope on these matters. Finally, the miracle would be presented to Pope Francis who would then officially affirm that God performed a miracle through the intercession of Fulton Sheen. There is no timeline as to when these next steps might move forward. Should Pope Francis validate this proposed miracle, Sheen could then be declared “Blessed” in a ceremony that could be celebrated in Peoria, Illinois, Sheen’s hometown. Upon the Holy Father signing the decree for the beatification, an additional miracle would lead to the Canonization of Archbishop Sheen, in which he would be declared a “Saint.”
Why is a 20th-century saint relevant to our times?

Sheen is an example of what our  modern relativistic age needs: the commitment to truth, and the commitment to spread that truth in whatever means possible.

He was committed to truth.  He spoke out against the errors of his day when it seemed everyone in America was flocking to them. Whether he was preaching against Communism, calling Americans to task for their materialism, or urging his listeners to help the world’s missions, he had only one goal in mind: to bring people to truth. He writes in his autobiography, Treasure in Clay:
When I began television nationally and on a commercial basis, the approach had to be different.  I was no longer talking in the name of the Church and under the sponsorship of the bishops.  The new method had to be more ecumenical and directed to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and all men of good will.  It was no longer a direct presentation of Christian doctrine but rather a reasoned approach to it beginning with something that was common to the audience.  Hence, during those television years, the subjects ranged from communism, to art, to science, to humor, aviation, war, etc. Starting with something that was common to the audience and to me, I would gradually proceed from the known to the unknown or to the moral and Christian philosophy. It was the same method Our Blessed Lord used when He met a prostitute at the well.  What was there in common between Divine Purity and this woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband?  The only common denominator was a love of cold water.  Starting with that He led her to the subject of the waters of everlasting life.
The truth to which he wanted to bring people was a living, personal Truth—the Source of that everlasting life—Christ Jesus. This is why the Church opened his Cause for Canonization: because in the last analysis, a saint is one who preaches truth. A saint preaches truth “in season and out of season” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2). He does not preach the relative, changing “truth” of his own day as opposed to the “truth” of two centuries previously, but the eternal, living Truth Who is Christ. The manner in which he preaches that Truth may change; his analogies and metaphors may adapt to the changing worldviews of his audience; but it is always the same Truth that he preaches. And in his books, pamphlets, radio talks, and television show, Fulton Sheen sought only one thing: to preach the Eternal and Living Truth of Christ.

Sheen’s commitment to Truth led him to embrace the new media of his day, namely, radio and television. Similarly, if he lived in the 21st-century, he would probably also embrace our age’s new media of Smartphones, wireless Internet, Twitter, and Facebook. But it is how he would use that media that is important. Just as he spread Truth via radio and television, so too would he use today’s media to spread Truth, while at the same time warning us to not let these media distract us from true love of, and real communication with, God and our neighbor.

What else can Sheen teach us?

The medical experts and now the theologians assert that a miracle occurred through his intercession.  Does this make Sheen perfect, other-worldly, a standoffish figure who will only scoff at our sinful selves? Will he make us cower in inferiority when we see his heroic words and deeds?

No. Fulton Sheen was human, just like the rest of us. He was a sinner, too, just like the rest of us. In his posthumously-published autobiography he admits:
When I was a priest I thrilled at being called “Father.” I found the title “Monsignor” mellifluous…. I enjoyed the prestige of being a university professor, and of appearing on radio and television not only at home, but abroad; I was popular, I was sought after, I was loudly applauded after lectures and banquet talks, I was a friend of both royalty and the masses, my features became so recognizable that I would be identified by a passerby in a revolving door, my face appeared in millions of homes.
What does this perfectly human struggle with vanity say about him? it says he can understand our struggles with pride, the root of all sin. It also says we don’t need to feel that his perfection is condemning us.

Sheen himself says in Fullness of Christ that complete perfection of the Church as a whole would prevent the ordinary man–the poor, fallen human–from approaching the Church:
[W]ould not those who object to her because her members are not all holy, be just as scandalized if she were all they wanted her to be?  Suppose every Vicar of Christ was a saint; suppose every member of His Mystical Body was another St. John the Baptist or another St. Theresa.  Would not her very perfection accuse and condemn those who were outside?  . . .  She might even appear to struggling souls as a terrible Puritan, easily scandalized at our failings, who might shrink from having her garments touched by sinners like ourselves. . . .  [A] perfect Church would be a stumbling block.  Then, instead of men being scandalized at her, she would be scandalized at men—which would be far worse.
Is not that also the case with our saints? If our saints were perfect people who never struggled, never sinned, and had no faults…wouldn’t we be afraid of them? Wouldn’t we feel inferior to them and think: “I can never be like St. So-and-So”?

Well, here is a saint-to-be with whom we can identify. He embraced new media, he used it for good, and he struggled just like we do.

Venerable Fulton Sheen, pray for us!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Only after Good Friday...

…do we celebrate Easter Sunday.


always has to come before, and is always followed by


Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that Easter Sunday only comes after Lent, after 40 days of fasting and penance? Or more than that, even, that Easter Sunday only comes after Good Friday?

Venerable Fulton Sheen says this eloquently in Life of Christ:

Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives there will never be an Easter Sunday. The Cross is the condition of the empty tomb, and the crown of thorns is the preface to the halo of light.
When all is said and done, there are only two philosophies of life. One is first the feast, then the hangover; the other, first the fast and then the feast. … Christianity begins not with sunshine but with defeat.
Out of the darkest moment in the lives of Christ’s Apostles, and, it seemed, the darkest moment in His Life, arose the brightest moment. That darkest moment was not the end.

Not only is that true in the Life of Our Blessed Lord, and continued in the liturgical and personal life of His Mystical Body the Church; it is also true in our lives–both as we follow the liturgical year of the Church, and in our own personal day-to-day lives.

Belief in that truth requires hope. There will be an end to the fasting and the penance. Good Friday is not the end; we do not need to despair–indeed, we ought not to despair.

Whatever the agonies and the Good Fridays through which we are journeying now, they will always be followed by Easter Sundays. The journey does not end on Good Friday. However much we might preach that suffering is redemptive and that mortification is an essential part of the spiritual life, we never slam on the brakes on Good Friday. We don’t congratulate ourselves on having made it to Good Friday, and then wallow in the despair and the pain and the abandonment.

Rather, from the Good Fridays of our own personal lives, we must try to say with Job:
For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God. (Job 19:25-26)
Because in our lives, as in the life of the Church, Good Friday is always followed by Easter Sunday. Job knows, even in the midst of his suffering, that God exists. He knows his “Easter Sunday” will come.

In the words of the prophet Hosea:
For he hath taken us, and he will heal us: he will strike, and he will cure us. He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. (Hosea 6:1-3)
Apart from the fact that these verses are a prophecy of the Resurrection of Christ, they are also an expression of the prophet’s hope, just as Job’s words are his expression of hope.

We’re struggling; maybe we’re wrestling with the constant fear that our struggles are something that God has deliberately sent to us to teach us a lesson or to see how strong we are (God’s not like that); but our Easter Sunday will come.

God will heal us; He will cure us, and He will raise us up with His Son to rejoice with Him forever.

Because He has risen, and He is with us. And He will never, ever leave us in the darkness of Good Friday.

God Love Y’All!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gratitude List #3...21-30

Today has just been a beautiful day.

#21. The day started  with SPRED (religious education for children with special needs) at my friend Leksi was in a good mood today and even said a few words I understood!

#22. Then a bike ride to the library to pick up...finally!...Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.

#23. The aforementioned book, which I'm looking forward to reading.

#24 After a quick bite of lunch, it was time to take another bike ride to confession.  None of the anxiety that usually builds as I stand in line and shift from foot to foot.  Just peace.  And the forgiveness of sins.

#25. Reminders of the approaching most solemn days of the Church Year.

Hosanna to the Son of David!
(I know I'm a day early, but these palms were already up in our Adoration Chapel)

#26. Pictures of Spring!

This isn't a rose, but...

  I see His blood upon the rose
              And in the stars the glory of His eyes,
              His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

    I see His face in every flower;
                  The thunder and the singing of the birds
                           Are but His voice—and carven by his power
   Rocks are his written words.
            All pathways by His feet are worn,
                       His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
                               His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.     
Joseph Mary Plunkett, "I See His Blood upon the Rose"

Mary Most Holy, pray for us! 

#27. The time that I had; no rush to get home, just time to bike and look at spring.

#28. The time to bike into the cemetery, to pray for the souls of the faithful departed.

#29 The deer I saw. In the middle of the cemetery.  In the middle of a busy city.

He didn't move.  I was able to move until there was no fence between me and him.

He just stood there and looked at me.
And I looked at him, and marveled, and thanked God for this.

#30. Evening Prayer 1 for Palm Sunday...
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee: because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world!

God Love y'all!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gratitude List #2...#'s 12-20

Today's list is going to be a little bit harder to find...the stress roared in from nowhere again. I was in such a good mood as I biked to my part-time job, and then, at work, the good mood evaporated. And I started over-thinking things, and panicking, and feeling generally grumpy.

However, I'm going to plow through that and write the gratitude list:

#12. Good books...I just (finally!) started reading Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, by John and Stasi Eldgredge. So far, so good...maybe I'll write a book review in a few weeks.

#13. Employment...the fact that I have a part-time job, and some income.

#14. The roof over my head, a place to sleep, food in the fridge, and money in the bank account.

#15. My first attempt at braiding my own hair...I have resolved that I will learn to braid my own hair by the time I'm 25. A month and a half to learn.

#16. The music of Jason Crabb, Steven Curtis Chapman, and others.  Songs that lift my spirits.

Jason Crabb, "Let Mercy Hold You"

Steven Curtis Chapman, "Fingerprints of God"

#17. A cup of warm black tea.

#18. That afternoon's been a very long week!

#19. Tomorrow's SPRED session...working with those kids always cheers me up...and then the chance to go to confession in the afternoon, to prepare for Holy Week!

#20. The ability to write this gratitude list, even though stress and worry are weighing me down again.

God Love Y'All!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gratitude List #1...#'s 1-11

I've been really stressed lately, both financially (taxes are evil) and personally.

But today I'm tired of being stressed. It's time to start counting my blessings, time to cheer myself up, time to get out of these doldrums.

So I'm tearing a page out of the books of two bloggers, both of whom have inspired me so much in recent days: Mary over at Passionate Perseverance, and Ann over at A Holy Experience.

Today, I am grateful for....

#1. A bike ride in this beautiful Spring weather.


Cherry trees!  Proof that SPRING is here! 

#3. The elderly gentleman who, as I whistled while biking, said, "We can hear you coming. Thank you." (To seem, that might seem sarcastic; but I think maybe he hadn't seen me coming, and was genuinely grateful that I was whistling so he could hear me coming.)  Made.  My.  Day.

#4. The ability to go to the Adoration Chapel.

#5. Looking up that passage in Matthew 6:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink. . . . Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? . . . If God so clothes the grass of the field...will He not much more provide for you, O ye of little faith? So do not worry and say "What are we to eat?" or "What are we to drink?" or "What are we to wear?"
#6. The ability to go to Mass today.

#7. The reminder, in the General Intercessions, to trust "that God watches over us and provides for our needs."

#8. The 3-year-old who shook my hand at the Sign of Peace.

#9. The bank teller who asked if I needed water for my throat (still recovering from last week's bout of bronchitis)

#10. Baby Brussels Sprouts.  I opened the package expecting the big ones, which I like, and found it was full of very small, cute little Sprouts.  :-)

#11. The professor's family (my adopted family...they would adopt me legally if it didn't cost so much money) ;-) who called to check up on me today.

God Love Y'All!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Embracing the Cross or Leaning on a Crutch?

From the time of Karl Marx, who famously said that religion "is the opium of the people," to our own days when modern secularists think that religion is a crutch for the weak, atheists and those who scoff at religion view it as some form of escape from the problems of daily life. Some of these views include the following:
1. Religion is a drug, not unlike opium, which those who "have religion" use to numb themselves to the hardships of life. It's something that lifts their spirits, maybe even makes them a little "high." They're happy all the time, and that's just not natural.
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan /
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan /
2. Religion is a crutch on which religious people lean because they are too weak to "stand on their own two feet," too insecure to practice the modern virtues of independence and self-reliance.
3. Religion is something that might help in times of suffering, but isn't really necessary when the suffering is over. It's okay if those religious people turn to it to ease their pain, but as soon as they've stopped hurting, they can--and indeed should--throw it away. After all, no one uses a crutch once his broken foot has healed.
These, however, are wrong views of religion.
Religion is not a drug that blinds us to the hardships of life. Rather, it strengthens us to face the hardships of life without staggering under their sometimes impossibly heavy burden. Even if we have faith--some might say, because we have faith--we are still going to experience hardship. And our faith might not make it hurt less. It can help. Sometimes it eases the pain, but sometimes it doesn't touch the pain, and we have to carry that pain.
There are a lot of people out there who have faith, who indeed are very strong in their faith, and they still hurt. Look at the saints. They suffered; some even died for their faith. Did they mess up somewhere along the line? Did their God abandon them? No. He was there through all of it. He gave them the strength they needed to bear the pain, to not fall under the burden.
In the second place, religion is not a crutch on which we lean in order to escape responsibility, or to comfort us when we are suffering. A crutch, by its very nature, is a temporary aid for walking. If we view religion as something we lean on "while it hurts," then discard, then our religion is not true religion.
True religion lasts throughout our life, in both our sufferings and our joys. It is also more laborious to walk with a crutch than to walk just with "our own two feet." Religion does not make our lives more laborious; it gives us strength to carry our difficulties.
If we throw the crutch away and try to "stand on our own two feet," we'll fall. As fallen human beings, we need grace; we need God. However, we cannot use religion as an excuse for avoiding our duties and shirking responsibility. In the words of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen:
The other day a husband who admitted he could not be faithful to his wife, upbraided her for turning to God, saying that she was using religion as a crutch. The assumption behind such a statement is that one ought to live on his moral fat and be dependent on nothing outside oneself. The rotten luxury of living on and for one's own ego is here exalted to a point where the eye is called a crutch because it leans on the birds and flowers for seeing; the ear is called a crutch because it leans on the song of the birds and the sigh of the waterfall for hearing; the stomach is labelled a crutch, but it craves food.
Nothing in nature is complete within itself; everything looks to something outside and beyond self except the egotist. The glory of the clouds is to die in showers, spending themselves on others. But the egotist, living only for self must eventually fall into despair and unhappiness when he discovers his own bankruptcy. Once all the honeyed treasure of his body is spent, with no new life to show, then he discovers the lonesomeness of being alone.
Finally, "religion" that only lasts as long as suffering lasts is not real. It's like asking your mother for a Band-Aid because you cut your finger, then never talking to her again because she took care of that one need.
If religion is not a drug to numb our pain or a crutch to support our weakness or a temporary Band-Aid for our wounds, then what is it?
Fulton Sheen again reminds us that religion is not something the weak lean on; rather, it is something we carry:
Religion is actually not a crutch; it is a cross. It is not an escape, it is a burden; not a flight, but a response. We speak here of a religion with teeth in it, the wind that demands self-sacrifice and surrender. One leans on a crutch, but a cross rests on us. It takes a hero to embrace a cross. (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Way to Happy Living.)
"Wait a minute," you're saying. "If religion isn't going to numb me to the hardships of life, and is instead going to burden me, weigh me down with a heavy cross...why do I need it?"
Religion is not going to weigh us down. It is something we carry--Sheen is right when he calls it a cross, a burden--but it is a "yoke [that] is sweet" and a "burden [that is] light" (cf. Mt. 11:30). As the Crux Fidelis sings so beautifully, "sweet the wood and sweet the nails, laden with so sweet a Load."
If we throw it away under the delusion that we're self-sufficient and can "stand on our own two feet," we will quickly realize that our burdens are ten times heavier without the support of that cross. That sweet Load is actually the weight of our Savior, Who helps us to "carry" the suffering as He invites us to carry our crosses in union with His.
This is something to ponder during Lent, as we focus on taking up our Cross and following our Crucified Savior.  Are we using our Faith as an excuse, as medicine only when it hurts and then discarding it like we discard the crutch after our broken leg heals? Or are we shouldering that light Cross and carrying it after our Crucified Lord?
Do we accept the burden of our Faith?
Do we embrace the Cross, or do we lean on it as on a crutch?
"My yoke is sweet and my burden light" (Mt. 11:30).