Friday, May 30, 2014


‘Man is good, and tells the secret of his goodness in the language of thought.’ Who said that? Well, it was Venerable Fulton J Sheen [pictured], now on the way to Catholic sainthood.

There will be many today, even in the Catholic world, who have never heard of Fulton J Sheen. That is sad, because he towered over the Catholic world in the West for a fair bit of last century. Yes, he shone like a blazing comet, and he was without doubt the greatest Catholic evangelist of last century. Possessing an unforgettable voice, and a gifted wordsmith, he made Catholics proud to be Catholics. Oh, how the Catholic Church needs a Fulton Sheen today! But there never will be another Fulton Sheen. He was a divine original.

Sheen, who was at the helm of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for some 16 years, wrote dozens of books---many still in print---and was a master communicator. For years he broadcast his message on radio and TV. He even won an Emmy Award. In fact, he won two of them, for ‘Most Outstanding Television Personality.’ He jokingly called himself ‘Uncle Fultie’ in an affectionate nod to his very good friend comedian Milton Berle who was sometimes known as ‘Uncle Miltie.’ Millions wouldn’t be familiar with Milton Berle either. Oh, dear. Anyway, it happened like this. When Sheen won an Emmy, Berle quipped, ‘He's got better writers---Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!’ Shortly thereafter Sheen opened his program by saying ‘Good evening, this is Uncle Fultie.’ Sheen was good at self-deprecation. His sense of humour, though corny at times, was always endearing.

Above: Fulton Sheen ... with his good friend Milton Berle
Below left: Sheen at his Holy Hour of adoration

However, Sheen’s perennial attacks on both communism and psychiatry reveal that he was a reactionary. As respects psychiatry, he saw it as a real threat to the church. Not so his erstwhile Protestant friend Norman Vincent Peale who saw Christianity and psychiatry as very compatible. Peale embraced psychiatry. Sheen shunned it. In that respect Dr Peale was much more ahead of his times even though he too was a reactionary in many ways. Yes, it always seemed to me that Sheen was forever fighting for a rear guard action against change and by the time of his death in 1979 he had become in many ways irrelevant. He became an increasingly nostalgic figure, associated with a bygone era when the Catholic Church, and the United States, were at their strongest.

Sheen’s cause for canonization for sainthood was officially opened in 2002. In June 2012 Pope Benedict XVI officially recognized a decree from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints stating that he lived a life of ‘heroic virtue’---a major step towards beatification---so he is now referred to as ‘Venerable.’ More recently (March 2014), a team of medical experts convened by the Vatican reported there was no natural explanation for the survival of a child delivered stillborn and whose heart did not start beating until 61 minutes after his birth. The survival of the child, James Fulton Engstrom, now three years old and developing normally, was credited by his parents to a miracle attributable to the intercession of the long-dead Archbishop Sheen. The child’s mother and father prayed to Sheen to heal their son.

The case will now move on to a select number of cardinals and bishops, and then finally to Pope Francis who will have to decide whether or not to affirm that God performed a miracle through the intercession of the late archbishop. An amazing story. Ever the skeptic, but ever with an open mind unlike many skeptics, I simply don’t know what to make of all this. We live in a fascinating world, and there is so much we don’t know and can’t explain. Life is a mystery---and, in the words of Fulton Sheen, life is worth living. For the uninitiated, that was the name of Sheen's TV program as well as the title of a series of his more well-known books. Here is a clip from a 1966 episode of his TV program, this one being on the subject of 'The Death of God':

Sheen was very knowledgeable in theology and philosophy, and was very well qualified academically. His theology reveals a great debt to Platonism and Neoplatonism. Sheen would refer to Plato’s question, ‘If there is only one God, what does He think about, for if He is an intelligent being He must think of something?’ He gave this as an answer in his book The Divine Romance:

God does not think one thought, or one word, one minute and another the next. Thoughts are not born to die, and do not die to be reborn, in the mind of God. All present to Him at once. In Him there is only one Word. He has no need of another. That Thought or Word is infinite and equal to Himself, hence a Person unique and absolute, first-born of the spirit of God; a Word which tells what God is, a Word from which all human words have been derived, and of which created things are but merely the broken syllables or letters; a Word which is the source of all the wisdom in the world.

Then there are these gems:

God has two pictures of us: one is what we are, and the other is what we ought to be.

Everything that exists is the realization and concretion of an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity.

All art is an imitation of the Divine Artist who, from all eternity, possessed in His Divine Mind the archetypal ideas according to which He made the world in time.

Every bird, every flower, every tree, has been made according to an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity.

God has one Idea, and that Idea is the totality of all Truth. Thoughts are not born to die to be reborn in the Mind of God.

God the father is related to God the Son as the Eternal Thinker is related to His Eternal Thought.

I have often read that Sheen’s writings reveal the influence of New Thought, and many New Thoughters claim Sheen as one of their own. True, any of the gems set out above could have been written by a New Thought writer, but the link is more indirect. Sheen was not a New Thoughter although there are certainly some similarities in language and thought-form. Just as Sheen’s theology discloses a debt to Neoplatonism so does New Thought. New Thought is in many ways a revival of Neoplatonism. So was Sheen’s theology---at least in some respects. They both drank from the same fountain, but Sheen was forever the Catholic traditionalist. (It seemed even more so, as the years rolled on.) However, strange though it may seem, perhaps the best way of describing Sheen is to say that he was a Catholic evangelical---perhaps the very first one. Yes, there is such a thing---and Sheen was the greatest one of them all. Dr Billy Graham [pictured left, with Sheen] approved of him, and loved him dearly. He described Sheen as ‘a man whose love for Christ continued to grow until the end of his life.’

I still love listening to Fulton Sheen. I still read his books. When my life was its lowest ebb---some 20 years ago---his writings gave me hope. Almost totally destroyed by years of alcoholism, I these words of Sheen, and they gave me hope that I could get better:

Man is the pontiff of the universe, the ‘bridge builder’ between matter and spirit, suspended between one foundation on earth and the other in heaven.

Man has his feet in the mud of the earth, his wings in the skies.

There are two ways of knowing how good God is. One is never to lose Him; the other is to lose Him and find Him again.

I found Him again. And, as Sheen himself said, ‘Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.’ In my darkest hours, broken in body and spirit, separated from my family because of my drinking, and not knowing whether I would ever be able to continue in my chosen profession, these words of Sheen meant the most to me, and I read them over and over again:

The cross reveals that unless there is a Good Friday in our lives, there will never be an Easter Sunday. Unless there is a crown of thorns, there will never be the halo of light. Unless there is the scourged body, there will never be a glorified one. Death to the lower self is the condition of resurrection to the higher self. The world says to us, as it said to Him on the cross: ‘Come down, and we will believe!’ But if He came down, He never would have saved us. It is human to come down; it is divine to hang there.

‘Death to the lower self is the condition of resurrection to the higher self.’ That is the only thing I write about on this blog of mine. It is the only thing (I think) we need to know and understand … and most of all experience. It is the real miracle---to die to your lower, false self and to be resurrected into newness of life so as to become the living embodiment of that other ‘picture’ of you which the Eternal Thinker has in His Mind … namely, the person you ought to be and in Truth really are.

I will finish with Sheen’s traditional sign-off. God love you.

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