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

Friday, March 7, 2014

Five Quick Facts...

...about Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, also known as

Five Misconceptions about Venerable Sheen, refuted
  1. Fulton J. Sheen is the same person as Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.
  2. Fulton J. Sheen was born in El Paso, Texas.
  3. Fulton J. Sheen was a shallow TV personality.
  4. Fulton J. Sheen watered down Catholicism.
  5. Fulton J. Sheen is irrelevant to the 21st century.
Thank you kindly, dear readers, for allowing me to vent. I ran into a woman at church today when I was checking out Sheen books for Lent, and the woman asked if he was the one (I think she meant "bishop") from Chicago who had been falsely--she emphasized the "falsely" part--accused of abuse. I fear there was smoke coming from my ears...ignorance infuriates me. This woman was old enough to have watched Sheen's television program...I was born 10 years after Sheen died, and only discovered him another 14 years later.

Respondeo #1: The bishop from the Chicago area who was falsely accused of abuse was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who died in 1996.  Sheen (who died in 1979) was not from Chicago. He only spent the first 20-odd years of his life in Illinois, after which he taught at the Catholic University of America for 25 years, and spent the last 39 years of his life in the Diocese of New York.

Respondeo #2: There is an El Paso, Illinois, an El Paso, Texas, a Peoria, Illinois, and a Peoria, Texas. So I can see why books--for example, the 2006 Encyclopedia of Catholicism; the Historical Dictionary of the 1950'sIrish Heroes and Heroines--have been published asserting that Sheen was born in El Paso, Texas.
Respondeo #3: For the purposes of this argument, I will define "shallow TV personality" as "a celebrity who is only concerned about the fame and the glory that he gains from his TV shows." With that definition in mind, I grant that Sheen did struggle with his natural human tendency to bask in the fame and the glory. He admits in his autobiography:
When I was a priest I thrilled at being called "Father." I found the title "Monsignor" mellifluous, but was I a victim? 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. I made the right kind of enemies, namely, the Communists. . . . I loved creature comforts. I dressed well and I excused myself for this, saying that the ambassador of Christ should always present himself as a gentleman to the people and one of whom they could be proud. But this can be over-rationalized. (Treasure in Clay, 335, 337)
Immediately, however, Sheen says:
But . . . but . . . how close was I to the Cross? I was the priest; was I the victim? I offered the Eucharist, saying: "This is My Body; This is My Blood" indicating the Body and Blood of Christ. But was I saying of myself: "This is my body; this is my blood"? While many young priests sought ways to imitate the way I preached, was I inspiring anyone to imitate Christ in the daily carrying of His Cross? I knew it was not right. I knew I should be giving away more than I gave. I should have resembled more closely Christ, Who had nowhere to lay His head. I should have fled from some applauding mobs as the Lord fled from the enthusiasm at Capharnaum after the multiplication of bread; maybe I was like Peter, who at one point "followed the Lord far off." (Treasure in Clay, 335-337)
As he looks back on in his life in his autobiography, he does so with a sense of failure...he hasn't done enough. He served Christ, but sometimes he let the fame "go to his head." He gave away the income from his TV programs to the missions, but he knew that he "should be giving away more." However, despite these failures, he still taught the Truth that is Christ.

Respondeo #4: Once he was on television, and addressing a national audience, many of whom were not Catholic, Sheen had to adjust his preaching to his audience. This does not mean that he "watered down" the truths of the Catholic Faith. One does not teach a first-grader "watered-down" religion if one gives him the Baltimore Catechism rather than Aquinas' Summa. Sheen was not "watering down" Catholicism by finding a common denominator from which to preach about angels instead of giving his audience a lecture on the metaphysical properties of separated substances. In Sheen's own words:
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. (Treasure in Clay, 72)
Sheen might have been using modern methods, but he used the media of his day to preach Truth. Not the relative, changing "truth" of our modern world, but the eternal, living Truth Who is Christ.

Respondeo #5: read my post VENERABLE Fulton Sheen: Theologian? Timeless?, some parts of which were quoted in this post.

God Love y'all!