“Treasures in Clay”, an autobiography written by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, is the last book penned by Blessed Archbishop Sheen, culminating over 60 books written by him, with the first one published in 1925. His articles, letters of instruction, religious papers and public writings of sermons, are too numerous to count. With his love of the word, both written and spoken, he continued his gospel messages in radio broadcasting, which began in 1930, and was known as “The Catholic Hour.” This continued until 1950 and was carried worldwide by networks and stations, as well as short wave radio, reaching 4 million people weekly. With his radio success and the advent of TV, he began his legendary TV show in 1951, “Life is Worth Living”, in his famous magenta cape and zucchetto. These TV shows were carried by 123 TV stations and over 300 radio stations, reaching 30 million weekly viewers. These television broadcasts ratings surpassed the “Saturday Shows” of Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra in TV viewership ratings. In fact, Bishop Sheen went on to win an Emmy for these shows. I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of his humor, but as he accepted an Emmy for his shows, “he wished to thank his writers; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” An unlikely scenario in today’s world, as the world truly has changed. Needless to say, his writings and oratory skills played a significant part in the church, and still do to this day.
Bishop Sheen continues to reveal his life and his dedication to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. He brought in understandable interpretations of scriptures and the bible, insightful looks into his prayer life, teachings, retreats, and his little known passion of working for the fallen souls of Jesus. He was driven to converting them back to the church in good standing, and seeing to them; so they continued to thrive in their faith. His exploration between the spiritual bond of Christians and Muslems, and the genealogy, was informative and helpful in the understanding history, and its continuing impact on the world today. I found his question on Fatima insightful when he asked, “Why did the Blessed Mother choose a tiny, insignificant village like Fatima to appear, so that she might be called Our Lady of Fatima?” The Prophet Mohammed’s daughter bore the name of Fatima, and in the Muslim faith, is considered the holiest of all women, followed only by the Blessed Mother. Bishop Sheen continued his reflections back into his early times as a priest, his journeys and worldwide mission work for the poor and hungry, and his time as “Bishop of Rochester,” a place out in the country; far from New York City. His reflections on celibacy, converts, the Second Vatican Council and his tremendous love of the cross, I believe, is a commitment and obligation for us to reflect on, understand and embrace in our journey.
Bishop Sheen’s influence and legacy will continue throughout the church. His readings and sermons are a must for all Christians needing help in their daily lives, and wanting a loving personal relationship with Jesus. He shares his struggles and hardships, his ups and down in the priesthood and explains the must do’s for all priests. His impacts and devotions to finding the “Lost Sheep” for God were relentless. He not only sought them out, he offered his own sufferings for them, so he could do God’s work. I believe the words of Pope John Paul II best expresses Bishop Sheen’s influence on the church. Two months before his death, Fulton Sheen met Pope John Paul II in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. With the iconic picture of the Pope hugging him he said, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church.”
As I continue my journey and ministry, I find Bishop Sheen inspirational and a teacher to imitate. He shows the power of the word, both spoken and written, and was always focused on his audience. He brings his faith to bear on those around him, and in particular, to the ones he knows needs God help and love. His daily life long “alone time” in prayer and devotion to the Holy Eucharist, was his source of strength but, his time also to review his relationship with Jesus. Something we must all embrace. He often would ask for “extra splinters” in prayer, so he could take the sufferings of the cross and unite it with his own, as he went forward every day. Bishop Sheen always felt it was better to ask for your cross, because if you didn’t, Our Lord would just put one on your shoulder anyways. And yes, Our Lord answered his prayers for “extra splinters.”
Reflecting on his life, Bishop Sheen shows the way we must travel and it’s the way regardless of one’s perspectives. He teaches embracement, getting out in front of it and always keeping God in mind. He also had a special love and devotion to the Blessed Mother, and as he said, “I always prayed to her and ask for help, and I always knew if I went through her, she would know how to get to her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in those difficult times, I knew “if she can love me, then Christ is with me.” Secondly, his devotion to developing a personal relationship with Jesus is one that has a profound effect on me, and one I need to always continue daily to nourish and grow. “The more we love Christ the easier it is to be His Alone.” It is to know Christ; not just knowing about Christ. Those words are profound and gets lost in the paragraph. It is knowing Christ; not just knowing about him. It is through this influence that challenges your faith, because you begin to ask yourself the questions which need to be answered. You need and want these answers, as the answers are the enablers for us to move forward. It puts all in perspective for the direction one must begin to take.
What drove Bishop Sheen to his heights throughout the world? What was up most in his mind and what was he always thinking? I have noted some of those answers above, but simply stated he saw a relationship he wanted with God. That was his strength to do what had to be done. He wanted to build the flock for Our Lord and to spread His word. This took on many forms in his words and actions, but for him, it always went back to that relationship. This is significant guidance and direction for me, and one of the major takeaways for me. Bishop Sheen always knew his relationship to God and did not want to disappoint him. If he was ok with God, he knew what he had to do for him. He also kept the cross of our Lord ever so present in his thoughts and his actions. Following the cross lead him to see the beauty of it, and this again for me, is something that is very important and has to always be with me.
As we go forward, we increasingly see the influence of Bishop Sheen in the church. Pope Benedict, in June of this year, began the final step in sainthood by making Bishop Sheen, “Blessed” Sheen. His influence in his teachings and interpretations of scripture are taking on more importance and scope now throughout the world. His ministry for the Propagation of Faith continues to raise the importance of the poor and its missions, and serves as an inspiration for many to follow.
I’ll close in leaving the questions that Bishop Sheen was always trying to find the answers to for his work. It speaks volumes about what I need to do, as it has relevance to the church and its practitioners’ today. They also address the answers to the question, why.
• “Have I really served the Church as well as I should?”
• “Have I used the many talents the Lord has given me?”
• “Have I cast fire upon the earth as the Lord has asked me to do?”
Find A Way