Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen - Author, Orator and Missionary
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen - Author, Orator and Missionary
Author: Great Catholic Books Newsletter
GREAT CATHOLIC BOOKS NEWSLETTER
Volume II, Number 2
Fulton J. Sheen Issue
ARCHBISHOP FULTON J. SHEEN - AUTHOR, ORATOR AND MISSIONARY
During the Tre Ore sermon which he preached on Good Friday some years ago,
Fulton J. Sheen asked his audience: "If Jesus Christ thirsted for souls,
must not a Christian also thirst? If He came to cast fire on the earth,
must not a Christian be enkindled? Has he not called us to be His apostles
and His ambassadors, in order that His Incarnation might be prolonged
through the continued dispensation of the divine through the human?" He
answered his own question by declaring that, "A Catholic who does not
strive to spread his Faith is a parasite on the life of the Church."
This apostrophe on the duty and dignity of the Christian apostolate is a
faithful description of Bishop Sheen himself, whose zeal in advancing the
Kingdom of Christ in America made him "the most widely publicized
"converter" in the Church, perhaps the most famous preacher in the United
States, and certainly America's best known Catholic priest."
Born in the small country town of El Paso, Illinois, on May 6, 1895,
Fulton Sheen was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 24. After
receiving a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Louvain, and in
theology, from the Angelico, Rome, he returned to the United States in
1925, and two years later began teaching philosophy at the Catholic
University in Washington, D.C. In 1950, he was appointed National Director
of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and shortly after, went
to Rome, where he was consecrated titular Bishop of Caesariana and made
auxiliary to His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New
OPPONENT OF MODERN ATHEISM AND COMMUNISM
Fulton Sheen realized from the outset that the apostolate in our times,
before everything else, means to expose the errors and tactics of the
enemies of Christ. Unless the evils which surround them are understood, he
argued, how can faithful Christians protect themselves from contagion; and
unless their disease is made known to them, how can those who now hate and
revile Christ be finally converted to love Him?
The first of his thirty-six published volumes, therefore, was a carefully
documented analysis of the godlessness of modern civilization, especially
in the United States. "Modern philosophy," it began, "has seen the birth
of a new nation of God...It is God in evolution. God not. He
. In the beginning was not the Lord, but in the beginning was
. From this movement God is born by successive creations. As
the world progresses, He progresses; as the world acquires perfection, He
acquires perfection. (Moreover) man is a necessary step in the evolution
of God. Just as man came from the beast, God will come from man...It is
the purpose of this work to examine this new notion of God," which he did,
through 300 pages of quotations from American and English pragmatists like
James, atheists like Dewey, naturalists like Sellars, and agnostics like
Hume, Huxley and Hocking. His conclusion, which might serve as a thesis
for all his future writings, was that: "The wisdom of the ages and the
epitome of our experience is given in the simple truth understood by the
simple and forgotten by many a philosopher, that we are not 'God-makers
Between 1925 and 1937, three other books dealt with the same general
theme, the decadence of western society as the result of its estrangement
from God. By 1937, however, it became sufficiently clear to Sheen that
modern atheism was not only an esoteric philosophy preached by learned
professors at Harvard and Yale; it was a new messianism emanating from
Moscow and threatening to cover the face of the earth. So in the same year
that Pius XI issued his Encyclical on Atheistic Communism, Msgr. Sheen
published three books entitled, in sequence: , , and . All through the war years, when
others were silent on the subject because of our alliance with Russia,
Sheen was unsparing in his denunciation of the "Red Terror."
Finally in 1948 he published ,
which competent critics have justly described as "a prerequisite for an
intelligent understanding of communist thought and development."
Regarding the origin of Communism, Sheen is convinced that this
"apocalypse of violence" is the price of our sins.
Communism is both an effect and a judgment on our Western world; an effect
because it was born of our unfulfilled Christian duties, our abandonment
of the Father's House in favor of materialism; a judgment because it
reveals how wrong has been our thinking, how evil have been our deeds.
Where, he asks, did the philosophy of Communism begin? Not in Russia but
in the Western world of the last century. It is western in origin: its
philosophy is German, its sociology French, its economics English. Karl
Marx, its founder, patched the dialectics of Hegel on to the materialism
of Feuerbach, to the sociology of Proudhon, to the economic problems born
of liberalism, and out of it came the new gospel which has now turned upon
its creators to torment them for the past.
Since our generation is responsible, we must humbly acknowledge our guilt
before God, sincerely repent, and do penance for the errors of the past.
But even this is not enough. For "unless there is a moral revival in our
Western world (especially) a rebirth of family life, Communism may be the
instrument for the liquidation of a bourgeois civilization that has
forgotten God." We are afraid of Communism, and with justice; but our
fears should be rational. "Communism," he says, "is not to be feared just
because it is anti-God, but because we are Godless; not because it is
strong but because we are weak, for if we are under God, then who can
CHRISTIAN PSYCHOLOGY VERSUS FREUDIANISM
In 1946, Dr. Joshua Liebman, rabbi of Temple Israel, Boston, and one of
the leading radio preachers in the States, published a best seller on
Freudianism called . The first issue of 20,000 was sold out
in a month. By the end of 1947, over 475,000 copies had been bought by
anxiety-ridden Americans who desired the peace of mind which the author
promised them. But the price of this "peace" was high. Under title of
"Conscience doth make cowards of us all," in one chapter Rabbi Liebman
disposed of sin, guilt, penance and the commandments of God, as relics of
"the early stages of mankind," from which it is high time that our
scientific age should be delivered.
Liebman died not long after publishing his book, but this was too widely
read and imitated by others to be left unchallenged. Fulton Sheen answered
Liebman in the , which attained a popularity not
incomparable to Liebman's. Besides appearing in book form, it was also
published serially in the secular newspapers, whose editors recognized
that true peace is possible only with a Christian solution of the problems
that are torturing men's souls.
"Unless souls are saved," Sheen began, "nothing is saved. There can be no
world peace unless there is soul peace. During World War II, Pius XII said
that postwar man would be more changed than the map of postwar Europe. It
is this postwar, frustrated man, or the modern soul, who interests us in
this volume." Fourteen chapters then follow in the order of Liebman's
panegyric on Freud. He begins by "debunking" the assertion that
psychoanalysis has something "new and better" to offer for the care of
men's souls than the wisdom of the Church and her saints. "In the whole
gamut of modern psychology there is nothing written on frustration, fears
and anxieties which can even faintly compare in depth or breadth with St.
Thomas's treatise on the Passions, St. Augustine's , or
Bossuet's treatise on Concupiscence."
In answer to the rabbi, who described religion as "a fossil in an age that
has turned to Marx and Freud and Einstein for salvation," Sheen
logically reduced the various tensions which psychology studies to a
reflection of the "deeper metaphysical tension, inherent in every human
being, between his contingent and limited being and the Infinite and
Absolute Being" of God.
And instead of surrendering to one's feelings which Liebman recommended as
the condition for peace of mind, Sheen explains and proves that "anxiety
cannot be cured by a surrender to passions and instincts; the basic cause
of our anxiety is a restlessness within time, which comes because we are
made for eternity. If there were anywhere on earth a resting place other
than God, we may be very sure that the human soul in its long history
would have found it before this."
Speaking for the Freudians, Liebman had scoffed at the idea of guilt and
sin. But sin, says Sheen, is relentless. "If we remain in sin through the
denial of sin, despair takes possession of our souls." And then follows a
terrible indictment of those who, under cover of science, would destroy
the foundation of the moral order. "The condition of despair induced by
unrepented sin often reaches a point where there is a positive fanaticism
against religion and morality. He who has fallen away from the spiritual
order will hate it, because religion is the reminder of his guilt."
It is to the credit of the American people that was so
favorably received. It is a further tribute to their faith in God and his
revealed truth, that Bishop Sheen's television broadcasts every week over
a national network has been officially rated as "the outstanding radio
contribution to American culture in 1952." These programs, called , were a dramatic exposition of the principles outlined in
the . On Tuesday evenings, from 6 to 6:30, an estimated
audience of two to five million heard and saw a Roman Catholic Bishop
chalk in hand, in front of a blackboard explain the purpose of man's life
in this world; how because of the fall of Adam, sin and concupiscence have
entered into our lives; how through the help of God's grace and the use of
our reason, we may resist the drag of concupiscence and avoid the pitfalls
of sin; and how if we are faithful in resisting temptation until death, we
shall be happy with God for all eternity.
The Du Mont network, which presented the show, got no money for it, and
gave the Bishop what in radio parlance is called an "obituary spot," i.e.
conflicting with two very popular shows on other networks. Against this
formidable competition, the bishop made a spectacular showing. Du Mont was
deluged by mail response (8,500 letters a week). And the popularity
rating of his program is regarded as "unequalled by any other
'inspirational' or intellectual show" in American television. One TV
commentator at the time remarked, "It is quite possible that he is the
finest Catholic orator since Peter the Hermit."
MAKER OF CONVERTS
Fulton Sheen's interest in converting non-Catholics and bringing lapsed
Catholics back to the Church dates from his earliest years in the
priesthood. With his increased popularity as a speaker and writer,
requests for instruction multiplied from prospective converts - with
remarkable success. Senator Wagner, the champion of labor; Heywood Broun,
columnist and freethinker; Gretta Palmer, the writer; Fritz Kreisler,
violinist; Elizabeth Bentley, communist underground worker; Henry Ford II,
the motor industrialist, are some of the "notables" whom Bishop (As Father
and Monsignor) Sheen brought to the Catholic Faith. But there have been
hundreds of obscure converts too: the English actress who later became a
contemplative nun; the French woman on the verge of suicide whom he saved
and turned into a daily communicant; the Jewish girl, cast off by her
family for becoming a Catholic, whom he set up in a beauty shop; the bigot
who approached him to abuse him, and who ended as a zealous lay apostle
for the faith.
The Bishop gives three reasons why nonCatholics turn to the Church: 1) a
moral crisis, especially the consciousness of sin and the desire of
forgiveness which the sacraments of the Church assure them; 2) an
intellectual crisis, when people who have wandered for years in the desert
of agnosticism suddenly realize that in the Catholic Faith are to be found
that conviction of mind and peace of soul which they had been looking for
elsewhere in vain; 3) a physical crisis such as illness, and accident or
the loss of a loved one by desertion or death, when they realize that only
in the teachings of the Church can they find that courage and strength of
will which they need to carry their cross in conformity to the will of
Before instructions are possible, a likely convert must first be disposed
to wish to become a Catholic or, if lapsed, to return to the Church. Sheen
went out in search of the sheep, not hesitating to call on them
personally, or to call them by phone and invite them to pay him a visit.
Louis Budenz had left the Church to join the Communist party, and
eventually became managing editor of the Communist . In 1937
he publicly invited Catholics to join forces with Communism in the
interest of world peace. Fulton Sheen answered him in a pamphlet in which
he said: "I am convinced that the greatest propagandists of Communism know
practically nothing factual about it. They talk of Russia either in
general terms or in the stereotyped language of its propaganda. That is
why I believe many Communists are in good faith, and here I include you,
Not satisfied with this, the Monsignor arranged to meet Budenz personally
in a New York hotel. At dinner together, Budenz started to argue in favor
of the democratic merits of the new Soviet Constitution. But, as he later
confessed, "Monsignor Sheen knows the secret of dealing with people who
have broken with the Church...Pushing aside the remaining cutlery on the
table as though to waive any argumentation, Monsignor bent forward and
exclaimed: 'Let us now talk of the Blessed Virgin!'"
This was the beginning of the end. Budenz continues: "Immediately, I was
conscious of the senselessness and sinfulness of my life as I then lived
it. The peace that flows from Mary, and which had been mine in the early
days, flashed back to me with an overwhelming vividness. There rang in my
ears for a moment the prayer which comes from the salutation of Gabriel:
'Ave Maria, gratia plena.' How often, I thought, has that supplication
gone up from thousands in distress and brought them peace - and I, who
know better, reject it!" It took six more years of persistent effort,
patient correspondence and prayer, but finally Budenz returned to the
Church, and has since become one of the star witnesses before the American
Congress in its fight against Communism in the States.
Clare Boothe Luce, congresswoman and ambassador to Italy, described her
conversion to the Faith in McCall's magazine (circulation 4,150,347) in a
series of articles called The True Reason. Speaking of the man whose
instructions saved her from "the godless and atavistic underbrush of
Freudianism" and brought her into the peace of God's truth, she says:
Many people are curious about Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen. I would like to
satisfy their curiosity, because it always pleases me to talk about him.
He was so great a friend, being so great a friend of God's, when I needed
such a friend so greatly. I can tell you that it is true when it is said
that in his apostolic zeal he generates both heat and light. I never knew
a teacher who could be at once so patient and yet so unyielding, so poetic
and so practical, so inventive and so orthodox. But rumor to the contrary,
there is nothing particularly hypnotic about Father Sheen. What
'hypnotizes' his converts is the sudden and unfamiliar sight of Truth and
Love and Life eternal, which his instructions open up to them. This
'hypnotism' soon wears off, as Father Sheen hopes it will, when you come
to realize that the sight of these things which all men seek is in reality
the sight of Home; and Home is a place where you may move easily and
freely and need not strike attitudes or talk in whispers.
For this brilliant teacher, this good and gifted professor of Catholic
philosophy, I thank God. I have often been asked, Would you have become a
Catholic if you had not had Father Sheen to give you instructions?' My
answer is, 'Of Course.' God intended me to be a Catholic or He would not
have sent me to Father Sheen, the one best equipped to rid my mind of
nonsense and fill it with the sense of Our Lord Jesus.
NATIONAL DIRECTOR OR THE PROPAGATION OF THE FAITH
In 1950, Monsignor Sheen took over the direction of the Society for the
Propagation of the Faith in the United States. With this new appointment,
he resigned as teacher of philosophy and subsequently produced results
that were truly amazing.
To make the Missions better known, he began a "revolutionary streamlining
of Catholic money-raising methods." Checking over the new trends in the
secular publishing field, he found that small pocket-sized magazines are
becoming most popular. The first step then was to change the large
rotogravure Catholic Missions into the 14 X 10 cm. Mission booklet, which
came out every two months and ran to 48 pages. Pointed epigrams: "Most
people are unhappy because they make no sacrifice for others"; urgent
appeals like the picture of a starving Chinese baby, subtitled: "Hunger:
2/3 of the people of the world go to bed hungry every night"; striking
quotations like the one from Pascal: "Mohammed chose the way of human
success, Jesus Christ the way of human defeat"; statistics on the
Missions, like: "In St. Peter's Parish, Bombay, a total of 55,000 Holy
Communions were distributed in two months" - were integrated with a
running commentary on the sufferings of the pagans and the work of the
missionaries, contrasted with the prosperity in the States and the need
for self-sacrifice if the wish of Christ "that they all may be one" is
ever to be fulfilled.
Besides the little for popular appeal, Bishop Sheen started a
new quarterly, , a scholarly magazine which received
contributions from experts in the mission field. For example, the Spring,
1953 issue had an article on "The Catholic Church and Indian Culture",
another on "Federation in British Central Africa", also "Craftsmen of
Ranchi", "Opportunities in Viet-Nam" etc. all carefully documented with
cross-references and footnotes. Follow a dozen pages on "Current Trends",
dealing with subjects like "Christian Art Trends in Asia", "Catholic
Textbooks for Japan", and "Polygamy, West African Plague". The last twenty
pages were given to short reviews of books which treat of the Missions or
Finally, to keep a constant reminder before the people of their obligation
to the Missions, the Bishop wrote a syndicated column, God Love You - a
mixture of mission news and ten-word ferverinos which ran in all the
Catholic weeklies throughout the country. It was made strikingly personal
by the Bishop's acknowledgment of gifts received for the Missions. Thus:
"God love you to J.F.G. 'Please accept this donation of $10 for the
Missions. I was going to buy a book with it, but maybe the Missions could
use some books in my name.'...God love you to Mrs. J.K. who sacrificed
going to the movies to send $5 to the Holy Father's Missions...God love
you to A.D. 'My mother just got Mission, and I feel very sorry for that
hungry little girl, and this $1 of my savings is to feed her. I am
8.'...God love you to T.L. 'Enclosed please find a money order for $15.65.
This is my first job and I want my first week's pay to go to the Holy
Father's Missions."' Always the weekly column stressed the need to pray
for the Missions, pointing out that, "The most worthy of causes is to pray
for the 1,100,000,000 pagans in the world who know neither the Sacred
Heart, nor the Immaculate Heart."
APOSTLE OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
No account of his prodigious achievement would be complete without
reference to Bishop Sheen's personal devotion to the Mother of God and the
efforts he made to extend this devotion in the United States.
All of his published books are formally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin
Mary, each dedication different and each a declaration of their author's
own great love for the Mother of Christ.
Thus: "Reginae sine labe originali conceptae...Mille beneficiorum memor
Ejusdem Virginis patrocinio...Dedicat auctor indignus."
Again: "Dedicated to Mary, Gracious Mother-Heart of the World's Savior, In
prayerful hope of the Conversion of Russia."
And again: "Dedicated to the Woman I love, The Woman whom even God dreamed
of before the world was made; The Woman of whom I was born, at cost of
pain and labor at a Cross. The Woman who, though no priest, could yet on
Calvary's Hill breathe: This is my Body; this is my Blood.' For none save
her gave Him human life. The Woman who guides my pen, which falters so
with words, in telling of the Word. The Woman who, in a world of Reds,
shows forth the blue of hope."
At least three entire volumes deal expressly with the subject of Mary.
And in most of the others she figures so largely that, without her, the
books would lose their organic unity. However, it is in , that something of the secret of Bishop Sheen's inspiration and a
reason for his success in the apostolate are best revealed. Commenting on
the divine paradox which makes Mary at once the Virgin of virgins and the
Spiritual Mother of all men, Bishop Sheen wrote:
As virginity is not the opposite of love, neither is it the opposite of
generation. The Christian blessing on virginity did not abrogate the order
of Genesis to 'increase and multiply,' for virginity, also, has its
generation. Mary's consecration of virginity was unique in that it
resulted in a physical generation the Word made flesh. But it also set the
pattern for spiritual generation, for she begot the Christ-life. In like
manner, virgin love must not be barren but, like Paul, must say: 'I have
begotten you as most dear children in Christ.'
God who hated the man who buried his talent in the ground, will certainly
despise those who pledge themselves to be in love with Him, and yet show
no new life - converts or souls saved through contemplation. Birth
Control, whether undertaken by husband and wife, or by a virgin dedicated
to Christ, is reprehensible. On Judgment Day, God will ask all the married
and all virgins the same question: 'Where are your children?' Virginity is
meant for generation as much as married love is, otherwise the
Model-Virgin would not have been the Mother of Christ, giving an example
to others to be the fathers and mothers of Christians.
Bishop Sheen strived to live up to this ideal. In imitation of Mary, he
was cooperating with God in bringing the life of Christ to thousands of
souls who never knew Him or who, having known, forgot Him. And God blessed
these efforts with an abundance of grace.
* Note: Originally published in Italian.
1. , New York, 1938, pgs. 69-70.
2. magazine, Chicago, June, 1950; and
3. , London, 1925, pgs. 1, 2, 287. The full title of
this first published work was: .
4. , 1928; , 1931; , 1932.
5. William James, the father of American pragmatism, was professor of
philosophy at Harvard until his death in 1910; and John Dewey's
clearest exposition of atheistic naturalism was given in a series
of lectures at Yale University in 1934.
6. magazine, New York, March 10, 1948.
7. , New York, 1948, pg. 57.
8. Ibidem, pg. 52.
9. Ibidem, pg. 54.
10. Ibidem, pg. 55.
11. , New York, 1949, pg. 1.
12. Ibidem, pg. 7.
13. Liebman, Joshua Loth, , New York, 1947, 15th Printing,
pg. 179. Liebman's book was translated into Italian, with the
title: , in 1948, Milano, Bompiani. A review
of the Italian translation may be found in ,
1949, vol. 3, pgs. 164-165.
14. , pg. 32.
15. Ibidem, pg. 33.
16. Ibidem, pg. 74.
17. Bishop Sheen was the regular speaker on the Sunday afternoon
broadcasts of the Catholic Hour, from 1930 to 1950. Sponsored by
the National Council of Catholic Men and the National Broadcasting
Company, the program was carried by 102 radio stations in 1950. In
February, 1941, Monsignor Sheen had received his 100,000th letter
of response from the radio audience; one third of the letters were
from Protestants. As a result of one broadcast, requests for his
totaled over 50,000.
18. Quoted from the , in
19. Budenz, Louis F., , New York, 1947, pgs. 162 - 163.
20. magazine, New York, April, 1947.
21. The three selected dedications are taken, in sequence, from the
following books: , , and .
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