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, Treasure in Clay, 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!