All posts by Emily C. Hurt

Emily C. Hurt is a 2012 graduate of Christendom College with a Bachelor's in Theology. She wrote her Senior Thesis on "Redemptive Suffering in the Theology of the Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen." When she's not job-hunting or reading Fulton Sheen, she writes about the writings of Fulton Sheen, redemptive suffering, and her alma mater at her blog, www.theological-librarian.blogspot.com.

On Bodies, Relics, and Canonization

Or: “Why We Need to Stop Fighting over Venerable Sheen’s Body”

What would Venerable Sheen say about the public debate over the progression of his Cause for Canonization, and who gets his body?

He would probably be unhappy with the amount of controversy, and the fact that the debate is publicized, especially since he tried very hard to keep his external (those coming from other people) sufferings private. He explains in his posthumously published autobiography, Treasure in Clay:

Impure discipline is that which comes from others, deserved or undeserved, deliberate or accidental. …I have resolved in this book not to touch on any suffering that came to me from others. … The impure sufferings would have had a time span of about ten years.

Thomas Reeves, in America’s Bishop, narrates the relationship between Life of Christ and Sheen’s feud with Spellman:

When Life of Christ appeared, Sheen told a couple of priests, during a breakfast after Mass, about his warfare with Spellman. Fr. Robert Paul Mohan, a former Sheen student at Catholic University, said later that Sheen was not whining, and he even salted the account with some humor, yet it was obvious that the difficulties between the bishop and the cardinal were severe. A few years later, Sheen told Michael C. Hogan, a priest who served as his secretary, that Cardinal Spellman had harassed him about money at the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The incident, he said, was “one of his crucifixions.” Sheen told Hogan that Life of Christ was written because he wanted to go through the Lord’s life, pondering the suffering and crucifixion to help his own situation.

A preface to a 1977 reissue of the book makes it explicit that Life of Christ stemmed directly from Fulton’s pain at the hands of Cardinal Spellman. Without naming the cardinal or the dates, Sheen wrote of suffering for about ten years of his life (from 1957 to Spellman’s death in 1967), and of his need to find solace in the Cross of Christ. His “great trial” had driven him deeper into the Scripture[s] and the mysteries of Christ’s death and resurrection. He wrote, “Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives there will never be an Easter Sunday. . . . Christianity begins not with sunshine but with defeat. Sunshine religions that begin with psychic elation, end often in disillusionment and despair. So essential is dying to self the prelude to the true life of self.” In Christ’s sufferings, Fulton was able to bear his own. “During those days when my life was backed up against the cross, I began to know and to love it more.”

So, what can we learn from Sheen’s refusal to publicize his scandal with Cardinal Spellman, and how does it relate to the current struggle between the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York?

1) The two ways we could influence the success of the cause are a) prayer, prayer, prayer*, and b) .  Bonnie Engstrom, the mother of James Fulton, whose return to life after he was stillborn has been approved by both medical experts* and theologians*, writes:

A reliable contact with connections in Rome suggested that we write to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and to the Pope, that especially the Congregation would take notice if people cared.

2) This battle is not going to help the Church in the eyes of non-Catholics. Sheen was very passionate about helping people find the true Faith, although he knows it was not any effort of his that brought them into the Church:

I could no more make someone else a Christian by my own influence than I could turn a sawdust doll into a pretty little child of six. I am, nonetheless, grateful that the Lord used me to bring others to Himself. I have always had a deep passion for helping others find faith. …

I am only a porter who opens the door; it is the Lord Who walks in and does the carpentry and the masonry and the rebuilding on the inside.

However, he realized the deleterious effect that scandals could have on those outside the Church, as he writes in Fullness of Christ:

Why is it that the world is always so scandalized at a scandal in the Church? Why does it always blame a bad Catholic more than it blames a bad Mohammedan, if it is not because it expects so much more of the Catholic? Any fallen-away Catholic whose name is quoted as a by-word of sin, and who is supposed to be an argument against the Church, is really a strong Catholic credential. The seriousness of any fall depends on the height from which one has fallen, and since one can fall from no greater height than union with Christ in His Mystical Body, the fall is accordingly greater. … The very horror the world expresses at the fall of a Catholic is the measure of the high virtue that expects of him.

So, instead of bashing Cardinal Dolan or Bishop Jenky in this debate over the final resting-place of Venerable Sheen, let us pray for the success of Sheen’s canonization cause, and pray that this squabble will be solved peacefully, without turning anyone away from the Church.

God Love Y’all!

Venerable Fulton Sheen, pray for us!

Prayer for Sheen’s Canonization:

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Imprimatur:

+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria

“The Heresy of Action”

“Sorry, but I don’t eat meat on Friday; I’m Catholic.”

How easily and glibly these words can slip out of our mouths!

Is “I’m Catholic’ just another label we toss around, not much different from “I’m a [name your sports team] fan,” or “I’m a bicyclist,” or “I’m a bookworm”?

All of them labels, defining us, putting aspects of our lives into tidy little boxes for each specific situation in which we find ourselves.

And yet, how frequently do we find ourselves doing that with our Faith? The words slip out of our mouth, curtailing or commanding our activities in specific situations.

Is that how others should find out that we’re Catholic? Is that attitude going to draw others to the Church? Is that kind of example going to make others think that Catholicism is the one true Faith?

Is it fair to do that with our Faith?

No.

Because our Faith, of its very nature, should reach down to our very identity; it should touch us in the core of our being, so that we live as if we really are children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we should still “do” all the little things that

Does how we live justify our profession of faith in the Catholic Church?

Venerable Fulton Sheen writes in The Cross and the Crisis:

Minds no longer object to the Church, because of the way they think, but because of the way they live. They no longer have difficulty with the Creed, but with her Commandments; they remain outside her saving waters, not because they cannot accept the doctrine of Three Persons in one God, but because they cannot accept the moral of two persons in one flesh; not because Infallibility is too complex, but because the veto on Birth Control is too hard; not because the Eucharist is too sublime, but because Penance is too exacting. Briefly, the heresy of our day is not the heresy of thought; it is the heresy of action.

The major stumbling-blocks people encounter when they look at the Church from the outside are blocks of action, of morality. “This saying is too hard”–which the followers of Christ said when He proclaimed Himself the Bread of Life–is the same thing people say when they look at the Church:

“It’s too hard to avoid pornography.”

“It’s too hard to stay married to her.”

This is not just a problem faced by those outside the Church; it’s something we face in our daily lives.

What stumbling-blocks do we encounter in our daily lives?

Does how we live justify our profession of faith in the Catholic Church?

Do we go to Mass on Sundays, make a weekly Holy Hour; and yet spend the rest of our time engaged in worldly, mind-numbing, soul-destroying activities?

And if your answer to that question is “yes,” as mine was…what can we do about it?

I could rattle off the platitude: Make sure our Faith informs every aspect of our lives; but I don’t like platitudes. I like rock-solid, concrete, practical advice. So here are three pointers to help us avoid the “heresy of action” in our daily lives:

a) When we find ourselves having to explain why we’re passing up that prime rib on a Friday in Lent, let’s try to leave the apologetic tone–the “I’m sorry” tone–out of our voice. Do we need to apologize for not eating the meat? No; it’s nothing to be ashamed of; instead, if we know our Faith well enough, this can become a teaching opportunity. So that we know what to say the next time someone asks us if we don’t eat meat on Friday because Jesus was a fisherman. (A: He was a carpenter, not a fisherman; and no, the fact that His Apostles were fisherman has nothing to with the rule of Friday abstinence.)

b) St. Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said “Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.” Do we sometimes have to say the words “I’m Catholic”? Yes. Should that be the primary way we show others that we’re Catholic? No. The way we live should show others that we’re Catholic. Do we fume when someone cuts us off in traffic, or do we bite our tongues and count to ten instead of calling that person a name?

c) Do we pray? Ten minutes a day of meditation–not talking about God, or rattling off the latest list of prayer intentions, but listening and letting Him speak to us–will do more for our lives as Catholics than all the apologetics books and all the “I don’t do X because I’m Catholic” speeches in the world. Because those minutes of intimate contact with Our Lord in prayer are where the heart of our Faith is.

God Love Y’All!

God Love Y’All!

Why Fulton Sheen? Why Now?

Today is a very exciting day for all those who love Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

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!

(This is a modification of an old post on my personal blog, re-published on Ignitum Today.)

Is Water Boring?

“Water is so ordinary it’s boring.”

I said that the other day.

I was tired of hearing the refrain from “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie,” and in my tiredness, I was not thinking like a Theology major. My roommate (who, it so happens, is not a Theology major), brought me back to earth by asking: “What about Baptism?”

stock-photo-4398735-life-giving-water

“Water is so ordinary it’s boring.”

And yet…

We can only live three days without water.

Three days.

Does that phrase “three days” ring any bells?

It should.

Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days. (Mt. 12:40)

Christ Himself was in the belly of the earth for three days. (ibid)

We die on the third day without water; He rose on the third day.

There is no resurrection without a death; He only rose after blood and water had gushed forth from His Side (Jn. 19:34-35), after He had given everything, as Fulton Sheen writes in Life of Christ:

The Divine miser had hoarded up a few precious drops of His Blood to pour forth after He gave up his spirit, to show that His love was stronger than death.

He is our Living Water: “he that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst for ever: But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting.” (Jn. 4:13-14)

That plain, ordinary water….was what He turned into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. And then He turned that wine into His Blood at the Last Supper. As Sheen says again: “[T]he world would not tolerate His Divinity…if He turned water into wine, some day wine would be changed into blood” (Life of Christ, 376).

Water is essential to our salvation…it is the “matter” of Baptism—the Sacrament without which we cannot obtain eternal salvation.

All that (I haven’t even touched on the Old Testament symbolism of water), and I dare to say that water is “ordinary,” “boring”?

Water is not ordinary for the simple fact that God made it. Indeed, none of the little, “ordinary” events in this life should be seen as ordinary or boring because they’re all signs and manifestations and reminders of something future and greater—something that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Venerable Fulton Sheen explains this in his autobiography: “Materialists, humanists and atheists all take this world very seriously because it is the only world they are ever going to have. … To an atheist gold is gold, water is water and money is money.”

This, however, is not the view that those of us who have faith should have:

He who possesses faith knows that this world is not the only one, and therefore can be regarded rather lightly: “swung as a trinket about one’s wrist.” … To a believer everything in this world is a telltale of something else. Mountains are not to be taken seriously. They are manifestations of the power of God; sunsets are revelations of His beauty; even rain can be a sign of His gentle mercy. (Treasure in Clay, 297-8)

The next time it rains–even if, like me, you hate rain more than a cat does–remember that it is through that water that your soul was washed in His Blood. It is also through that water that your bodily life continues. And it is through that water that you can see reminders of His Blessings.

I will leave you with this anecdote from Sheen:

I remember once meeting a doorman at the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney. I said to him as I came out of the hotel door: “Oh, it’s raining.” He put out his hand and said: “You call that rain, Father. That’s holy water from Heaven and it’s blessing yourself you ought to be doing with it,” as he signed himself with the sign of the Cross.

God Love Y’All!

Only After Good Friday…

…do we celebrate Easter Sunday.

This

crucifix

always has to come before, and is always followed by

Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that Easter Sunday only comes after Lent, after 40 days of fasting and penance?  Or more than that, even, that Easter Sunday only comes after Good Friday?

Venerable Fulton Sheen says this eloquently in Life of Christ:

Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives there will never be an Easter Sunday. The Cross is the condition of the empty tomb, and the crown of thorns is the preface to the halo of light.

When all is said and done, there are only two philosophies of life. One is first the feast, then the hangover; the other, first the fast and then the feast. … Christianity begins not with sunshine but with defeat.

Out of the darkest moment in the lives of Christ’s Apostles, and, it seemed, the darkest moment in His Life, arose the brightest moment. That darkest moment was not the end.

Not only is that true in the Life of Our Blessed Lord, and continued in the liturgical and personal life of His Mystical Body the Church; it is also true in our lives–both as we follow the liturgical year of the Church, and in our own personal day-to-day lives.

Belief in that truth requires hope. There will be an end to the fasting and the penance. Good Friday is not the end; we do not need to despair–indeed, we ought not to despair.

Whatever the agonies and the Good Fridays through which we are journeying now, they will always be followed by Easter Sundays. The journey does not end on Good Friday. However much we might preach that suffering is redemptive and that mortification is an essential part of the spiritual life, we never slam on the brakes on Good Friday. We don’t congratulate ourselves on having made it to Good Friday, and then wallow in the despair and the pain and the abandonment.

Rather, from the Good Fridays of our own personal lives, we must try to say with Job:

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth.  And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God. (Job 19:25-26)

Because in our lives, as in the life of the Church, Good Friday is always followed by Easter Sunday. Job knows, even in the midst of his suffering, that God exists. He knows his “Easter Sunday” will come.

In the words of the prophet Hosea:

For he hath taken us, and he will heal us: he will strike, and he will cure us. He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. (Hosea 6:1-3)

Apart from the fact that these verses are a prophecy of the Resurrection of Christ, they are also an expression of the prophet’s hope, just as Job’s words are his expression of hope.

We’re struggling; maybe we’re wrestling with the constant fear that our struggles are something that God has deliberately sent to us to teach us a lesson or to see how strong we are (God’s not like that); but our Easter Sunday will come.

God will heal us; He will cure us, and He will raise us up with His Son to rejoice with Him forever.

Because He has risen, and He is with us. And He will never, ever leave us in the darkness of Good Friday.

God Love Y’All!

Embracing the Cross or Leaning on a Crutch?

From the time of Karl Marx, who famously said that religion “is the opium of the people,” to our own days when modern secularists think that religion is a crutch for the weak, atheists and those who scoff at religion view it as some form of escape from the problems of daily life. Some of these views include the following:

1. Religion is a drug, not unlike opium, which those who “have religion” use to numb themselves to the hardships of life. It’s something that lifts their spirits, maybe even makes them a little “high.” They’re happy all the time, and that’s just not natural.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2. Religion is a crutch on which religious people lean because they are too weak to “stand on their own two feet,” too insecure to practice the modern virtues of independence and self-reliance.

3. Religion is something that might help in times of suffering, but isn’t really necessary when the suffering is over. It’s okay if those religious people turn to it to ease their pain, but as soon as they’ve stopped hurting, they can–and indeed should–throw it away. After all, no one uses a crutch once his broken foot has healed.

These, however, are wrong views of religion.

Religion is not a drug that blinds us to the hardships of life. Rather, it strengthens us to face the hardships of life without staggering under their sometimes impossibly heavy burden. Even if we have faith–some might say, because we have faith–we are still going to experience hardship. And our faith might not make it hurt less. It can help. Sometimes it eases the pain, but sometimes it doesn’t touch the pain, and we have to carry that pain.

There are a lot of people out there who have faith, who indeed are very strong in their faith, and they still hurt. Look at the saints. They suffered; some even died for their faith. Did they mess up somewhere along the line? Did their God abandon them? No. He was there through all of it. He gave them the strength they needed to bear the pain, to not fall under the burden.

In the second place, religion is not a crutch on which we lean in order to escape responsibility, or to comfort us when we are suffering. A crutch, by its very nature, is a temporary aid for walking. If we view religion as something we lean on “while it hurts,” then discard, then our religion is not true religion.

True religion lasts throughout our life, in both our sufferings and our joys. It is also more laborious to walk with a crutch than to walk just with “our own two feet.” Religion does not make our lives more laborious; it gives us strength to carry our difficulties.

If we throw the crutch away and try to “stand on our own two feet,” we’ll fall. As fallen human beings, we need grace; we need God. However, we cannot use religion as an excuse for avoiding our duties and shirking responsibility. In the words of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen:

The other day a husband who admitted he could not be faithful to his wife, upbraided her for turning to God, saying that she was using religion as a crutch. The assumption behind such a statement is that one ought to live on his moral fat and be dependent on nothing outside oneself. The rotten luxury of living on and for one’s own ego is here exalted to a point where the eye is called a crutch because it leans on the birds and flowers for seeing; the ear is called a crutch because it leans on the song of the birds and the sigh of the waterfall for hearing; the stomach is labelled a crutch, but it craves food.

Nothing in nature is complete within itself; everything looks to something outside and beyond self except the egotist. The glory of the clouds is to die in showers, spending themselves on others. But the egotist, living only for self must eventually fall into despair and unhappiness when he discovers his own bankruptcy. Once all the honeyed treasure of his body is spent, with no new life to show, then he discovers the lonesomeness of being alone.

Finally, “religion” that only lasts as long as suffering lasts is not real. It’s like asking your mother for a Band-Aid because you cut your finger, then never talking to her again because she took care of that one need.

If religion is not a drug to numb our pain or a crutch to support our weakness or a temporary Band-Aid for our wounds, then what is it?

Fulton Sheen again reminds us that religion is not something the weak lean on; rather, it is something we carry:

Religion is actually not a crutch; it is a cross. It is not an escape, it is a burden; not a flight, but a response. We speak here of a religion with teeth in it, the wind that demands self-sacrifice and surrender. One leans on a crutch, but a cross rests on us. It takes a hero to embrace a cross. (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Way to Happy Living.)

“Wait a minute,” you’re saying. “If religion isn’t going to numb me to the hardships of life, and is instead going to burden me, weigh me down with a heavy cross…why do I need it?”

Religion is not going to weigh us down. It is something we carry–Sheen is right when he calls it a cross, a burden–but it is a “yoke [that] is sweet” and a “burden [that is] light” (cf. Mt. 11:30). As the Crux Fidelis sings so beautifully, “sweet the wood and sweet the nails, laden with so sweet a Load.”

If we throw it away under the delusion that we’re self-sufficient and can “stand on our own two feet,” we will quickly realize that our burdens are ten times heavier without the support of that cross. That sweet Load is actually the weight of our Savior, Who helps us to “carry” the suffering as He invites us to carry our crosses in union with His.

This is something to ponder during Lent, as we focus on taking up our Cross and following our Crucified Savior.  Are we using our Faith as an excuse, as medicine only when it hurts and then discarding it like we discard the crutch after our broken leg heals? Or are we shouldering that light Cross and carrying it after our Crucified Lord?

Do we accept the burden of our Faith?

Do we embrace the Cross, or do we lean on it as on a crutch?

“My yoke is sweet and my burden light” (Mt. 11:30).

What Are You “Exchanging” for Lent?

As Lent approaches, everyone is asking their kids, and deciding for themselves, “What are you going to ‘give up’ for Lent?”

Why am I putting “give up” in quotation marks?

“Give up” is in quotation marks because it is not the most appropriate term for the action that we perform during Lent.  Instead, as Venerable Fulton J. Sheen said, we are exchanging one good for another (higher) good:

It is quite a wrong thing, therefore, to say that you “give up” something during Lent. Our Lord never asked us to give up anything; He asked us to exchange: “What exchange shall a man give for his soul?” When someone is in love with God, he finds that there are somethings (sic) he can get along without (his own pleasure), and something else he cannot get along without, namely, the peace of soul that comes from obeying God’s Will. So he exchanges the one for the other, surrenders the lesser good to gain a Kingdom. He makes such a series of profitable exchanges every day he lives.  (Peace of Soul)

So, as we choose our Lenten penance, instead of asking ourselves, “What will I give up for Lent?” let’s ask ourselves, “What will I exchange for Lent?’

Instead of “giving up” chocolate, let’s “exchange” chocolate for money that we can put in the Poor Box.

Instead of “giving up” time on Facebook, let’s “exchange” that time for time spent with the Word of God, or praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

Instead of “giving up” popular music, let’s “exchange” it for Christian music, or Gregorian chant.

Because, ultimately, what is the reason we “exchange” chocolate for money that we can put in the Poor Box, or that we “exchange” that favorite TV show for quality time with the Word of God?

We make these “exchanges” because “nothing in all the world is worth a soul” (Sheen, Life of Christ).

That’s why we observe Lent. That’s why Our Lord spent forty days in the desert. That’s why He endured the Agony in the Garden, and the Scourging; the Crowning with Thorns, and the Carrying of the Cross. That’s why He died on that Cross for us.

Because the salvation of our souls was worth it.

Because we’re worth it.

God Love y’all!

“Blessed Be the Name of the Lord!”

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord! We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?” (Job 1:21; 2:10)

These words from Morning Prayer for Wednesday, Week III, struck something in me.

Job blesses the name of the Lord, no matter what! He knows that all the goods he had came from God, and it’s God’s prerogative to take them away again. And in both of those situations, what does he say? “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Everything–the good, the bad, the ugly, and the in-between–comes from God. And we need to accept it as coming from Him. We can’t pick and choose which of the things He sends we’re going to accept, just as we can’t pick and choose which teachings of the Church we’re going to accept, and which we’re going to reject.

It takes a lot of spiritual strength to say “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!” no matter what. But He’s our Father, and everything’s going to work out in the end. Even if it seems like it’s not…even if it seems like we’re in water over our heads and we’ve forgotten how to swim and we forgot to buckle our life-jacket on so it’s slipping away…we still need to bless His Name.

Blessing His Name means trusting Him, no matter what. We need to trust Him, even if like Job, we’re scratching our heads, trying to figure out “What did I do now to deserve this?” (Which in itself is a whole other question….

That’s what Job did. Job trusted Him.

So, no matter what we’re going through in our lives right now…

…if the Lord has “taken away” a job, or health, or a friendship, or a family member…we need to say with Job “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!”

…if the Lord has “given” a job, even if it’s one we don’t like, it’s still bread on the table and a roof over our heads…and with Job, we need to say, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!”

And we need to hang on to that life-jacket.

He’s not going to let us drown.

“Blessed be the Name of the Lord!”

Venerable Fulton Sheen: Theologian? Timeless?

With the unofficial feast day of Ven. Fulton Sheen coming up, it seemed a good time to present some thoughts on Sheen. Most people who know him think of him as  “popularizer” of the  Catholic Faith; does this mean he is not a theologian? Should he have stayed in the obscurity into which he seemed to fall? And…if the bulk of his preaching was directed against Communism, why is the Catholic Church investigating his Cause for sainthood? Doesn’t his subject-matter make him outdated?

NOTA BENE: It is not the author’s intention to anticipate the judgment of the Catholic Church in presenting the writings of the Venerable Archbishop Fulton John Sheen.  The statements presented herein rest on human authority alone.  The author submits wholeheartedly to the infallible wisdom and judgment of the Catholic Church in regards to the work and writings of the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

 

(Ignatius Press Quotables)

What is necessary to call someone a “theologian”?  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), in its document Donum Veritatis, “On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian,” defines a theologian’s role as follows: “His role is to pursue in a particular way an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the inspired Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church. He does this in communion with the Magisterium which has been charged with the responsibility of preserving the deposit of faith.”[1]

Fulton Sheen fulfilled both parts of a theologian’s role.  In his writings, radio and television programs, instructions of converts, and, above all, in his personal daily Holy Hour, he sought to penetrate deeper into the meaning of Scripture and Tradition.  His 1958 Life of Christ takes the life of Our Blessed Lord and interprets it through the lens of the Cross.  Centuries of theologians before Sheen had written lives of Christ, had commented on and explained the Scriptures.  None of them doubted that Our Lord came to save mankind through His redemptive Death on the Cross (actually, there was a dispute over the primary purpose of the Incarnation, but that’s too big a topic to discuss now); but did they see hints and shadows of the Cross throughout Our Lord’s life, for example in His conversation with Nicodemus or in His preaching of the Beatitudes?  I don’t know the history of theological thought well enough to say definitively that Sheen was, or was not, the first to see the constant presence of the Cross in the Life of Christ; but I know Sheen’s writings well enough to say that his presentation of the subject is masterful and engaging.  For even today, one of the most popular books written by the farm-boy-turned-bishop is his Life of Christ, in which he sees the Cross of Christ “cast[ing] a shadow” over Bethlehem, over Nazareth, and over the Public Ministry of the God-Man.[2]  In Sheen’s analysis, “[e]very event in Christ’s Life—even those that, at first sight, do not appear to be related to the Cross—is…either a preparation for, a prophecy of, or a manifestation of the Cross.”[3]

As for Sheen’s fidelity to the Magisterium, Blessed John Paul II said it best when, on October 2, 1979, he embraced Sheen in front of hundreds gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and told him: “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus!  You are a loyal son of the Church!”[4]  Granted, that statement was not infallible, but for the head of the Catholic Church to say that to one of Her most prominent apologists is pretty impressive.  It reminds me of what Our Lord Himself told St. Thomas Aquinas: “You have written well of Me, Thomas!  What recompense do you desire?” to which the Doctor of the Church responded: “None other than Thyself, O Lord.”[5]

Sheen most likely would have responded the same way if Our Blessed Lord had asked him that question.  For the Archbishop, fidelity to the Magisterium as personified in Peter’s successors was a defining tenet of his life.  Commenting on the conferral of the title “Assistant at the Pontifical Throne,” Sheen writes: “I could never become very excited about this, although it is an honor, because my heart was always at the Throne of Peter. This honor merely means that I now can put my whole body and person where my heart always was.”[6]

 

* * *

An article in the Vatican magazine Tertium Millennium says that the theologian is one who makes a new contribution to theological thought: “The theologian . . . is a person immersed in the timeliness of his time, always linked to the community of believers; indeed, with it, he attempts to move towards the fulfillment of truth, providing his specific contribution: the deeper intelligence of the mystery.”[7]  I argued for this point in my thesis: “While remaining in line with Catholic doctrine concerning Christ, [Sheen] [had] profound new insights regarding the role of the Cross in the life of Christ.”[8]

 

I have heard the argument that Sheen was not a theologian because he did not write scholarly treatises, or because his writings are not on the same level as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. While it is true that Sheen’s writings are not on the level of the Medieval Summae, the Archbishop presented theological truths to the American “Everyman” of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, in a way that he could understand.  Fr. Andrew Apostoli, the Vice-Postulator for Sheen’s Cause, writes in his Introduction to Fr. Charles Connor’s book The Spiritual Legacy of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: “This book is not a theological textbook.  That would not have been Archbishop Sheen’s approach.  It would run the risk of being dry, lifeless and unchallenging.”[9]  This does not mean that scholarly, theological treatises, qua scholarly treatises, have to be dry and lifeless; I personally enjoy Pope Benedict’s writings; but it does point out, and rightly, that the bulk of Sheen’s writings was not comprised of theological textbooks.

 

Although Sheen spent twenty-four years teaching philosophy at The Catholic University of America, during which period he wrote numerous scholarly works, at the same time he wanted to reach a broader segment of the American people, a decision that led him to radio in 1926 and television in 1952.[10]

 

Once he was speaking on television to 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.  Similarly, Sheen was not “watering down” Catholicism by finding a common denominator from which to preach about angels instead of telling his audience all the metaphysical properties of separated substances.  As he himself put it in his autobiography:

 

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 its bishops.  The new method had to be 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.  . . .  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.  . . .

In retrospect I had two approaches; one was the direct one on radio, the other was the indirect on television.  The direct was the presentation of Christian doctrine in plain, simple language.  On television, I depended more on the grace of God and less on myself.  If the subject of the telecast was flying, I might end it by talking about angels.[11]

 

 

* * *

Is his theology “timeless,” that is, “referring or restricted to no particular time”?[12]

 

I have heard the argument that Sheen’s teachings are no longer relevant.  Many of his books address Communism; he reached the height of his popularity during the Cold War; and to some, the Fall of the Iron Curtain makes Sheen’s writings irrelevant. The Iron Curtain may have fallen, but Communism is still rampant in parts of the world such as China; and there is a tendency in our modern world to view Communism as a joke, the hammer and sickle as a slogan to adopt.  (Which, incidentally, is why my alma mater, Christendom College, still teaches a course called “The Causes and Effects of the Communist Revolution”—to keep my generation of Catholics, and the coming generations, from ever denying the horrors of Communistic atheism). Sheen himself seems to have suffered from being ignored; as John Muggeridge put it in 1990: “[I]n these divided times Sheen suffers the fate of all orthodox writers: consignment to the memory hole.”[13]

 

Yet, despite the seeming “irrelevant” or “outdated” nature of some of Sheen’s writings, the Catholic Church saw fit to open his cause for canonization.  His cause did not open in the 20th century, or shortly after his death; it opened in the 21st century, more than 20 years after his death.[14]

 

Why?  Why canonize a man who admittedly had a serious problem with pride and vanity[15], who did not preach fasting because he himself did not practice it in any extraordinary manner[16], and whose writings on suffering and on objective truth seem intolerable to our modern world that avoids suffering at any cost and sees truth as subjective?  Why bother spending millions of dollars investigating his personal sanctity, the orthodoxy of his writings, or his squabbles with Cardinal Spellman over the allocation of funds for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith[17], when he otherwise would have stayed in that “memory hole”?

 

Because if Sheen did live a life of heroic virtue, if the miracle under investigation is found to be authentic, if his writings are determined to be orthodox and free from heretical teaching, then he may one day be declared a saint.  A saint preaches Truth—not the relative, changing “truth” of our modern world, but the eternal, living Truth Who is Christ.  He may preach that Truth in a manner that will make it more pertinent to his audience; but it is always the same Truth that he preaches.

 

And even if Sheen’s words on Communism seem outdated; Communism was not the only subject of his writings.  Many of the topics Sheen treated—the presence of the Cross throughout the entirety of Christ’s Life (Life of Christ, 1958); the necessity of the Sacrament of Penance for the forgiveness of sins, as opposed to Freudian psychoanalysis, which tries to excuse or explain away sin (Peace of Soul, 1949); the decay of Western Civilization explained through the parable of the Prodigal Son (The Cross and the Crisis, 1938) —remain timeless and pertinent, even in the 21st century.

 

Sheen’s teachings on the redemptive value of suffering when accepted in union with the Cross of Christ are timeless, because men will always have to endure suffering, they will always ask “why” and seek to either explain it away or to accept it.  As I wrote in my Senior Thesis: “[T]he question of pain has plagued man since the Fall of our first parents, and will plague him until he arrives at that eternal day in which ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more’ (Rev. 21:4).”[18]

 

While people may have begun to fall away from frequent confession in the wake of Freudian psychoanalysis—because it is so much easier to lie on a couch and let someone explain away your sins, than it is to get down on your knees and admit to them with humility and contrition—they are continuing to fall away.

 

As for Western Civilization and its abandonment of Christianity, Sheen’s words to journalist Malcolm Muggeridge give hope to those who would otherwise be tempted to despair: “Christendom is over, but not Christ.”[19]

 


[1]Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Veritatis, (24 May 1990), “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian), http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/ rc_con_cfaith_ doc_19900524_theologian-vocation_en.html.  Accessed June 25, 2012.

[2]Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ, (New York: Image Books, 1990), 20.

[3]Emily C. Hurt, “Redemptive Suffering in the Theology of the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen,” (undergraduate thesis, Front Royal, VA, 2012), 4.

[4]Edward T. O’Meara, “Epilogue: Bye Now, Fulton Sheen, and God Love You Forever,” in Fulton J. Sheen, Treasure in Clay: the Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen, (New York: Doubleday, 1980), 377.

[5]http://www.ourcatholicprayers.com/aquinas-after-communion.html.  Accessed June 25, 2012.

[6]Sheen, Treasure in Clay, 185.

[7]Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 200, “Library of the Jubilee,” in Tertium Millenniumhttp://www.vatican.va/jubilee_2000/magazine/documents/ju_mag_01041998_p-70_en.html.  Accessed June 25, 2012.

[8]Hurt, ibid.

[9]Andrew Apostoli, Introduction to The Spiritual Legacy of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, by Charles P. Connor, (Staten Island: St. Paul’s/Alba House, 2010), xiii.

[10]Thomas C. Reeves, America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen, (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001), 59, 78-82, 211, 223-7.

[11]Sheen, 72, 73.

[12]http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/timeless.  Accessed June 25, 2012.

[13] John Muggeridge, Foreword to Life of Christ, Sheen, 6.

[14]http://www.archbishopsheencause.org/the-cause/about-the-cause/history.  Accessed June 26, 2012.

[15]Sheen, Treasure in Clay, 335-7.

[16]Ibid., 338.

[17]Reeves, 252-7.

[18]Hurt, 38.

[19]Muggeridge, 5.

Two Sides of the Same Coin: the Homosexual “Marriage” Debate and the Divorce Culture

Reading Archbishop Cordileone’s words on “marriage sanity” made me look at the homosexual marriage debate through new eyes. He says:

Too many children are being hurt by our culture’s strange and increasing inability to appreciate how important it is to bring together mothers and fathers for children in one loving home. … [T]here is that poverty of the spirit in which kids hunger for their missing parent, who often seems absent and disengaged from their lives. We all have a deep instinct for connectedness to where we came from, and we deeply desire it when we do not have it.

Our culture denies the necessity of “mothers and fathers for children in one stable home.” That is something that is not only lacking in a homosexual “marriage,” it’s also lacking in our “divorce culture.” Children of divorce have only one parent around all the time (and sometimes, not even that). Children raised by homosexual couples have only a father or a mother raising them — two men cannot provide the nurturing that a mother would provide; likewise, two women cannot provide the strength that a father provides. Children of divorce hunger for the missing father or mother. Children raised by homosexual couples hunger for whichever parent they’re missing. Children come from a mother and a father. It’s woven into their DNA. Being raised by “two daddies” or “two mommies” isn’t going to erase that — those two individuals are not the ones who created the children. Both of these attacks on marriage hurt the children.

marriage

Cordileone continues: “Redefining marriage will mean … changing the basic understanding of marriage from a child-centered institution to one that sees it as a temporary, revocable commitment which prioritizes the romantic happiness of adults over building a loving, lasting family.” Divorce has done that already. Divorce has ripped children from the heart of marriage; marriage is only about the happiness of the couple and if one of them isn’t happy, it can be ended. No one cares about the damage that does to the children. Homosexual “marriage” will remove children from the equation: the “marriage” is centered on the “happiness” of the couple, of their “love,” regardless of whether being raised by “two daddies” or “two mommies” will have lasting detrimental effects on the children.

Cordileone explains how society and history recognize that children need to be raised by a mother and a father:

A society that is careless about getting fathers and mothers together to raise their children in one loving family is causing enormous heartache. …
Why has virtually every known civilization across time and history recognized the need to bring together men and women to make and raise the next generation together? Clearly something important is at stake, or human beings of such different cultures, histories and religions would not come up with the basic idea of marriage as a male-female union over and over again.

He continues with the consequences of denying that the ideal situation in which to raise a child is within a stable marriage, the union of a man and a woman:

When we as a culture abandon that idea and ideal, children suffer, communities suffer, women suffer, and men are dehumanized by being told they aren’t important to the project of family life.
Modern social science evidence generally supports the idea that the ideal for a child is a married mother and father. The scientific study of children raised by two men or two women is in its infancy … several recent studies … are painting a less sanguine portrait that some professional organizations have yet acknowledged about whether two dads can make up for the absence of a mom, or vice versa. …
The job of single mothers is hard precisely because we aren’t as a society raising boys to believe they need to become faithful husbands and fathers, men who care for and protect their children, and the mother of their children, in marriage. And we aren’t raising girls to be the kind of young women with the high standards and the self-worth to expect and appreciate such men, and not to settle for less.
It is simply a natural fact that you need a man and a woman to make a marriage and that a child’s heart longs for the love of both his or her mother and father.

Our culture is already wounded by divorce. Children in our culture are wounded because many of them have been raised by only one parent. Being raised by two “daddies” or two “mommies” is not going to heal that wound. It’s only going to make that wound worse.

It might seem that a boy raised by two “daddies” has two examples of manliness, but he’s not going to learn how to treat women, because he doesn’t have the day-to-day example of how his father treats his mother. Part of being a man is knowing how to treat women, and he doesn’t have that experiential knowledge. He might think it’s okay to objectify and abuse women.

It might seem that a girl raised by two “mommies” has two examples of femininity, but she’s not going to learn how men should treat her, because she doesn’t have the day-to-day example of how her father treats her mother and her. Part of being a woman is knowing how a man should treat her, and she doesn’t have that experiential knowledge. She might think it’s okay to let a man objectify her.

A boy raised by two “mommies” will lack the first-hand example of how to be a man, just as boys raised by single mothers lack that example. (The endless stream of boyfriends won’t give him that example.) A girl raised by two “daddies” won’t learn how to act like a woman, just as girls raised by single fathers miss out on learning that. (An endless stream of girlfriends won’t teach her how to be a woman.)

Without that example, neither boys nor girls know how to form healthy relationships, as is seen in our divorce culture, where “teens from divorced homes are much more likely to engage in … sexual intercourse than are those from intact families.” In fifty years, if America continues down this path, I am sure that similar statistics will start “teens raised by homosexual couples…”

The solution to that wound and to those statistics is healthy marriages. Children want to be raised by a mother and a father. Children who are raised in a happy, healthy marriage with a mother and a father will flourish.

The Feast of the Assumption and Fulton Sheen

The Feast of the Assumption is tomorrow; and some of us might be wondering: “What is the importance of this feast? Is it still relevant to a world that focuses solely on the body to the denial of immortality, thinks love is only about sex, and is afraid of death because this life is all there is?”

With Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, we can answer:

[I]n the definition of the Assumption [the Church] give[s] hope to the creature of despair. Modern despair is the effect of a disappointed hedonism and centers principally on sex and death. To these two ideas, which preoccupy the modern mind, the Assumption is indirectly related. … [T]he doctrine of the Assumption meets the Eros-Thanatos [Sex-death] philosophy head-on, by lifting humanity from the darkness of sex and death to the light of Love and Life. (Fulton J. Sheen, The World’s First Love, 133. All subsequent quotations are from this book.)

the-assumption-of-the-virgin

Modernity’s denial of the soul, its teaching that man is only a body, leads to despair. If man is only a body, then there is no life after death. This denial of immortality often leads to despair, because this life is all there is. Modernity’s over-emphasis on the body also leads to over-emphasis on sex, often without love and just seen as a momentary “fling.”

The Assumption is the answer to modernity’s teaching that man is only a body. To all those who say that Catholics denigrate the body, the Feast of the Assumption proves that the Church, on the contrary, glorifies the body: Mary’s Assumption means that our human nature has been taken up into eternal life with God. Sheen explains this glorification of the body:

Our Age of Carnality, which loves the Body Beautiful, is lifted out of its despair, born of the Electra and Oedipus incests, to a body that is beautiful because it is a temple of God, a gate through which the Word of Heaven passed to earth, a tower of ivory up which climbed Divine Love to kiss upon the lips of His Mother a Mystic Rose. With one stroke of an infallible dogmatic pen, the Church lifts the sacredness of love out of sex without denying the role of the body in love. Here is one body that reflects in its uncounted hues the creative love of God. To a world that worships the body, the Church now says: “There are two bodies in Heaven, one the glorified human nature of Jesus, the other the assumed human nature of Mary.” Love is the secret of the Ascension of one and of the Assumption of the other, for love craves unity with its beloved. The Son returns to the Father in the unity of Divine Nature, and Mary returns to Jesus in the unity of human nature. Her nuptial flight is the event to which our whole generation moves. (Sheen, 135)

The Assumption is the answer to the modern world’s over-emphasis on the body:

As Communism teaches that man has only a body, but not a soul, so the Church answers: “Then let us begin with a body.” As the mystical body of the anti-Christ gathers around the tabernacle doors of the cadaver of Lenin, periodically filled with wax to give the illusion of immortality to those who deny immorality, the Mystical Body of Christ bids the despairing to gaze on the two most serious wounds earth ever received: the empty tomb of Christ and the empty tomb of Mary. In 1854 the Church spoke of the Soul in the Immaculate Conception. In 1950 her language was about the Body: the Mystical body, the Eucharist, and the Assumption. With deft dogmatic strokes the Church is repeating Paul’s truth to another pagan age: “Your bodies are meant for the Lord.” There is nothing in a body to beget despair. (Sheen, 138-9)

The Assumption is the answer to modernity’s view on sex as the only expression of love. Instead of focusing on sex, the Assumption focuses on true love, which wants to be possessed by the beloved, in contrast to sex in which one wants to possess the beloved. Sheen writes:

The Assumption affirms not sex but love. St. Thomas in his inquiry into the effects of love mentions ecstasy as one of them. In ecstasy one is “lifted out of his body”, an experience that poets and authors and orators have felt in a mild form when, in common parlance, “they were carried away by their subject.”…

If God exerts a gravitational pull on all souls, given the intense love of Our Lord for His Blessed Mother that descended and the intense love of Mary for her Lord that ascended, there is created a suspicion that love at this stage would be so great as “to pull the body with it.” Given further an immunity from Original Sin, there would not be in the body of Our Lady the dichotomy, tension, and opposition that exist in us between body and soul. If the distant moon moves all the surging tides of earth, then the love of Mary for Jesus and the love of Jesus for Mary should result in such an ecstasy as “to lift her out of this world”.

Love in its nature is an ascension in Christ and an assumption in Mary. (Sheen, 133, 134)

The Assumption is about love. The Assumption is about what happens when a sinless human creature loves God so completely and totally, and is so empty of herself, that His Love can lift her–body and soul–to be with Him for eternity.

Let us ask her, the sinless Virgin Mary, to ask her Son to fill us with love for Him and for her.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Book Review: “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints”

A few weeks ago, Dawn Eden discovered my blog, Theological-Librarian. She got in touch with me and told me that her publisher would send a free copy of her newest book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, to bloggers who were willing to review it.

I jumped at the chance. A free book? What more could any bibliophile want?

Then I had second thoughts; and a friend asked me why I was reading, and writing a book review of, a book for those who had “sexual wounds.” After all, I hadn’t been wounded in that way.

I wondered that, too, until I read Eden’s book.

My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints

My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, despite its subtitle, is not only for those who have sexual wounds (e.g. those who have addictions to pornography or masturbation, or who have grown up in an environment that does not respect their dignity and modesty). My Peace I Give You is for all of us who have been wounded, particularly for those of us whose childhood has been wounded or taken away from us through circumstances beyond our control.

I wish I had read this book a year ago, when wounds that I had been denying for years had arisen and slapped me in the face, when I was fighting tooth and nail to avoid admitting that I was wounded. This is the book that helped me to admit: “Yes, I’m wounded…and it’s okay. That doesn’t mean I’m weak; it means that God is giving me an opportunity to heal.” Eden explains how admitting our woundedness helps us heal:

God not only wants to heal our wounds: if we let him, he will heal us through our wounds, making everything we have endured serve to draw us nearer to him in love. (xxxi)

The God in Whom we believe and Whom we adore is a wounded God; Dawn reminds us of the prayer Anima Christi (Soul of Christ), with its line: “Within Thy wounds hide me.” She writes: “[The prayer] goes from asking Christ to be within you to asking that you may be within him. More than that, where in Christ are you asking to be sheltered? Within his wounds” (xxi).

If we take our wounded selves to the Wounded Christ, we will find in His wounds the one thing that will heal us: His Love.

Christ’s Wounds are an expression of His Love, and Eden shows how this love heals us as in each chapter she discusses a different aspect of the love that heals us. The saints are the ones who help us to see this love at work in the lives of ordinary, down-to-earth people, as Eden writes:

[T]hey opened their hearts to me so that I might, through their love, enter more deeply into the Heart of Christ. It is the mission of the entire Communion of Saints—that we may all be one, even as the Father and the Son are one (Jn 17:11). In his will is our peace. (181)

The saint whose story particularly struck me was St. Ignatius of Loyola. Eden puts his story in the chapter “The Love We Forget”—love that heals our memories. Specifically, this love is “the experience of continually being sustained in existence by God” (37). That is a “love we forget” because how many of us ever reflect on the fact that if God ceased thinking about us for one instant, we would exist no more? Eden uses the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola, with its line: “Take, O Lord, and receive . . . my memory” as her springboard for this chapter:

In Ignatius’s understanding of the human mind, the concept of memory refers to more than just particular memories. Memory includes everything that had entered into his consciousness to make him who he was—whether or not he could actually remember it. It forms the foundation of his present identity, including his hopes for the future.

This is an ancient way of understanding memory . . . and it makes particular sense for one who has survived trauma…. Often in trauma survivors . . . the brain attempts to protect itself by consigning painful swaths of the past to areas where memory’s tendrils cannot reach them. Yet the memories of traumatic events, whether present to us or not, remain part of us.

The answer to those memories includes

what spiritual theologians call a ‘purification of memory.’ This does not have to include reliving the details of traumatic events; indeed, it shouldn’t, if the pain of recalling them is too much to bear. However, it does require the willingness to enter into the past so that we might disentangle traumatic events from events that were not traumatic. When we do this, we reclaim the hidden treasures that are rightfully ours.

This same weaving of the lives of the saints and her own experiences continues through the rest of Eden’s book.

In conclusion, Eden reminds us that only God can bring good out of evil, but that He will do this if we unite our wounds to His:

God permitted my heart to be wounded so that I might take shelter in Jesus’ pierced Heart, and so that Jesus might find a home in mine. But, beyond even that, he permitted it so that my heart would be big enough to provide shelter to other wounded souls, bringing to them the same Christ I have received. (180-181)

And that is exactly what Eden has done in this book. She has given us the same shelter from our wounds that she found—the wounds of Christ.