Tag Archives: Fulton Sheen

Making Sense of Suffering

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

Why do we suffer?

I’ve wrestled with this question and with God for a long, long time. It’s still a struggle sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit.

If God is so good, and if God loves me like He says He does, then WHY do I have to fight a chronic illness? Why do I have to watch my family members suffer? Why did my grandfather have to die a slow death from cancer? Why did my grandmother have to suffer so much with loneliness and illness? Why did her death have to be slow and painful, too?

I’ve never understood suffering. The first time I came face to face with people telling me that suffering is redemptive is when my husband (who was at that time my boyfriend) lost his mother unexpectedly. I read things about suffering. Catholic things. Things written by literal saints.  They told me that suffering — the pain of losing someone, the pain of seeing someone else hurt, and your own hurt be it physical or emotional — can bring you closer to God. It’s redemptive and salvific.

But suffering didn’t do that for me — it didn’t bring me closer to God. Instead, it made me quite frustrated, and even mad at Him.

This was not just a battle I faced every so often, when a big life event like someone becoming sick, hurt, or dying occurred. No, this was something I faced every month for the past several years as I battled the effects of endometriosis and severe PMS (medically diagnosed as PMDD, which goes WAY beyond typical premenstrual mood swings) plaguing me every four weeks and many, many days in between.

Relentless pain, emotional turmoil, and at times, the feeling of being incredibly depressed for days that interrupted almost every facet of my life and relationships. It made me constantly say WHY, God, WHY do I have to deal with this, when you could so easily will it away? Is this fun to you? Am I just not faithful enough, tough enough, strong enough to deal with this, because this sucks so much?

My dislike — no, loathing — of suffering went on until a few months ago when after it looked like just about every feasible medical option for treating the ridiculous effects of this awful illness had been tried and found wanting. That’s when, by God’s grace, I finally relented in my anger and took this struggle to the foot of the Cross. I prayed that if this was a struggle I had to deal with, that God would give me the grace to carry it better. That He would help me understand this Cross and have peace with why I had to carry it. Just as with St. Paul wrote, that God won’t take away the thorn in our side, but He’ll give us the grace to deal with it: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My answer, my help in understanding this suffering and all others came in the form of a talk by none other than Fulton Sheen.

I watched a clip of him giving a talk, in his lofty, articulate, awesome voice about a time he had a toothache as a child. To paraphrase, he was a young boy and he HATED going to the dentist. But he developed a severe toothache — an abscess, even. He hid it from his father as long as he possibly could to put off going to the dentist, which he HATED and wanted to avoid at all costs. But his father eventually found out. And took him to the dentist.

Now, mind you, this was the dentist’s office in like the early 1900s. So you can imagine the kind of suffering that went on in there when you came in with an abscessed tooth. Fulton Sheen talked about how, as the dentist began to work on fixing his tooth, Sheen became so upset at his father, wondering why he wasn’t helping him, protecting him, sheltering him from this immense suffering of the dentist treating his tooth.

At the time, as a child, it didn’t make sense to him. But his father knew that ultimately, even if he protected his son from this momentary suffering of going to the dentist, which he really hated and didn’t want to do, it would be very bad, would result in even more suffering, and at that point in time could eventually have caused serious illness or death if left untreated.

Fulton Sheen’s father allowed him temporary suffering for his ultimate good.

And it sort of clicked after I listened to this story. God doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer no more than Fulton Sheen’s father enjoyed watching his little boy writhe in pain in the dentist’s chair. For Fulton Sheen, his father allowed suffering because it was for the good of his ultimate health. For us, God allows suffering because it’s for the good of our souls.

When I heard suffering presented in this way, I was able to finally pray, Lord I don’t like this suffering. In fact, I HATE IT. But if this is for the betterment of my soul, I trust in you, I trust that you, the loving Father that you are, know what is best for me, and that you’ll give me the grace to bear it.

It became so much easier to carry that cross.

Peter Kreeft wrote, in Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, that “Nothing more powerfully helps us to bear pain than the realization that God wills it.” And I can say that in my own life I have experienced that this is true.

Not more fun — as the struggle was and still is definitely there. And I. don’t. like. it. But seeing it as something God allows for my ultimate good — something that can help me grow in faith for the sake of my eternal salvation — helped make me less bitter and more at peace.

I was challenged again by this as I watched my grandmother suffer in her last few weeks of life. And in watching my family members suffer, too, as they experienced her suffering at her side. Those questions crept back: Why, God, why do you allow her to suffer so much? Why can’t you just take the pain away?

But I am not God. So I don’t know why these things happen. But He does know why. And His ways are higher than mine. And just as Christ’s suffering led to the resurrection and the promise of eternal life, God allows our suffering to bear the fruit of our redemption — even though we probably can’t see it now or even until after our own death.

Our sufferings here on Earth make sense if we trust that there is something after this earthly life. If there’s nothing after that, then suffering means nothing. It is just endless pain and sadness and sorrow and heartbreak. But if there is something beyond this, as Jesus promised and as the Church teaches, then our suffering has so much meaning. Because God wills it for sake of our eternal salvation.

Peter Kreeft also wrote, “… God in His wisdom wills that we suffer because He sees that we need it for our own deepest, truest, most lasting good, or the good of someone else.” For our own deepest, truest, and most lasting good. May this truth help us to take suffering to the cross, and say Lord, use this to mold my heart even more into Yours so that I may spend eternity with You.

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Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

Sarah Coffey is a convert to Catholicism who enjoys delving into Church history and the Theology of the Body. She is blessed with a wonderful family, husband, and a cat named Stella (as in “Ave Maris Stella”, of course).

Suffering Servant

Mark 10:32-45

The Apostles heard Jesus preach about the kingdom many times and they believed this kingdom was to come before His death. It is in this context that James and John, two beloved Apostles in the inner circle of Jesus, asked to be seated at His left and right hand (Mk 10:37).

Jesus’s reply was not so much an answer but a statement that

“His kingdom will not be of this world, and that to sit by His side is something so great it surpasses the angelic orders — which they did not yet merit.” (St. Theophylact)

Influenced by human feelings, the remaining Apostles became ridden with envy and felt indignant at James and John (Mk 10:41). Jesus however, intervenes and ‘called them to Him’ (Mk 10:42), teaching that the greatest amongst them must be their servant (Mk 10:43). Jesus substantiates His statement with living proof of Himself, since He came down from Heaven to give His life for the world (Mk 10:45).

Christ Carrying the Cross, El Greco (1577–87)

This consistent theme of the “Suffering Servant” throughout the entirety of Mark’s Gospel is something beautiful and rich with wisdom. Jesus, like Christianity today, continues to challenge worldly norms even though the Church has always been in the minority. Catholics have been the only ones consistently speaking out against the world on intrinsic evils like Abortion, Euthanasia and Contraception. An inevitable blooming Culture of Death.

Yet, while the Church continues to guard and promulgate the Truth, she will always do so from the perspective of a Suffering Servant, not a demanding tyrant. The world will always mock and hate us, but as a wise man once told me — being hated by the world is a sign that you’re in the right Church. As the Saints have echoed through the centuries, “The Truth which subsists in the Church will always be rejected by the world.”

If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh.

If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth.

Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God.

Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.

Look for the Church which amid the confusions of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly. since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine.”

— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Originally posted on Instagram.

The Silence of Mary vs Endō’s “Silence”

In the Martin Scorsese film Silence, based on the book by Shūsaku Endō, the Jesuit protagonists face a terrible choice: to renounce their faith and trample on the image of Christ, or to let their flock of Japanese faithful suffer torture and death.

In saving their flock in the temporal realm, did they not risk losing them for eternity? Did they not betray those who had already been tortured and killed? The pagan Japanese have traditionally understood dying for honor, as in the practice of seppuku. The real-life Japanese martyrs understood dying for God and the eternal salvation of others. Christian martyrs have always held it a privilege to die for the Faith, participating in the redemptive death of Christ.

The Nagasaki Martyrs
Choir of La Recoleta, Cuzco, Peru

The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.
St. Paul Miki

Crucifixion with Intercessors (The Crucifixion with Sts Paul and Francis)
Luini Bernardino, c. 1530.

Let us turn to the example of Mary, our Mother.

Have you ever remarked that practically every traditional representation of the Crucifixion always pictures Magdalene on her knees at the foot of the crucifix? But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed Mother prostrate. John was there and he tells in his Gospel that she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to be of service to us. She stood to be our minister, our Mother. If Mary could have prostrated herself at that moment as Magdalene did, if she could have only wept, her sorrow would have had an outlet. The sorrow that cries is never the sorrow that breaks the heart. It is the heart that can find no outlet in the fountain of tears which cracks; it is the heart that cannot have an emotional break-down that breaks. And all that sorrow was part of our purchase price paid by our Co-Redemptrix, Mary the Mother of God!
– Venerable Abp. Fulton J. Sheen, Calvary and the Mass: The Sanctus

She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that, because that was what He asked of her.
– Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Unlike Peter, who remonstrated with Jesus after He said He had to suffer and die, Mary quietly accepted this sword which pierced her heart. She watched in silence as her beloved Son, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, was mocked, cursed, defiled, falsely accused, scourged, spat upon, and crucified, with a crown of thorns jammed cruelly onto His poor head. All through the torture of the One she loved best, she never said a word against God. She trusted in His plan of salvation, though it tore her heart to shreds.

That suffering silence was the silence of a strong and virtuous woman who trusted completely in the foolishness of God, which is far above the wisdom of men. Unlike the priests in Silence, Our Lady held fast to the Word of God, the pearl of great price, the Way which leads through death to everlasting Life. Let us imitate her when we see our loved ones suffering, and stay close to Christ.

…the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright.
– Bishop Robert Barron, “Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ and the Seaside Martyrs

…our world doesn’t know what to make of the Resurrection or indeed of miracles and the supernatural. And so a veil of deep silence falls over them. This, in fact, is the deepest silence in the film: that the Resurrection is not even alluded to. And so, ‘Silence’ is left with a naturalistic tale wherein the most noble goal is to alleviate and reduce suffering. This is unsurprising since the very notion of redemptive suffering makes no sense and is a scandal without the theological virtues.
– Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., “Initial thoughts concerning Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto Me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it.
Matthew 16:21-25

Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt. (“When the word of God increases, the words of men fail.” – Augustine).
– Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini n. 66

As a convert, in watching The Passion I was most profoundly affected by a new understanding of Mary, as The Mother of Sorrows.  It  recently occurred to me that her Son was only 40 days old – a tiny little Baby – when she was told that through Him “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2: 35). And yet, did she hold back? Did she choose to protect herself from pain that was sure to come? No. She never held back her love in an effort to protect herself. She opened wide the doors of Hope. She rested in the joy that this life is not the end. She prepared her soul for the glory of eternal life. And she surrendered her will to the Will of her Heavenly Father, with calm, quiet, peace.
– Vicki Burbach, “Love, Loss and the Liberty of Letting Go

…martyrdom is a gift from God that is born of profound charity. It is a specific and glorious sharing in the life of Christ… Martyrdom is the crown of a life lived with ardent love for God and the people of God.
– Bro. Edmund McCullough O.P., “Life and Martyrdom

Also see: Taylor Marshall, “The Seven Sorrows of Mary are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit”;
Joshua Bowman, “The Last Words of 30 Saints”.

Image: Signum-Crucis (1, 2)

Seeing God

Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.
John 20:29

A friend of mine was disappointed when he visited Nevers. There was a massive crowd around St. Bernadette’s incorrupt body, whereas the adoration chapel was almost empty.

We humans are more easily drawn to things we can sense. We are also more easily drawn to things which are out of the ordinary.

However, God chooses to come to us primarily through humble, ordinary means. He is there in the very fabric of our existence, which we take for granted as the only reality we know. He came to us as a little baby who grew up into a simple carpenter from the backwater town of Nazareth. He comes to us in the guise of the people we meet each day.

He is there in the Blessed Sacrament, an everyday miracle which we may also take for granted.

A Protestant ex-Catholic friend of mine longs to believe in the Real Presence, but cannot see the scriptural justification for It. He is scandalized by Catholics who skip weekday Mass in college, choosing instead to lounge around before lunch.

Let us open our eyes to God’s presence in the humble forms we take for granted – our families, our friends, others we meet in daily life, and in the tiny white Host.

Image: Pinterest

Works of Mercy Part II: Feeding the Hungry and Counselling the Doubtful

This is part II of a series on works of mercy which I have written for Lent. You can read part I first.

 

Feed the hungry/Counsel the Doubtful
Hunger is one of the greatest causes of sorrow in this world, though not the greatest. And the hungry are everywhere, and in all times: there seldom need to seek them out to find them. “The poor you will always have,” we are promised (Mark 14:7). We should pity their plight, whether it”s merely economic or whether the problem goes deeper.

Alleviating hunger is a simple task, but it is not easier for being this. Moral problems seldom are. We need not get caught up in idle speculation as to why any given person is in his situation (and with the economy being as bad as it is, there are surely more people who honestly can”t find work than are merely “lazy”). They are our sisters and brothers in need, parts of our human family who are “down on their luck.”

To feed them is an act of mercy.

On the other hand, it is also an act of justice. It is justice towards them, as it recognizes their dignity as human being. Still more is is justice towards God, obedience to the Old Law. We read in Leviticus that “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of your grain. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God” (Leviticus 23:22). In Deuteronomy, we read even more instructions of this sort:

“When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf there, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the alien, the orphan or the widow, that the LORD, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. For remember that you were once slaves in Egypt; that is why I command you to observe this rule” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

If this is not explicitly a commandment to actively go forth and feed the hungry—poor, orphan, widow, and foreigner—as in the Discourse on the Judgment of the Nations, it is at the least a commandment to leave them the means to feed themselves.

Moreover, it is a commandment tied to the remembrance of who the Israelites are: you were once slaves in Egypt. And before that, they were foreigners in Egypt (this during a time of famine). In bringing this to mind with the commandment, God reminds the Israelites that they were once poor and hungry, and that this was so until He rescued them from their slavery.

That these commandments were given during the 40 years wandering in the desert, then the the message becomes clearer still. Only by God”s provenance would the Israelites survive; He would provide their daily food, and so they must depend on Him for it. The same of course is true after they entered and claimed the Promised Land, and for that matter the same is true for us now, in a time of advanced farming techniques which yield immense crops.

And the hungry we still have.

Hunger is not only for food, however. I mentioned before that physical hunger is among the worst forms of suffering which is common in the world, but there are worse. After His baptism, Christ entered the desert, where He was tempted by the devil: the first temptation online casino was against His hunger after forty days” fasting:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

Our spiritual hunger is for “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” and above all for the Word which comes forth from God: Jesus Christ, God the Son. This is so much so that He told us that we must “gnaw” His flesh and “guzzle” His blood (John 6:53) to have life within us, a moment which foreshadowed the institution of the Eucharist and presaged the Passion.

We know (or “see”) these things through the eyes of faith, and so faith is what helps feed the “spiritual” hunger. But faith is undermined by doubt: thus, counseling the doubtful is spiritually akin to feeding the physically hungry. For its own part, counsel is on of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2), and is sometimes called “right judgment.” With the gift of counsel, we know what is right and what is wrong, and choose to do what is right.

At a glance, this may seem to fit with others of the spiritual works of mercy—admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant—which are indeed related to counseling the doubtful [1]. On the other hand, venerable bishop Fulton Sheen once stated that “Atheism, nine times out of ten, is born from the womb of a bad conscience. Disbelief is born of sin, not of reason.” In short, many a man who does says “I do not believe in God” means “I am sleeping with my neighbor”s wife.”

To return to the connection between physical and spiritual hunger, and the feeding of both, we would notice that there is often a second (seeming) reason for the loss of faith, that is, for “hunger.” It is a variation on the problem of evil: “Many Christians are bad people, therefore Christianity is false.” These days the argument is sometimes recast as, “Priest sex abuse scandal. Therefore, Catholicism is false.” From a strictly intellectual standpoint, both versions of the argument are laughable. That some Christians behave badly, and that some subset of those are priests, does not prove or disprove the veracity of the creeds.

People do not, however, operate on a purely intellectual plane, and so these sins become the cause of doubts [2]. In a sense, we all “hunger for righteousness,” and many turn elsewhere when they perceive that they have not found it in religion. The problem is that righteousness is not found merely in religion, but specifically in God; we look for righteousness in men and catch glimpses of it, while missing it in God where it is perfected.

To counsel the doubtful then requires that we return them to God, from Whom comes faith, from whose mouth (and side) comes our spiritual nourishment, our “daily bread.” Thus, while we may counsel directly and physically, we might also apply to God by prayers for counsel—whether for ourselves or for another.

Continue to Part III

 

Footnotes
[1] Indeed, counseling and instructing are both related to the intellect: the former to the “practical” intellect, the latter to the “speculative” intellect.

[2] Doubts? Perhaps. On the other hand, these “doubts” often take the original form, again modified: “I am mad that priests have abused children” often and easily becomes cover for “Therefore, why shouldn”t I be allowed to commit my (supposedly minor) sin of choice?”

The One Thing You Need to Know About Fulton Sheen’s Cause

It’s not over.

Earlier this week the Sheen Foundation shared a press release stating that “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.”

The alleged miracle involves my son, James Fulton, who was a stillborn and without a pulse for sixty-one minutes. While he was lifeless we asked Fulton Sheen for his prayers, and just as emergency room doctors were prepared to call time of death James came back to life. His body should have shut down from massive organ failure caused by his severe lack of oxygen. He should not be alive today, but he is. When it was evident that he would live, doctors and specialists warned us that he would be severely disabled, but he is not.

The Sheen Foundation’s press release went on to say “Today’s decision by the theologians comes after the March 2014 vote by the team of Vatican medical experts who affirmed that they could find no natural explanation for the child’s healing. 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.”

If Pope Francis approves the alleged miracle then it will be official: a real miracle.

But at that point the Sheen Foundation will still have to petition the Vatican for Venerable Fulton Sheen to be beatified.   There are three more steps that we need to go through before we could possibly have a miracle and a Blessed Fulton Sheen and as the Foundation has pointed out, “there is no timeline as to when these next steps might move forward.”

Hopefully the bishops and cardinals who sit on the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will approve the alleged miracle this fall when they return to Rome following the summer holiday. Hopefully Pope Francis will approve it very soon afterwards. Hopefully the pope will swiftly approve the beatification. We don’t know; we could be waiting for months or years.

Why do I share all this with you? Because, while I want us all to celebrate this important ruling from the advising theologians, I also want us all to continue to pray for and support this cause. If you believe in Venerable Sheen’s holiness and example – if you believe that he would make a great saint for the Church, leading many to a deep, loving, joyful relationship with Christ – then please continue to hope and pray for the next three steps.

Please continue to raise awareness of Venerable Sheen and his passionate love for our Lord. Please even consider tithing to the Sheen Foundation as they work to promote and further his cause for canonization.

Let’s celebrate: our God is good and has done marvelous things!

And let’s pray: 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.

Fulton Sheen, My Son, an Alleged Miracle, and SUPER Exciting News from Rome

Early this morning I got a secret email, and I did a happy dance.

While I was shopping at Wal-Mart I got a phone call, and I did a fist pump.

Fulton Sheen EvidenceYou probably know already but the seven-member board of medical experts who advise the Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican unanimously approved my son James Fulton’s alleged healing through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.

I know there’s been some confusion so I want to be really clear:

This is still an ALLEGED miracle. Only the Pope can declare it a miracle.

We’ve still got a little ways to go. The postulator for the cause will now provide the theologians who advise the Congregation of the Causes of Saints with information so they can decide if the healing happened because of Fulton Sheen’s intercession. When they are done, it will be forwarded to the the bishops who sit on the C of the C of S (not the real acronym). Then those bishops will need to decide on it and make their recommendation to the Pope. Pope Francis will have the final say.

There’s still more to do! Please praise God today and celebrate this good and mega-exciting news! Then tomorrow go right back to praying for the cause. You can also financially support the cause if you’d like. For more information check out the official website for the cause here.

And now let’s all do a happy dance. I suggest Pharrell.

I know I should probably have more to say, but it’s just all too exciting. And I’ve got some happy dancing to do! For updates please feel free to check out my personal blog, A Knotted Life.

The official press release from the Archbishop Sheen Foundation is below.

Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation 
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, president 
Monsignor Stanley Deptula, executive director 
419 NE Madison Avenue 
Peoria, Illinois 61603 USA 
309-671-1550 
877-71-SHEEN 
ArchbishopSheenCause.org 

Media Contact: Msgr. Stanley Deptula 
 Msgr_Deptula@cdop.org 
 Office:309-677-7085 
 Mobile: 309-231-5689 
March 6, 2014 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Peoria, IL — The Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, Bishop of Peoria and President of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, received word early Thursday morning that the 7-member board of medical experts who advise the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints at the Vatican unanimously approved a reported miracle attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen. 

The case involved a still born baby born in September 2010. For over an hour the child demonstrated no signs of life as medical professionals attempted every possible life saving procedure, while the child’s parents and loved ones began immediately to seek the intercession of Fulton Sheen. After 61 minutes the baby was restored to full life and made a full recovery. The child, now three years old, continues in good health. 

Today’s decision affirms that the team of Vatican medical experts can find no natural explanation for the 
child’s healing. The case will next be reviewed by a board of theologians. With their approval the case 
could move on to 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. 

“Today is a significant step in the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of our beloved Fulton 
Sheen, a priest of Peoria and a Son of the Heartland who went on to change the world. There are many 
more steps ahead and more prayers are needed. But today is a good reason to rejoice,” commented 
Bishop Jenky. 

Fulton Sheen was born May 8, 1895 in El Paso, IL outside of Peoria. His family moved to Peoria so that 
Fulton and his brothers could attend Catholic school. He grew up in the parish of the Cathedral of St. Mary where he was an altar server and later ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria. After advanced 
studies and service as a parish priest in the city of Peoria, Fulton Sheen was a professor of philosophy 
and religion at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. In the 1930s he became a popular 
radio personality and later a TV pioneer. His weekly TV program, “Life is Worth Living” eventually 
reached 30 million viewers and won an Emmy award for outstanding TV program. 

From 1950-1966, Bishop Sheen was the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith 
in the United States, the Church’s primary missionary apostolate. In 1966, he was named Bishop of 
Rochester of New York where he served until his retirement in 1969, when he was named honorary 
Archbishop by Pope Paul VI. Fulton Sheen died at the entrance to his private chapel in his New York City 
apartment on December 9, 1979. 

In September 2002, Bishop Jenky officially opened the cause for the beatification and canonization of 
Fulton Sheen. For six years, the Sheen Foundation, the official promoter of the Cause, gathered 
testimony from around the world and reviewed all of Sheen’s writings, before sending their conclusions 
to the Vatican. In June 2012, Pope Benedict affirmed the investigation that Sheen had lived a life of 
heroic virtue and holiness. Sheen was then titled “Venerable.” 

Pending further review by the theologians and the cardinals who advise the Pope through the 
Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, should Pope Francis validate this proposed miracle, Sheen 
could then be declared “Blessed” in a ceremony that could be celebrated in Peoria, 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.” 

For more information about Fulton Sheen and the Cause for his canonization, visit: 
ArchbishopSheenCause.org. 

### 

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin (pt 2): On Misguided Sympathy

“Chesterton described the sentimentalist as having ‘no honor about ideas; he will not see that one must pay for an idea as for anything else. He will not see that any worthy idea…can only be won on its own terms.’ That nicely describes the modern man who describes himself as ‘spiritual, but not religious.’

The sentimentalist, anxious to denounce and distance [the problems of the Church and the world from] himself, does not stop to consider that the great reformers within the Church—St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and others—did not flounce away from what was difficult. They remained, and the profound insights gained through their struggles have instructed and enhanced the ‘worthy idea’ of faith. Dismissing it all with a few overused buzzwords, a sentimentalist runs his premium brain on the cheap and inefficient fuel of superior feeling, but he cannot be accounted a thinker who enhances understanding.” [1]

The devil is subtle, and part of that subtlety is a solid understanding of the concept of misguided sympathy. There is a tradition among some theologians which says that the devil fell through pride upon seeing it revealed that Christ would be incarnated; a variation of this tradition says that it is not the Incarnation itself which made Lucifer fall, but rather a vision of the passion: “surely there is a better way!” According to this variation, the devil himself fell through pride and misguided sympathy, which I suppose is the subtlest pride of all. Is it any wonder, then, that misguided sympathy is one of his most powerful weapons against the Faith, one of the most alluring temptations which he can use to lead us astray?

The problem with hedonism is that this life isn't forever, and at some point even pleasure stops being fun. Image with text taken from the excellent Catholic Memes blog.
The problem with hedonism is that this life isn’t forever, and at some point even pleasure stops being fun. Image with text taken from the excellent Catholic Memes blog.

I have noticed among my own friends that sympathy for “gay marriage” has not always lead to a complete break with the Church or a complete renunciation of faith. I suspect that for many it won’t happen that way at all, but I suspect that the devil is content to work slowly when haste does not avail him. Sure, many men have been parted from their faith through more direct means: temptations to obvious sins such as adultery and fornication [2], or to abortion to cover up fornication or adultery or to avoid his own responsibilities when a child is conceived, temptations to drink to oblivion, or to skip going to church on Sunday in favor of sleeping in after the previous night’s drinking and whoring. There are many cases in which some obvious sin of pride or gluttony or lust or wrath is involved, where the starting point is avarice or envy or even simple sloth. Hedonism is a powerful motivator, and always has been, albeit with an ever-changing face. So are desires for wealth and power and honor which reduced other human beings to tools or obstacles, to be used to crushed in pursuit of one’s goal.

Misguided sympathy, on the other hand, is far more subtle, especially when we experience it ourselves. These other temptations might feel good, but I think that few thinking people would call their pursuit in this manner good. Misguided sympathy is a counterfeit so strong as to appear to be the real thing. It seems as if it is the loving thing–and aren’t we supposed to do the loving thing?

Sympathy implies suffering--both for the original sufferer, and for the sympathetic friend. Image source.
Sympathy implies suffering–both for the original sufferer, and for the sympathetic friend. Image source.

The hard truth about love is that it is not easy. It requires of us some sacrifices, sometimes even suffering. Indeed, the very word “sympathy” implies some suffering, as Bishop Fulton Sheen has noted:

“Sympathy is a temper or character which draws others together. It is what might be called conductivity. The Greek origin of the word ‘sympathy’ implies ‘suffering with.’ It is a kind of silent understanding when heart meets heart. It is a kind of substitution, in which one takes the heart out of his own body and places it in the body of another man, and in exchange takes back the other’s heart.”

To be clear, attempts to alleviate suffering are not bad of themselves. Where we can alleviate suffering without doing worse harm to the sufferer, this alleviation can be a good thing, even an act of true charity. I call it an act of charity, though these acts of charity are often known as works of mercy. There are 14 (seven each of spiritual and corporal), many of which have as an effect the alleviation of suffering. It may even be said that the works of mercy alleviate suffering by attempting to fix its causes: by feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty and visiting the sick, or by counseling the doubtful and instructing the ignorant, etc.

However, alleviating suffering is not the only goal—or even really the main goal—of the works of mercy. Rather, these works are to recognize the dignity of the human person, whose ultimate destiny is not suffering, death and sorrow, but rather happiness, eternal life and joy. Thus, real mercy ultimately depends on justice and on human dignity: above all, it relies on charity rooted in truth.

Caritas cannot be had without veritas.
Caritas cannot be had without veritas.

The misguided sympathy which is so often used to undermine the faith looks for a shortcut: to avoid unpleasant truths in the name of alleviating suffering. But this is somewhat akin to treating symptoms while ignoring the disease, and while in the short-term it provides some relief, in the longer term it will lead to greater grief.

Real empathy often underlies misguided sympathy, and there is so often a real desire to help those who are hurting. Thus the deception is made all the stronger, because the break with faith appears to be for noble reasons, as if religion were the cause of the problems. Religion is not the cause, though it is a part of the cure, for the problem is sin. But there is one thing worse than sin, as Bishop Fulton Sheen reminds us: “Sin is not the worst thing in the world; the worst thing in the world is the denial of sin…The denial of sin is the unforgivable sin.”

Misguided sympathy ultimately leaves the sinner where he is: stuck in his sin. It avoids the responsibility, not merely of looking for relief from suffering, but of uplifting the sufferer and helping him to his higher end. For while suffering is bad, it can be turned to a good end, and from sorrow can come wisdom, and out of suffering can come joy. Even suffering can be embraced and then sanctified and the sufferer redeemed, but sin can only be rejected.

Real love, charity in this case, is inseparable from truth. It risks sacrifice even while it looks to relieve the suffering of the other. This relief may come from the sacrifice of taking on the other’s suffering as one’s own, but it cannot be separated either from the truth of the human person and the human condition. Misguided sympathy mistakes the wideness of God’s mercy for a wide path to tread towards our final destination. It ignores the ultimate Truth upon which all other truth is finally based, and so misses the narrow path which leads through suffering and sorrow, until finally finding joy.

There is another tragedy involved with misguided sympathy. As I said before, underlying misguided sympathy is often real empathy, a real desire to to help those who are suffering, a real desire to show kindness to others. These are all good things, they are all components of real sympathy, and us of real love, that is, of charity. But when they are opposed to truth via misguided sympathy, they become twisted and distorted: they may show kindness to the the “victim” (e.g. a friend with same-sex attraction) at the expense of resenting the Church (which includes her fallen members as well as her infallible teachings). This, in turn, causes a scandal (temptation to sin) for the Church’s members, for they then see that instances of kindness towards sinners are followed by instances of rejection o the Church, and are thus themselves presented with a false dichotomy between kindness on the one hand and obedience–and really, faith–on the other. The Church is therefore not only deprived of some faithful witnesses of real love in action–a synthesis of faith, hope, and charity–but is also provided with a counter-witness of kindness opposed to faith, as if faith and charity could work against each other.

I think I know how this one ends...
I think I know how this one ends…

That same witness is then provided to the culture at large, which is (as it often is) at least a little bit hostile to the Church. In the case of the genuine witness of love rooted in truth, the culture gets evangelized. On the other hand, in the counter-witness of kindness opposed to faith, the culture gets anti-evangelized, that is, it gets turned away from the Church, and gets an excuse eventually to persecute the Church. We have been there before many times, and in many places: the culture needs no such pretexts.

What the culture needs, and what the Church herself needs, is the witness of the saints, here and elsewhere. The saints are, after all, the mirrors of Christ (cf 1 Corinthians 13:12). As for real sympathy, I think it is well-captured in one of the poems of Saint John of the Cross, entitled “The Young Shepherd”:

A lone young shepherd lived in pain
withdrawn from pleasure and contentment,
his thoughts fixed on a shepherd-girl
his heart an open wound with love.

He weeps, but not from the wound of love,
there is no pain in such affliction,
even though the heart is pierced;
he weeps in knowing he’s been forgotten.

That one thought: his shining one
has forgotten him, is such great pain
that he bows to brutal handling in a foreign land,
his heart an open wound of love.

The shepherd says: I pity the one
who draws herself back from my love
and does not seek the joy of my presence,
though my heart is an open wound with love for her.

After a long time he climbed a tree,
and spread his shining arms,
and hung by them, and died,
his heart an open wound with love.

 

Footnotes

[1] From Elizabeth Scalia’s essay on Sentimentalism, found in Disorientation: The 13 “Isms” That Will Send You to Intellectual “La-La Land”.

[2] Or to unnatural sexual relationships, which include those in which both partners are of the same sex.

Raise Your Standards

“To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, and goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.” – Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Recently a female friend of mine and I were talking about dating (big surprise, I know). We were talking about one gentleman in particular and how impressed we were with him for calling my friend out to ask her on a date. We were impressed because he didn’t send an e-mail, a tweet, a text, or a Facebook message. He took the time, effort, and courage to call and ask her on a date.

At the time it sounded lovely and we enjoyed praising him for his courage. Later on as I begin to think about it more, it struck me as sad that this was actually praiseworthy behavior. When did it become commonplace for a gentleman to ask a lady out via a text message? Oh wait, it isn’t commonplaceA true gentleman will ask a true lady out in person or over the phone, or in a way that she feels comfortable with (for some ladies this may mean an e-mail or some other form of communication). He won’t need smoke screens or channels to hide behind. This will be the case because the lady carries herself in such a way that inspires the man to act accordingly.

Not long after I graduated college I remember lamenting to my friends when guys would ask for my number, promise me a phone call, and then three days later would send me a text saying, “Hey, how are you?” I’ll admit that I responded to the text message, even if I did so begrudgingly. Looking back, that certainly wasn’t the wisest choice I could have made. To begin with, if this lad really did fancy me, why did it take him three days (or more) to act on it? Once he finally did act on it, why did he think that a text was an appropriate form of communication, especially after he promised a phone call? Because something in our culture (and in my brain at the time) said that texts days later would be okay and I’d respond anyway. There was nothing in me, or in my text message response to him (probably something along the lines of, “GREAT!! How are you?!?!”…but that’s another blog), that warranted or invited a more courageous invitation from him. Furthermore, my responding to his three-day-later text message as quickly as I probably did, did nothing to show him that I expected or hoped for anything more. I failed to raise my standards, and consequently he did as well. Needless to say the relationship wasn’t the stuff that fairy tales and romance novels are made of, nor did I marry that particular lad.

Fulton SheenWhat I have learned since three-days-later-text-messaging-dude is that Archbishop Sheen had it right: when we raise our standards the true gentlemen rise to the occasion and the others fall to the wayside, simple as that. If we give in to the text messages, Facebook messages and Twitter dates, we shouldn’t be surprised when the relationship (and the communication within said relationship) progresses along the same dismal lines. On the other hand, when we are confident, some may even say fierce, we naturally invite gentlemen to rise to the occasion and become worthy of us. Am I saying that women are all perfect and men should bow down at our feet? No way. Rather, I’m saying that when we raise our standards, when we don’t give in to three-days-later texts, we invite men to deeper, more meaningful relationships. We invite them to pursue us, but we also invite them raise their own standards, thereby raising the standards of society as we know it.

It starts with us.