December 8, 2013

Sheen the Theologian and Novena Day 8

I think I first "met" Emily because we both love Sheen and write for Ignitum Today. I'm so happy she's here today, writing about Fulton Sheen as a theologian. And showing off her love of Sheen by carving his initials in a pumpkin. :)

Emily is a 2012 graduate of Christendom College with a Bachelor's in Theology. She likes to call herself the "crazy librarian," the "Theological Librarian," and an ardent devotee of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.  She wrote her Senior Thesis on "Redemptive Suffering in the Theology of the Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen." When she's not teaching first-graders or taking care of the elderly, she writes about of Fulton Sheen, redemptive suffering, and her alma mater at her blog, Theological Librarian.

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."[i]  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.”[ii]

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."[iii]  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.[iv]

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.[v]

You can read the rest of Emily's article at Ignitum Today.
Novena Day 8
“If we followed the same rules for health that we do about religion, we would all be bedridden. It is not enough to talk about the necessity of health; we must do something practical about it – for example, eat, exercise, and rest. So it is with religion. We must nourish ourselves with the truths of God, exercise our spiritual muscles in prayer, mortify ourselves of those things which are harmful to the soul, and be just as scrupulous in avoiding moral evil as we are in avoiding physical evil.” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Lord, Fulton Sheen did not ask others to go to confession or visit our Lord an hour a day without doing it himself. He practiced what he preached. Guard us from hypocrisy and help us to lead others to you through our actions.
Prayer of Canonization, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
Prayer of Canonization
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

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