Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of the most beloved and recognizable radio and TV Catholic evangelists of the twentieth century and the author of some 80 books, edged closer to sainthood today, with the declaration that he is ‘venerable,’ the Washington Post and other news outlets are reporting.
According to the Washington Post report, Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree recognizing Sheen for living a life of ‘heroic virtue.’ Sheen is best known for his hard stances against the Nazis, communism, and liberal psychology, according to the report. But he also was simply a great communicator when it came to expounding upon the fundamentals of Catholic teaching on everything from the temptation of sin to the virtues of Mary.
For me, one of aspect of his career that is most striking is his ability to use modern technology—in his time, that was radio and television—without watering down his message to suit the new medium, something that seems to be a common vocational hazard with so many other so-called televangelists. He seems so out of place on television, striding onto the screen in the full regalia of an archbishop, armed with chalk or a Bible—in a way, I think that’s what made him so effective. (Click here to view a classic vignette from one of his television programs, an episode on the nature of temptation.) Sheen was also quite the accomplished writer, just check out this list of the books he wrote during his lifetime.
In his dress and demeanor, Sheen initially seems to be the very portrait of the pre-Vatican II culture—rigid, defiant, and uncompromising in the face of modernity. It’s interesting that several of the bios and news reports I’ve seen on him call attention to his anti-communist stances or his disdain for liberal psychology. But anyone who bothers to listen to what he said or read what he wrote knows that Sheen really transcended his time, with a timeless message of faith and love borne out of deep devotion to Christ and Mary.
For me, this is best shown through his book The World’s First Love, which is filled with insights and moving reflections on the life of Mary. It’s a one-of-a-kind book, a true spiritual classic, and for me, it set me on a firm path to discovering Marian devotion in the formative months after my conversion to the Church. Here’s just one excerpt:
There is never any danger that men will think too much of Mary; the danger is that they will think too little of Christ. Coldness toward Mary is a consequence of indifference to Christ. Any objection to calling her the ‘Mother of God’ is fundamentally an objection to the Deity of Christ. The consecrated term Theotokos, ‘Mother of God,’ has ever since 432 been the touchstone of Christian faith. [The World’s First Love, p. 70]