I’ve often been asked which Catholic books I have in my home. I must admit that years ago my response would have been: “I have a few Bibles and a few books on lives of the saints”, but that was it. And most were acquired as gifts marking sacramental or special occasions. Perhaps like so many other Catholics, I did not understand the need for having a good Catholic library at home.
Gradually, my opinion on the importance of having such books in my home began to change, and primarily upon entering into the Sacrament of Matrimony. Both my wife and I received a thirst for knowledge of the Faith; we desired to acquire a true Catholic identity and, in a world where relativism reigns, we fought to anchor our children to that rock, as we also embarked upon their home education.
In preparing the children to receive the sacraments, our inadequacies and poverty in so many areas were glaring. And while we prayed and trusted in God to fill in the gaps, we also looked through a variety of catechetical materials. It became increasingly clear to us that we wanted the children to learn sound doctrine, but it needed to be presented in a clear manner, appealing to the eye and touching the soul.
Coincidentally, or as my wife likes to say ‘God-incidentally’, she found the ‘Faith and Life Series’ by Ignatius Press, a religious instruction series for children. At a family conference, we became aware of the catechetical work of Servant of God, Fr. John Hardon. Much of his work was dedicated to providing solid catechesis as well as “…factual evidence that Catholic continuity is reality and not rhetoric.”
Later on, in our home education journey, we came upon the extensive library of the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Both Fr. Hardon and Archbishop Sheen wrote numerous books on the catechism and the sacraments. They personally instructed tens of thousands of souls, and their legacy continues to inspire, as people discover the treasures of the Faith through their recordings and books.
Of Bishop Sheen’s sixty-six books, a number of them focus on the sacraments and the teachings of the Church. Books such as ‘The Priest Is Not His Own’ (1963) and ‘Those Mysterious Priests’ (1974) speak to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In 1965, Sheen compiled a catechism series of fifty lessons, taking an inner look at a soul’s sacred journey back to God. This series of talks is known as the ‘Life Is Worth Living’ catechism, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Sheen Catechism’. Written for people of all ages and religious backgrounds, Sheen answers life’s most profound questions, while explaining how one can find spiritual contentment in the modern world by applying the Christian philosophy of life. His presentation of doctrine is both biblical and liturgical, with hundreds of scriptural references.
When referring to the sacraments of the Catholic Church, Fr. John Hardon, S.J., wrote in these most unambiguous terms: “It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of understanding what we mean by the sacraments as channels of divine grace. We might almost say that Christianity is divided into two classes: those who believe that Christ instituted the sacraments as instruments of His grace and those who do not.”
Fr. Hardon continued: “There are those who still believe that Christ instituted seven channels of His grace and those who may use the word ‘sacrament’ but no longer believe either in the sacraments as communicators of grace or the Church’s authority over the sacraments. We may even say that the future of Christianity depends on professed Christians understanding — and I mean understanding — the necessity of the sacraments for reaching eternal life.”
When Christ told us, he added, “without me, you can do nothing”, He meant this literally. Without the grace which He gives through the sacraments which He instituted, we cannot hope to remain Christians or Catholics or, least of all, channels of His wisdom to those whom we are instructing in the one true Faith on which depends the salvation of the world.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who knew full well the necessity of the sacraments as channels of God’s grace for the sanctification of souls, shared these deep sentiments of Fr. Hardon. He spent countless hours instructing souls in the rudiments of the Faith individually, and presentations to large classes of catechumens. Sheen desired to bring souls to the knowledge of the Catholic Faith, and the graces that one can receive through the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Sheen gave three reasons why non-Catholics turn to the Church: (1) a moral crisis, especially the consciousness of sin and the desire of forgiveness, which the sacraments of the Church assure them; (2) an intellectual crisis when people who have wandered for years in the desert of agnosticism suddenly realize that in the Catholic Faith are to be found that conviction of mind and peace of soul which they had been searching for elsewhere in vain; (3) a physical crisis such as illness, and accident or the loss of a loved one by desertion or death when they realize that only in the teachings of the Church can they find that courage and strength of will which they need to carry their cross in conformity to the will of God. Sheen, the consummate pastor of souls, was ever on the lookout for the lost sheep, not hesitating to call them on the phone or visit them personally.
Sheen’s record of bringing souls to Christ is unprecedented. It has been noted that the Catholic Church doubled her numbers in the United States of America in the 1950s. Much of this growth has been attributed to Sheen’s very successful television series ‘Life Is Worth Living’, where each week millions tuned in to hear him speak about social concerns of the day as well as matters of faith and morals.
Sheen had the attention of millions via the medium of television, while millions more were enjoying his books and his weekly syndicated column featured in newspapers for thirty years.
In an effort to perpetuate Sheen’s legacy, I began collaborating with Sophia Institute Press to compile and produce several anthologies pertaining to various themes contained in Sheen’s writings.
The first of these, published in 2018, is titled The Cries of Jesus from the Cross, a collection of Sheen’s writings on the seven last words of Jesus.
The second anthology, published in 2019, Lord Teach us to Pray, is a collection of Sheen’s writing on prayer.
And this year, a new collection has been compiled, presenting to today’s reader the legacy of Archbishop Sheen’s knowledge on the Sacraments.
This third anthology consists of two of Sheen’s most memorable books on the sacraments and matrimony. The first part consists of Sheen’s 1962 book ‘These Are the Sacraments’, wherein he explains in clear terminology, the meaning of the sacraments, their power, and their application.
The depth of meaning of each sacrament and its significance in the life of the Church and of the individual, is compellingly evoked in by Bishop Sheen in the well-chosen prayers.
In the second part of this collection of writings, the reader will find a book that has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of souls: Sheen’s ‘Three to Get Married’. Here, Archbishop Sheen eloquently speaks of the indispensable place of God in the union of a husband and his wife for a happy and fruitful marriage.
First published in 1951, this book illustrates why Archbishop Fulton Sheen is considered by many to be a ‘modern-day prophet’. Some may hesitate to call the book easy reading, largely because with every other sentence, one may need to pause to allow the content to sink in. Here, Sheen’s insights are both quotable and timeless.
Although many will agree with other reviewers that this book should be required reading for every engaged couple, it also serves as a great resource in understanding the meaning of marriage. It is likewise a great read for couples as they begin this new and exciting phase of their life together, providing them with great insights and tried-and-true spiritual strategies.
Fr. Hardon and Archbishop Sheen would concur that every Catholic home needs a good book on the Sacraments and that books of this nature are invaluable in one’s spiritual formation.
Archbishop Sheen’s Book of Sacraments seeks to impress upon the reader our Lord’s desire to “give Himself away” in the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, and why they are indispensable channels of divine grace for the salvation of one’s soul.
May this newest anthology from Sophia Institute Press enlighten your mind and strengthen your will. And may it be a welcomed and treasured addition to your own personal library.
God Love You.
We also recommend the article “The Sacraments: A Divine Sense of Humor”, which is an excerpt from the latest Fulton J. Sheen anthology. Be sure to also check out our interview with Mr. Smith, “What Fulton J. Sheen Can Teach Us About Prayer” and subscribe to Catholic Exchange as we continue to share Ven. Sheen’s powerful teachings on the sacraments.