As I prepare for Lent each year, I ask myself the same questions: what am I going to give up, what works of mercy will I perform, or what spiritual reading might I entertain this year?
The older I get, the more I realize that I cannot go wrong with the tried and proven writings of the saints. Classics such as St. Alphonsus Liguori’s The Way of the Cross, and Lenten reflections from the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis de Sales, are staples in my home. But to be honest, it is the writings of the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen that continue to be my trusted Lenten companion.
I will never forget the first time I read Sheen’s book from 1939, entitled Victory over Vice. As I entered into the book, I began to feel deep, heartfelt sorrow for my sins for the first time in my life. Fulton Sheen’s words were removing the scales from my eyes. He showed me that the seven last words that Our Lord spoke from the Cross were the antidote for each of the seven deadly sins.
After reading this one Sheen book, I was convinced that I could put my trust in him, to guide me in my walk with Christ. I desired to read every book of his that I could find, with a similar Lenten theme. Over the course of the next several months, I read books such as The Seven Last Words (1933), Calvary and the Mass (1936), The Cross and the Beatitudes (1937), The Rainbow of Sorrow (1938), The Seven Virtues (1940), Seven Words to the Cross (1944), Seven Words of Jesus and Mary (1945), and Characters of the Passion (1946), to name a few.
I found out that during his last recorded Good Friday address in 1979, Archbishop Sheen spoke of having given this type of reflection on the subject of Christ’s seven last words from the Cross “for the fifty-eighth consecutive time.” Whether as the young priest in Peoria, Illinois, the university professor in Washington, D.C., or the bishop in New York, Sheen’s messages were sure to make an indelible mark on his audience.
Possessing a burning zeal to dispel the myths about Our Lord and His Church, each year Sheen gave a series of powerful presentations on Christ’s Passion and His seven last words from the Cross. As a Scripture scholar, Archbishop Sheen knew full well the power contained in preaching Christ crucified. With St. Paul, he could say, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
This confirmed what I had realized after reading many of Sheen’s books: that he desired most of all to speak about the mystery of love and suffering, more specifically, about Jesus Christ becoming man, and dying for our sins.
Recently, I came upon this great description of what a priest should be: a priest is someone who brings Jesus to the people, and in turn brings the people to Jesus. From reading Sheen’s books, listening to his audio recordings, and watching him on television, I have found that he fits this description perfectly. Indeed, he is an accomplished retreat master. His love for Our Lord and the Blessed Mother permeates his every thought, binding our hearts to theirs. And isn’t that what Lent is all about, a time to put God in first place in our hearts?
Over the last ten years, it has been my privilege to speak about the life and writings of the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. I never tire of hearing the “Sheen stories,” how he is still fondly remembered by so many, and how he touched people’s lives.
As a way of thanking God for the many favors that my family has received through the intercession of Our Lady and the Venerable Sheen, I compiled a collection of Sheen’s writings about Our Lord’s passion and His seven last words. The book is titled: The Cries of Jesus from the Cross – A Fulton Sheen Anthology, and is published by Sophia Institute Press. It is collection of seven unique Sheen titles that will take the reader on a spiritual journey during Lent like no other.
For the first time ever, Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s complete writings and reflections on Christ’s last words have been compiled into this one book. Sheen masterfully demonstrates how the seven last words of Our Lord are in fact, a full catechism on the spiritual life. From these holy words, we learn the secrets of living the Beatitudes, ways to avoid the deadly vices of anger, envy, lust and pride, and how to cultivate the heavenly virtues of fortitude, prudence, justice, and charity. Bishop Sheen teaches us how to deal with difficult people, and how to understand pain and suffering. And he binds all of this together with touching references to the most beautiful love between Our Lord and His Blessed Mother.
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has been my trusted Lenten guide for a number of years now. He is that faithful priest who continues to bring Jesus to me and helps to bring me closer to Jesus. I pray that he will do the same for you this Lent.
Editor’s note: You can pick up The Cries of Jesus From the Cross—A Fulton Sheen Anthology at your favorite bookseller or online through Sophia Institute Press. Mr. Smith has provided a free and helpful Lenten reading guide for 2002 that you can find Bishop Sheen Today.
image: Photo of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of Rochester in October 1956, ABC Radio / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)