Love’s Overflow: The Wisdom of Archbishop Fulton Sheen

The Words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Way back in the agelessness of eternity, in that day that had neither beginning nor end, God was enjoying infinite communion with Truth and Love in the amiable society of the three Persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Wanting nothing for His perfection, desiring nothing for His happiness, needing nothing for the replenishing of His life, there was no need for God ever to go outside of Himself. If, therefore, He ever chose to create a world, it must have been not on account of need, nor duty, nor constraint, but only on account of love.

Why then did God create a world? God created the world for something like the same reason that we find it hard to keep a secret! Good things are hard to keep. The rose is good, and tells its secret in perfume. The sun is good, and tells its secret in light and heat. Man is good, and tells the secret of his goodness in the language of thought. But God is infinitely good and therefore infinitely loving. Why therefore could not He by a free impulsion of His love let love overflow and bring new worlds into being? God could not keep, as it were, the secret of His love, and the telling of it was creation….

Quite naturally the mind of that great Architect might have conceived ten thousand other possible worlds than this. This is not absolutely the best world that God could have made. But it is the best world for the purpose that He had in mind in making it. Almighty God chose to make a universe in which not all the creatures would be like sticks and stones, trees and beasts, each of which is impelled by a law of nature, or a law of instinct to a determined rigorous end, without the slightest enjoyment of freedom. He willed to place in paradise a creature made to His own image and likeness, but a creature different from all others, because endowed with that glorious gift of freedom, which is the power of saying “Yes” or “No,” of choosing to sacrifice oneself to duty or duty to oneself, and forever remaining master and captain of one’s own fate and destiny. In other words, God willed to make a moral universe and the only condition upon which morality is possible is freedom.

(excerpt from The Divine Romance)

Reflection on the Archbishop's Words by Father Andrew Apostoli

Archbishop Sheen begins his meditation very strikingly. He compares God’s reason for creating the world to someone divulging a secret! Just as the words of a secret can reveal and express something not only hidden but also special, so God’s work of creation reveals what lay hidden in eternity, and it was indeed very special! The secret creation revealed was how much God loves us! He loved us enough to create us to share His eternal happiness in Heaven. He loved us, even more, because creation allowed Him to become man and share our human experience on earth, even to the point of dying for us on the Cross. In the study of philosophy, we used to say, “Love tends to diffuse itself.” Accordingly, love is measured by the sacrifice of giving. Even two pennies given in love when that is all one has to rely on (cf. Lk 21:1-4) is more than a great amount given when there is still so much more. Therefore, like a special secret that is divulged, creation is the enduring sign of God’s immense love overflowing His Trinitarian life.

The high point of God’s creation of the world was His creation of man and woman. He formed them after His own “image and likeness” with an intelligence to know and a will to love. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), a great Doctor of the Church, called our image of God the capax Dei = “a capacity for God.” With our minds, we can know God and with our wills we can love Him. By our very creation we are like vessels made to hold the precious ointment of God’s love. This love, in turn, will be translated into love of our neighbor who is also made in the image of God. Our capacity for God sets us apart from all other creatures — the “sticks and stones, trees and beasts” — for they cannot know and love God consciously. They simply praise God by their very existence. They are on a path determined solely by the law of instinct. The rose pleases God simply by being a rose, while cats and dogs simply please God by doing what cats and dogs were intended to do.

This leads us to a third part in the archbishop’s meditation, namely, his focus on the precious gift of freedom! He describes freedom as “the power of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ of choosing to sacrifice oneself to duty or duty to oneself, and forever remaining master and captain of one’s own fate and destiny.” Love can only exist in a world where freedom exists. If I did not have the freedom to lose my patience with my neighbor’s faults, for example, I will never know if I have the freedom to choose to be patient with my neighbor out of love for God. If I did not have the freedom for my will to choose to give in to a temptation, I will never know if I have the love to move my will to resist that temptation for the love of God. People often ask: “Why does God permit so much moral evil like hate, injustice, violence, immorality, and neglect to exist in the world?” God could instantly cure all the moral ills of the world by simply taking everyone’s freedom away from them.

Then we would be “programmed like a computer” to do only good. Everything would be “perfect” in such a world. But there would be one big problem! There would not be an ounce of love in that world because there would not be an ounce of freedom left! That is part of the secret God revealed in creating the world. He gave us the beautiful gift of freedom because He was willing to risk being offended by some of His own creatures in order to be assured that He would be loved freely by others!

(Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR is the Vice-Postulator of the Cause for Canonization of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Please visit our website!)

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Fr. Apostoli, a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, has been teaching and preaching retreats and parish missions for several decades. He is the author of numerous books, and is the vice-postulator for the cause for the canonization of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He also is an EWTN Global Catholic Network host.

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