An Interview with Dr. Peter Howard
It’s hard to spend ten minutes on Facebook without coming across at least two quotes from Archbishop Sheen:
“The devil may have his hour, but God will have His Day.”
“There are not more than one hundred people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”
You flip channels and there he is on EWTN. I hear him on local Catholic radio. My teen pulls him up on YouTube. With this kind of ongoing impact, the announcement of Sheen’s beatification was met with incredible excitement…that quickly gave way to frustration at news of a delay. To better understand this development, as well as Sheen’s ongoing impact upon the faithful, Catholic Exchange reached out to Dr. Peter Howard, one of the world’s foremost Sheen scholars and founder of the Fulton Sheen Institute.
Shane Kapler: Within a three week period we moved from the joyful announcement that Pope Francis had approved Archbishop Sheen’s beatification to the surprising announcement that the Diocese of Rochester had requested, and been granted, an indefinite delay of the beatification. Would you cast some light on the matter for CE’s readers and explain what will likely happen next?
Dr. Howard: First, we need Sheen now more than ever and this current saga over his beatification only confirms that he is the general the Church in America needs in this critical hour, and the devil does not want that. The facts of Sheen’s cause are the following: Sheen’s life has already undergone the most exhaustive investigation conducted by the highest levels of the Church in conjunction with the Diocese of Peoria. The conclusion: Fulton Sheen was declared to have lived a life of heroic virtue and worthy of the title “Venerable” (2012).
Since that time, the Congregation of Saints has approved a miracle that was obtained through Fulton Sheen’s intercession – a miracle authenticated by Pope Francis himself – which cleared the way for Sheen to be beatified (declared “Blessed”) by the Church. The liturgy (that was scheduled originally for Dec 21, 2019) was simply the occasion to proclaim what the Church has already declared as fact. That being the case, what followed afterward by the Diocese of Rochester and then by Rome is perplexing. Monsignor James Kruse, Vicar General of the Diocese of Peoria, has presented the facts and history surrounding Rome’s unprecedented decision to subordinate and surrender its own completed and adjudicated investigation of Sheen’s episcopal leadership to secular authorities. The history recounted by Kruse rather clearly points to certain US bishops sabotaging the cause of Fulton Sheen at every pivotal advance.
What will likely happen next? Rome will wait for the release of the NY AG report on the Diocese of Rochester and confirm what it already knew — that Sheen’s administrative record was clean; and the beatification will be rescheduled, provided Rochester doesn’t try another obstructionist stunt.
Kapler: Archbishop Sheen seems to have gained an incredible popularity among Catholics in their twenties and thirties, a generation who never heard him on radio or viewed his Life is Worth Living on ABC. To what do you attribute this phenomenon?
Dr. Howard: The young want to know how the Church and the world has arrived at what Sheen called this “apocalyptic” moment in history. The world has abandoned God and as a result has completely lost sense of reality. This younger generation is crying out: “Is there anyone out there who has clear answers to this ‘dark night’ of reason in the world and the vacuum of holiness and leadership that is in the Church?” Well, into this intellectually, morally and spiritually bankrupt civilization, God sends Sheen as a prophet for our times. Sheen provides a blueprint to lead the world—especially the Church in America—back to God and help this broken and wounded civilization discover anew what it means to be human made in the image of God.
The younger generations are searching for purpose and Sheen addresses them with clarity and in a language practically anyone can understand. He unfolds a path on which they will find their reason for living, starting with the most basic of questions: Why am I here? Should I believe in God? If so, which God? And how should that affect the way I live? What Sheen ultimately gives them is a complete itinerary of the Christian philosophy of life that will yield the fulfillment and happiness they seek.
When the young discover that the answers to their longings are found attractively in the life and teachings of Sheen, they choose him as their guide, their spiritual director, their spiritual father, their general. That is exactly what happened to me in my mid-twenties.
Kapler: Both the Church and the nation Sheen loved so dearly are passing through times of great strife and confusion. In a nutshell, what would be Sheen’s prescription for our malady?
Dr. Howard: Well, Sheen first had to diagnose the malady and it boils down to civilization rejecting God, Catholics progressively leaving their moral, spiritual and missionary Christian duties unfulfilled, and then trying to build a new and false humanity and world order in which man has sought to remake God in its own image. As a result, humanity has become completely disordered in body, mind, and spirit. And for America, in particular, Sheen emphasized it has a spiritual void over which today’s cultural battle is being fought. America must rediscover its soul, find its true heart and return to its true Christian roots, or its end is imminent.
Sheen’s prescription for rebuilding the Church and for America to find its soul is threefold. The first is anthropological: The Church and the nation must rediscover what it means to be made in the image of God. The second is philosophical: The Church and America must reject the atheism and materialism of Marxism in all its forms. (It has progressively permeated and contaminated all aspects of American society.) The third is spiritual: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution created a spiritual vacuum that had to be filled. The Catholic Church needed to step in and fill it, but did not really begin to do so until Fulton Sheen. Sheen was emphatic that the Church in America (priests and laity alike) needed to be rebuilt upon the spiritual foundations of adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist and a true devotion to Mary. Sheen lived these through his daily commitment to the Eucharistic holy hour, his lived consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart and daily recitation of the Holy Rosary.
Kapler: Your book, The Woman, is the most in-depth study of Sheen’s Mariology to date. With the Marian title of “co-redemptrix” recently in the news, how do Sheen’s insights serve the Church’s perennial desire to better understand Our Lady’s role in our lives?
Dr. Howard: Sheen’s understanding and teaching on the role of Our Blessed Mother is refreshing because it is profoundly biblical and intimately personal. The more we understand the Blessed Mother in terms of her relationship to God, the more we understand about her relationship to us, and the more connected we find ourselves to her love and care of us. For example, “co-redemptrix” is a rich theological term which literally means “a woman who is a co-worker in God’s plan of redemption.” In other words, “a woman who co-redeems.” This is a loaded theological subject. However, it can be simply understood as Sheen explains it one of two ways: The first is in relation to what took place at the Annunciation. God asked Mary to give Him a human nature by which and through which He would suffer, die and redeem humanity. From that moment, Mary became inseparable to God’s plan of redeeming humanity’s and therefore God’s unique “coredemptrix”.
According to Sheen, the Church is the “mystical prolonging” of the mystery of the Incarnation in the life of every Christian. In other words, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we “re-live” the historical life of Christ, which began at the Annunciation, when He chose Mary to be His Mother and Mary said, “Fiat” to begin a new creation (as God’s first creation began with His word, “Fiat.”). From the moment the Word became Flesh in Mary, she raised and nurtured our Redeemer throughout His life. And when His earthly life was in its last moments on the Cross, He gave Mary to be the mother of all who would be “born again” (or “born from above”) and have Christ now live in and through them as He did when He first came, with, in and through Mary.
So, for Sheen, the second way to understand Mary’s role as co-redemptrix in the most personal terms is Mary’s maternal role as the “New Eve”. What Eve was to the original humanity, the mother of all living, Mary is to all who live in Christ. As Adam’s physical, generative powers to increase the human race were united inseparably to Eve, so are the Divine generative and redemptive powers of Christ, the New Adam, united completely and inseparably to Mary, the New Eve (Christ called her “woman” at the Cross to make this reality clear). At the Cross Mary mystically assumes her role as the Mother of all who partake in the “new humanity.” Christ’s historical life began when the Holy Spirit mystically united Himself to Mary at the Annunciation. We enter into Christ’s life at baptism, receiving Mary as our mother to form and nurture us with the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus can fully live in us. In short, as Mary was to Christ the Head during his earthly life, so she is to His Mystical Body, the Church, and every Christian in it.
Kapler: Part of your mission at the Fulton Sheen Institute is bringing the Archbishop’s wisdom and wit directly to the people. If a parish or conference wanted to schedule you to speak, how would they go about that, and what could they expect?
Dr. Howard: What Sheen prescribed to our wounded world as the three-fold path back to Jesus Christ, the Healer, is at the very heart, purpose and mission of the Fulton Sheen Institute. Through live speaking events, retreats, parish missions, podcasts, webinars, online mini-courses and live intensive course immersions, the Fulton Sheen Institute brings the wisdom of Fulton Sheen to this generation’s most pressing questions: What’s the purpose and meaning of life? What’s wrong with the world and how do we fix it? How can we rebuild our nation and our Church upon a culture of life, based on the full truth about God, man and creation? As Fulton Sheen put it, “In this error infested world, what we need is a church and an authority that’s right. Not right when the world is right. But one that is right when the world is wrong.”
This “saint for our times” is a saint for all the world, but right now the Fulton Sheen Institute is especially focused on the United States. It’s here that he was given his special mission, and Catholic Americans must understand why. I am very excited to announce that the key event offered by the Fulton Sheen Institute in 2020 is “Visions of Our Future: Fulton Sheen’s Plan for a Great America.” This event is an engaging 3-hour event that goes right to the heart of the cultural war in America today… a war that Ven. Fulton Sheen prophesied over 80 years ago! In it we’ll discuss the enemy we’re up against, the true meaning of freedom, the choice we face in America today, the critical role the Eucharist must play in turning America back to God, and how America’s special relationship with Our Blessed Mother is our greatest hope. Through Sheen’s insights, dialed in to God’s wisdom, we’ll discover America’s true path to greatness, and the hope that our best years are still ahead.
During this most critical election year, I invite you to discover Fulton Sheen’s prophetic vision for a great America. Book now for our evening event “Visions of Our Future” at fultonsheen.institute/booking
image: An undated portrait of Fulton J. Sheen by Harris & Ewing, Inc. / Library of Congress (Public Domain).