This was something that another visionary of the Church, during that same time period and who also died eleven years after Merton on the same December date, was able to not only find himself but convey to millions of Americans every week in the simplest way...the way Jesus has always wanted His faith taught. That great illuminary was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen who would become an archbishop after his famous "Life is Worth Living" series went off the air. Throughout the fifties, he was the Catholic's "Billy Graham", evangelizing to countless citizens through that new medium that was taking the country by storm - the television set. Who could imagine a Catholic prelate having a regular series each week today on a network program broadcast into millions of homes? Nielsen would turn over in his grave today if that happened. But that was the case back then for his books, television and radio programs, as well as his work as National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith made him one of America's best-known and best-loved Catholic figures of this century. No one was better able to explain the doctrines, dogmas, and catechetical teachings in such easy-to-comprehend terms than this loving orthodox Catholic born in El Paso, Illinois on May 8, 1895. After attending theological seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota he was ordained on September 20, 1919. After being sent to a plethora of universities to further his theological studies from the Catholic University to the Louvain in Belgium he returned to his home diocese of Peoria, Illinois. It is not lost on the faithful that even to this day the Peoria Diocese, under the shepherd Bishop John J Myers remains one of the most loyal and orthodox of Dioceses in the United States.
Bishop Sheen was a faculty member at Catholic University, teaching there for 25 years. During this time he broadcast his first radio program in 1928 from the "new" Radio City Music Hall. In 1930 he was offered a contract by the National Broadcasting Company after its president William Sarnoff had approached the United States Bishops Conference requesting a spokesman to represent the program. Why Sarnoff opted for a religious theme is still anyone's guess, but the fact he did bodes well for his departed soul. Without hesitation the Bishops chose this bright Monsignor Sheen to represent the Church and he began a weekly six p.m. Sunday night national broadcast appropriately called "The Catholic Hour". At first many of the bishops thought it would be rejected and they urged Fulton to be more light-hearted, stay clear of doctrine and tell jokes. It sounds crazy, but even back then the bishops were more concerned with public opinion and being popular and they felt that "The Catholic Hour" broadcasting opposite the popular "Amos n' Andy Show" on CBS, would garner more listeners if it were "funnier." But the listeners evidently were inspired for Sheen received over 7,000 replies to "keep the faith" and continue just the way he was.
In 1951, Pope Pius XII consecrated him titular bishop of Caesarina and auxiliary bishop of New York. This elevation and his popularity helped spur a tremendous outpouring of support to keep his show on the air that by 1952, when television was the "new kid on the block," Bishop Sheen was one of the first approached by rival network Dupont, now defunct, to produce a regular hour-long program on the same lines as the long-standing popular radio series. Thus was born the famed "Life is Worth Living" series. Dupont, however, only broadcast to New York City and other areas where the signal could be picked up, not nationally. To make matters worse the network placed his program opposite the "Father of Television" - Uncle Milty - affectionately known as Milton Berle on NBC and another up-and-coming crooner on CBS by the name of Frank Sinatra. Rather than being buried by these two icons, Bishop Sheen's program actually beat Berle in the ratings. In fact, many believe it was Sinatra himself who brokered a deal to help Berle, himself and, at the same time, launch Sheen into the national limelight for Sheen signed with the ABC network in 1954 with the same show which reached the entire nation. Almost immediately 25 million people on 175 stations across America and a few in Canada were glued to the set each Sunday night for his inspiring "chalk-talk." So this is what the "voice" on "The Catholic Hour" looked like? They liked what they saw and the response was overwhelming with upwards of 25,000 letters pouring in per day! Sheen was taken aback by this response as he would write about his televised evangelizing that he could "address a greater audience in half an hour than Paul in all the years of his missionary life." It was overwhelming and for a lesser man the fame would have gone to his head, but Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was no ordinary man. He did not need to search for Truth as Merton had struggled with, for he knew the Truth and he knew it had set him free and it would set millions free and so he continued with his powerful series reaching, at one time, over thirty million homes before Nielsen Ratings were even a concept. To reveal just a bit of his humility and humor, he once remarked, "The Lord once used an ass to ride into Jerusalem. Now he uses an ass on TV." Well this self-proclaimed "donkey" prelate muled his way into the hearts of millions until the mid-sixties when his excellent series gave way to the evil one's wave of new programming that has changed television from an informative, educational and entertaining medium to the "tabernacle of satan."
In 1966 he was appointed Archbishop of Rochester, New York where he remained in residence until his retirement three years later at the age of 74. It's interesting that his orthodoxy did not rub off on the current bishop of Rochester Bishop Matthew Clark who has had his run-ins with conservatives, espousing many liberal causes that have finally backfired with the scandalous actions of one of his priests Father James Callan, suspended because he performed homosexual weddings and allowed women to concelebrate the Mass with him. We pray Bishop Clark and Fr. Callan will look to the inspiration of the former Rochester shepherd Archbishop Sheen and learn from his humility and ultimate trust in God's Church, and strive to uphold the traditions as Sheen did.
With all the millions of dollars we hear being bandied about for movie stars and sports stars in 1998, what Bishop Sheen received was a pittance compared to today, but, unlike the icons of today, he did not keep one penny for himself. He was paid an astonishing $16,500. per program and the entire amount was sent to the Propagation for the Faith each week. He was totally satisfied with his regular stipend. In fact from 1950 to 1966 he raised over 200 million dollars that was distributed by the Propagation for the Faith, mostly overseas for third world countries. He was a crusader for the poor and down-trodden, espousing what Christ said in the Gospel long before Pope John Paul II came along to carry on the cause. As a matter of fact, the two greatest men of this century have to be our current Holy Father and Bishop Sheen. We're not talking about just for Catholics, but for the world. No two men have had a greater impact on upholding the dignity of man than these two "saints" of the twentieth century. Though John Paul II grew up with communism, Bishop Sheen was condemning it as early as 1930 when Karol Wojtyla was just entering high school. Sheen, a voracious reader of everything, was a constant crusader against the evils of communism, but, unlike the controversial Senator Joseph McCarthy, he never maligned a single person, only their philosophy. Many believe he did more to wake America up to the dangers of communism than any politician. In fact, the communist party and fifth-columnists in this country marked him as their chief antagonist and it is said attempts were made on his life, but the angels protected him and he retired late in life before succumbing on December 10, 1979 after a full life of service to God. Only God knows how many souls have been saved through the silver-tongued efforts and straight-forward logic imbued by this marvelous man. This editor knows that Bishop Sheen played an integral role in the life of yours truly for it kept the truths of the faith first and foremost in our minds and hearts. Unlike Merton and his zen methods, there was no need to go searching for Truth for Bishop Sheen had uncovered the "motherlode" for us and illustrated every week the feeling of "Eureka" in our souls. Yes, for nineteen plus years this man has been sorely missed for he was truly a hero who reached humanity through humility, heart, homily and humor!
For an example, Advent is now half gone with this coming Sunday being the third Sunday of Advent. Where did the first two weeks go? Frankly, I donít want to think too much about it, lest I be forced to face myself as I am -- a human being who has the best of intentions, but fails to live up to them all too often.
Jesus once said: ďAfter you have done all of the things you should do, consider yourselves unprofitable servants.Ē As a young person I never quite understood that. It seemed to me that if I should complete all my duties, I should or could be pretty proud of myself. However, now that I am older, I understand what Jesus meant. And I understand that I should be pretty grateful that God has enabled me to even get the morning dishes washed. ďOf myself I can do nothing, but with Him I can do all things.Ē This was St. Francis Cabriniís motto, which was always before her consciousness.
With two weeks gone in this Advent Season, I should be two weeks better prepared for Christmas. After all, the four weeks prior to Christmas should be the time we spiritually prepare for Our Lordís Birthday. Oh, believe you me! Iím not caught up in the bustleness of Christmas shopping. No, sirreee!!! I havenít even bought one present for anyone yet. Donít know that I will! Donít know that I can. I take care of my elderly mother and find it very difficult to get away without having someone stay with her.
Iím sure my family understands this and hopefully they will accept as a ďChristmas presentĒ to them that I am taking care of OUR mother.
Whatever!!! As I have often written: ďThere is less shame in falling than in failing to rise.Ē Most of all, you and I should be praying more. Thatís the best kind of preparation for the birthday of Jesus. That is something we all can do better and more often. We can pray even on the run, so to speak. How about praying while youíre on your way to buy a Furby? Thatís you, of course, not me. Iím not going to buy one.
We can pray while cleaning house, doing dishes, driving to work. Even the thought of offering a prayer, came from God, you know. We are not capable of doing even that, with ourselves as a source of that good.
We need to pray for ourselves, our families, our President. (Believe me, the country will not fall apart if he is impeached. And the economy???? Our economy does not depend on ONE person.)
Letís give Baby Jesus a present for Christmas. Letís give Him our hearts, poor as they are, weak as they are. Heíll love that! Thereís something about our inadequacies that attracts Him to us.
Letís keep trying! God bless you!
On this feast, the sublime mystery of which shall only be fully revealed in Heaven, I call all of my children to be with me in prayer before the Triune Divinity. There, in this prayer from the heart I beseech all to give fully to God their 'YES.'
Surrender your wills and be humble, submissive little children. Only in this way will you attain true perfection. Only in the surrender of your own will shall unity with the Divine Will become possible.
Dear children, soon I shall no longer be among you, for I shall have spoken all the words God desires me to impart to you.
Therefore, pray with me, your Mother, trusting in my constant intercession for you.
This feast of the Annunciation truly heralds the new era of the Reign of the Sacred Heart of my Divine Son - the Age of the Divine Will.
Therefore, I solemnly tell you that you shall enter upon the time of tears, of great sorrow in your own country and throughout the world.
Pray and be one with God. Detach yourself from the world. Cast aside all that is in excess in your material possessions. Have but one possession - My Divine Son Jesus Christ!
The moment has come. Scripture is fulfilled. I love you. I bless you. I give to you my Son's Peace. Thank you for responding to my Call!
To all of my children I solemnly tell you that as the moment of his defeat draws ever closer, so much more chaos, dissension and confusion swells upon the earth.
Mankind, even the most learned, cannot fully comprehend the fullness of Sacred Scripture, nor can they anticipate the fullness of God's plan of salvation.
If you would have Divine Knowledge and Understanding, if you would truly live in the Divine Will, come to my Divine Son in the Blessed Sacrament. Come and pour your will out so that God may give you His own. Then shall you understand more fully all the truths of Sacred Scripture and of all my words.
There is and will continue to be great divisions among all my children, even the faithful remnant until my Immaculate Heart triumphs.
Therefore, pray! Ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you. Your refuge is my Son's Sacred Heart through my Immaculate Heart.
Do not become weary or anxious. My time to be with you is very close to ending. Then shall mankind be sifted, and the faithful ones will suffer bitterly in their souls -- each a true martyr. Yet God's Justice shall come swiftly after the chastisements.
Pray! Wait and watch. O, be not afraid. God does not abandon those who truly seek and love Him. Thank you for responding to my Call!
Birth of Giovanni de' Medici in Florence. The second son of Lorenzo of the famous de' Medici family, young Giovanni would become a cardinal deacon at the ridiculous age of only thirteen and be elected the 217th successor of Peter on March 19, 1513 taking the name Pope Leo X who, because he was so young really could not comprehend how to deal with the Protestant revolt. His papacy lasted eight years, ending on December 1, 1521.
Pope Clement VII approves the Organization of the Jewish Community of Rome in an ecumenical gesture and hope that they will be protected against discrimination.
The Blessed Virgin Mary appears to a young Aztec indian in Guadalupe, Mexico which triggered the greatest apparition and fruits in the western hemisphere as millions were brought to the true faith and human sacrifice ended by the Aztec nation. For more, click on THIS WEEKEND'S LITURGY.
Father Edward Flanagan, a 31 year-old priest, frustrated by the dearth of young boys homeless and without purpose, opens up Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska with very few funds. Today it is a sprawling city unto itself which is more of a cooperation housing and educating both young men and women. From the small sprout nurtured by Fr. Flanagan, sprang a Catholic metropolis devoted to caring.
Death of Pope Calixtus II, 162nd successor of Peter. Born in Burgundy, he was elected on February 8, 1119. During his five year pontificate an agreement was reached at the Diet of Worms over the quarrel of investiture when the Pope was recognized as having the right to nominate bishops. He convened the 9th Ecumenical Council or Lateran I in which decrees were issued against simony and the lay investiture issue settled with a ratification of what had transpired at Worms. He also proclaimed the Second Crusade.
Birth of Felice Peretti in Grottammare outside of Ancona, Italy. He would go on to become a Franciscan, an inquisitor in Venice, a cardinal and eventually the 227th successor of Peter as Pope Sixtus V on May 1, 1585. His papacy would last until August 27, 1590 and during his pontificate Sixtus would take in hand the reform of the Church with great severity as well as completing work on the dome of St. Peter's.
Pope Paul III opens the 19th Ecumenical Council, better known as the Council of Trent in the northern mountains of Italy. It was a landmark counter-reform conference that would last eight years and through five pontiffs in which Protestantism was strongly condemned and measures passed to preserve the true faith.
Death of Saint Jane Frances Chantal, wife, mother and religious founder. After her husband died she was left with her seven children to raise. When they reached adulthood she chose to found the Congregation of the Visitation for young girls and widows which spread throughout France. She was a close friend and pupil of Saint Francis de Sales and she died at Moulins, France on this date after returning from a Parisian visit with Queen Anne. She was canonized in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII.