Venerable Fulton Sheen: Servant of All
Finding inspiration to pray a Holy Hour from ‘the most important Catholic of 20th-century America’
Dr. Peter Howard Comments Off on Venerable Fulton Sheen: Servant of All
We are living in an extremely unique time of the Church in which every Catholic should understand its significance, because that knowledge speaks to the kind of responsibility we must take up, and take it up courageously.
A key figure whom God has given the Church to explain that significance is none other than America’s beloved Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. At a time of great crisis in the Church as it has never seen before, it is appropriate to recognize the example of the man whose biographer, Thomas Reeves, called “the most important Catholic of twentieth-century America.”
It’s time to discover the greatest reasons behind his greatness because it is precisely those reasons that make him venerable, worthy to learn from and worthy to imitate. The greatest reason is not the fact that he reached 30 million people a week on his award-winning television show “Life Is Worth Living,” or that he was the first American to earn a “super doctorate” degree from the University of Louvain, or that his classes at the Catholic University of America were the most popular during his tenure, or even countless other achievements he accomplished in his life.
The greatest reason is summarized by the title of a short documentary made during the early years of Fulton Sheen’s cause. It is called “Servant of All.” It highlighted that those who knew and encountered Sheen always remembered him more for the abundance of his generous heart than the brilliance of his intellect.
The Fatima Prayer
The mission of Fulton Sheen could be expressed by the Fatima Prayer recited at the end of each decade of the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in most need of your mercy.” Fulfilling this in the soul of every person was Sheen’s goal, especially for “those who are most in need of [Jesus’] mercy.
The most important thing to remember about Fulton Sheen and his spiritual legacy to the Church is that the end to which everything he dedicated his life was for the salvation of souls. As he put it, “Unless souls are saved nothing is saved.”
Sheen was a servant of the Truth. All of his academic accomplishments and perpetual studying were so that he could converse with souls, meet them where they were, and then lead them to divine truths. His dedication to media and teaching was always at the service of communicating the truth that sets man free — not just to Catholics, but to the whole world. It is important to note that 60% of his audience was non-Catholic.
Close to the Poor
As the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for over a decade, Fulton Sheen drew close to the poor of the world. Sheen recalled a story where he visited a leper colony in Thailand and distributed small crucifixes to them. At the outstretched hand of one of the lepers, Sheen became repulsed by the diseased hand and “dropped” the crucifix into it. At that very moment, he became aware and remorseful that one more leper had been added to that colony … himself. After that, he took each crucifix and pressed it into each of the leper’s hands.
Fulton Sheen was deeply committed to the poor and vulnerable around the world in the most personal of ways. So much that every penny of the $10 million (equivalent to $100 million in 2023) he made from his weekly television show made its way to the poor in the missions. Sheen could never be accused of not living what he himself asked and even demanded of others.
No matter a person’s social status, every soul Sheen encountered was precious, unrepeatable, indispensable and irreplaceable. Each person truly felt in his presence that he or she was the center of Sheen’s universe.
With all the aforementioned being true and important, there was something even more important to Fulton Sheen that made him a powerful and effective servant of all. He attributed all of his “success” to his fidelity to an unbroken promise of 60 years, since the day of his ordination, to spend an hour a day before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Fire of the Eucharist
It was in these 60 minutes every day that Fulton Sheen was forged in the fire of the Eucharist. It was here that he said all the preparation for serving others is made. It was before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament that Sheen said he would train his eyes to see Jesus in the holy Eucharist. This was critical because he said that it was then and only then, when we can see through the eyes of faith that Jesus is present in the Holy Spirit, that we can then go out and see the image of God in everyone we meet — something difficult in our times as Satan works tirelessly to erase God from all aspects of humanity, especially in mutilating the body to try to become what one is not.
The Holy Hour also trained Sheen’s ears to be able to recognize and listen to the voice of God. Without prayer, without a real relationship and an ongoing conversation with Jesus, it is hard to recognize him in a world that is increasingly divorcing and disfiguring itself from him.
So, this spirit of heroic service to others must be, as Fulton Sheen called it, a “reflex action.” We first come to Jesus and grow close to him and receive his power. We then are able to “go out into the world” and transform it by bringing the sacrificial-renewing love of Jesus Christ to every soul we meet.
This is why Fulton Sheen is so important for deacons. By this we rediscover the power behind his strength and efficacy to impact the lives of millions — his commitment to the daily Holy Hour. As Sheen put it: “This is the preparation for social work!”
Fulton Sheen invites us to ponder: Thus can the world be saved. What contribution could the 41,406 priests [37,302 in 2018] (and the majority of the 67.6 million Catholics in the United States — Kennedy Directory of 2022) make to the peace of the world, if each spent an hour daily in the sanctuary! And how blessed for each would be the moment of death.
Imagine the power and impact of adding over 21,000 deacons to this vision.
Be the first to inspire your brother deacons and your parish community.
DR. PETER HOWARD is the founder and president of the Fulton Sheen Institute in Sandpoint, Idaho.
A Love for the Eucharist
Michael R. Heinlein, writing in Simply Catholic about Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s love for the Eucharist and his daily Holy Hour, says: “Sheen’s many successes in his mission grew from his love for the Eucharist. He once said that ‘the greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.’ This was the love that transformed him, making him an effective evangelist and Gospel witness. Throughout his 60-year priesthood, Sheen sought to conform himself more closely to Christ by observing a daily Eucharistic Holy Hour, what he called “the hour that makes my day.” From his office desk, through an open door, he could gaze upon the tabernacle at all times. His union with Christ enabled him to more fully, more accurately and more convincingly lead others to Christ in all he said and did. Sheen was a man of many talents and accomplishments, but it was Christ’s presence in the Eucharist that guided him to use them most effectively.”