Venerable Fulton Sheen: A Model for the New Evangelization

The Catholic Church lifts up holy men and women as role models for us, examples of people who heard God say “Be holy as I am holy” and set themselves to that task. We can look at the timeline of their lives and see their obvious sins and struggles and how they overcame them by relying on God, His Sacraments, and His Word. As we study the lives of the saints, we see their personalities and they become our friends. As such, we are confident that just like our loved ones surrounding us on Earth, our heavenly companions are praying for us.

Currently, Holy Mother Church is in the midst of the canonization process for Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Many of faithful, myself included, hope that he will one day be declared a saint. Having already investigated Sheen’s writings, the Vatican recently read through almost 2,000 pages of witness testimony and on June 28, 2012 declared Sheen “Venerable,” putting him just one step away from “Blessed.” Three alleged miracles have been sent to Rome, including one involving my stillborn son James Fulton, with the hopes that one will be declared a true miracle, bringing about Sheen’s beatification.

Occasionally people wonder, “Why Sheen?” Why did my husband and I name our boy after him and why do we consider him worthy of being a saint? My answer: Here are five reasons why Venerable Sheen should be canonized and why our culture needs his example and his intercession.

First and foremost, we need him because Sheen loved the Eucharist. A 2008 Georgetown study showed that only 57% of American Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Fulton Sheen, however, knew it was truly Christ and on his ordination day promised that every day for the rest of his life he would make a holy hour, praying before our Eucharistic Lord. It didn’t matter if Sheen had to get off a train in the middle of nowhere at 10:30 at night to find a church, he kept that promise for sixty years. That is the kind of devotion we need to our Lord and the kind of reverence we need for the Most Blessed Sacrament – the source and summit of our Faith.

Second, Fulton Sheen had a deep love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. On his ordination day Sheen also consecrated himself to the Blessed Mother and he kept her as a close companion and intercessor throughout his life. Many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, don’t “get” Mary or the role she can play in our lives. Sheen however knew that all she wants is for us to know and love her Son and that she can help us do both. A quick look at our culture and it’s obvious that we need to draw close to Christ, and Sheen shows us that Mary can help us do so. As the Marian poem Sheen popularized put it, “Lovely Lady dressed in blue, teach me how to pray. God was just your little boy and you know the way.”

Third, I believe the Catholic Church needs a saint like Sheen because of his love of the priesthood. While there is much promise in our seminaries, the ratio of priests to weekly-Mass-attending Catholics has declined.

Young men discerning the priesthood would greatly benefit from the example and prayers of Venerable Sheen, a man who loved being a priest and who began praying as a child that God would give him the vocation. Sheen’s understanding of the priest as a “holy victim,” as discussed in his book The Priest Is Not His Own, is the kind of holy and radical challenge that men crave to accept but that is not offered to them by the world.

Fourth, our country needs Fulton Sheen because he was powerful pro-life witness. Currently, there are over 3,000 babies aborted daily in the United States and a lobbyist recently testified that Planned Parenthood believes abortionists should have the right to kill a baby born alive after a botched abortion.

With Sheen’s canonization there would hopefully be a spreading awareness of his Spiritual Adoption Prayer: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn baby I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion. Sheen wrote that prayer shortly after Roe v. Wade and it has only become more important in the years since. Additionally, many of the alleged miracles attributed to Sheen’s intercession that I am aware of relate directly to unborn or newborn babies. It seems obvious to me that he has a deep love of babies and the preciousness of life.

Finally, I hope that Sheen is canonized and held up as an example of a powerful evangelist. Fulton Sheen used whatever means were available to him to spread the Gospel. In the 1940’s he had a radio show. In the 1950’s had a television show. He wrote over 60 books and traveled throughout the world, preaching and speaking about Catholicism, Jesus Christ, virtue, and the Good News. He spoke and wrote with humor, intelligence, and zeal.

Were he alive today, I am certain he would be on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. For all of us online, Fulton Sheen is a great inspiration and I hope he is praying for us as we too share not only our very selves but the gospel of God (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

I have heard people call Sheen proud and self-centered and I do not doubt that Venerable Sheen had his own sins that he took to confession over and over again. Yet I believe that by the time he died in 1979 he had been perfected in Christ and could say to you and me, “Be holy as I a holy.” His example of love for the Eucharist, Mary, the priesthood, the unborn, and evangelization can inspire future generations to also embrace them and to live holy Catholic lives.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, pray for us!

Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have five children: one in Heaven and four more wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She was a co-founder of The Behold Conference and she blogs at A Knotted Life.
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  • Dieserweg

    Venerable Fulton Sheen was a great influence for me to become a public speaker myself. I remember listening to his tapes my father played on Lenten Season and around Christmas. I was in High School then, not yet old enough to grasp the depth of his theology but the force and elequence he delivered his speeches moved me. The most important influence though is my dedication to the Blessed Sacrament. I invoke his prayers for wisdom, humility, and perseverance.

  • NinaBG

    My parents named my youngest brother Stephen Fulton after Bishop Sheen. I am one of eight children, and an early recollection is being herded into the dining room with my siblings once a week where Dad would play Bishop Sheen recordings for us on the stereo (while we quiet, listened, but made funny faces at one another). In the early ’70s Bishop Sheen spoke at a parish 40 miles away and we piled into the station wagon and got there very early so we would be assured a seat. I was young enough not to recall too much of what he said, but old enough to remember that we were squashed like sardines in the church and it was, indeed, a big deal to have him in South Jersey! We hung on his every word. I hold dear the few notes my father received from Bishop Sheen, but know that several of us will fight over the inscribed 8×10 picture of him soon enough. For now, Mom keeps that on the dresser in her bedroom. Whoever keeps the Facebook account that dispenses his quotes is doing a GREAT job! I re-post them regularly. That kind of small-chunk wisdom doesn’t come around very often.

  • George Olivera

    Great Soul of the Catholic Church, who preached in season and out of season the Word of God in Word and Deed. Venerable Fulton Sheen Pray for us

  • http://twitter.com/Avnrulz Ed G. Power

    Can’t believe FB told me your site was viewed as a spam threat!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joanne.perez.182 Joanne Perez

    As a young girl growing up my parents never took me to Church or no mention of God. I started to watch Bishop Sheen and later turned Catholic and raised seven of my own and three others all Catholic. I am now almost 80 years and still listen to Bishop sheen on EWTN Praise God!