Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. On Books By Archbishop Fulton Sheen

There is a certain timelessness about the writings and sermons of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who died in 1979, that makes them timely to any age. The saintly, articulate cleric had the gift to penetrate to the depths of every subject he talked about. Thus, these two small books of essays (Thoughts for Daily Living and Walk with God) by the late archbishop are full of gems of both divine and human wisdom. Sheen was able to illustrate abstract ideas with concrete examples and stories so that the reader or listener could easily grasp the point he was making. In this he was much like our Divine Lord (a phrase he loved to use) who spoke in parables to communicate divine revelation about himself and the Holy Trinity. Thoughts for Daily Living contains 59 short essays of about three pages each. They are grouped together around certain themes: happiness, love, habits and environment, will, character, forgiveness, humility, communication, hope, and finally freedom and man. Each of these essays makes a point that is worth considering. Sheen gives wise advice on virtues and vices. He was a good philosopher, but he also studied modern psychological theories and makes use of the positive discoveries of the social sciences. Also, since these essays were written in the 1950's as the Cold War was raging between Russia and the West, Sheen often points out the errors and weaknesses of Communism and Marxist-Leninist theory.
Walk with God was written in the 1960s and is very similar to the book mentioned above. The subtitle says that it is "Wisdom and Guidance to Help Us in Our Daily Lives." Here Sheen describes four different types of persons based upon the parables of Jesus, and the essays are grouped under four titles, plus a final section which describes the true road to happiness. Regarding the "four roads," Sheen says in the Introduction (p. ix) "There are four types of persons who miss their mark in the world, as revealed in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son."
This volume contains 50 essays of two to three pages each. They are divided into four main sections: "Turning from the Road of Misguidance," "Turning from the Road of Confusion," "Turning from the Road of Evil Intent," and "Turning from the Road of Conceit." Here he deals with such subjects as good manners, teenagers, temptation, causes of violence, patience, jealousy, loneliness, and courtesy (very good), and in conclusion there are seven essays on the Beatitudes as the right road to follow.
These short, thought-provoking essays are vintage Sheen. 
In my experience, no one else wrote or preached the way he did. He was a supreme master of the spoken and written word. There is more than one reason for that: (1) he was highly intelligent; (2) he was well educated in America and Europe; and most important, (3) he was a holy, prayerful man. As he himself testified in his autobiography, for fifty years he made a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day -- and he never missed a day! 
Fulton J. Sheen lived with the Bible. He studied God's word and meditated on it every day -- it was his food and drink, it was the air he breathed. So it was from the abundance of his mind and heart, totally penetrated by the truth and love of God, that he spoke and wrote. These short essays bear testimony to Sheen's love for God and man, and are filled with both divine and human wisdom.
One or two of these gems make for excellent reading before retiring at night.
--Kenneth Baker, S.J. in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, January 2010.
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