N GOD’S great goodness, I first received the faith from my dear parents. With the help of many devoted priests, friends, neighbors, and Catholic school teachers, my faith deepened. It was through listening to Bishop Sheen’s 35-cassette “Ye Shall Know the Truth” catechism series, however, that I caught my first glimpse of the breadth and length and height and depth of the tremendous richness on which our Catholic faith is set. Reading Sheen’s Calvary and the Mass later, though still as a high school student, fundamentally changed my life.
From time to time, I still listen to his catechism series—yes, in cassette format—because it continues to nourish me. (Although the “Ye Shall Know the Truth” collection seems to be unavailable, lots of very similar content from Sheen is available here and here.) I encourage anyone who has not already encountered the writings or videos of Bishop Sheen to seek them out, because he still has much to teach.
ODAY, I would like to allow Bishop Sheen to speak to us again, at some length. The passage below is taken from his book Lift Up Your Heart, first published in 1950. These excerpts strike me as especially pertinent to our present ecclesial moment.
In chapter 16, Sheen writes this:
Millions of men and women today lead what has been called “lives of quiet desperation.” They are panicky, worried, neurotic, fearful, and, above all, frustrated souls.
The present moment includes some things over which we have control, but it also carries with it difficulties we cannot avoid—such things as a business failure, a bad cold, rain on picnic days, an unwelcome visitor, a fallen cake, a buzzer that doesn’t work, a fly in the milk, and a boil on the nose the night of the dance. We do not always know why such things as sickness and setbacks happen to us, for our minds are far too puny to grasp God’s plan. Man is a little like a mouse in a piano, which cannot understand why it must be disturbed by someone playing Chopin and forcing it to move off the piano wires. When Job suffered, he posed questions to God: why was he born, and why was he suffering? God appeared to him, but instead of answering Job’s questions, He began to ask Job to answer some of the larger questions about the universe. When the Creator had finished pouring queries into the head of the creature, Job realized that the questions of God were wiser than the answers of men. Because God’s ways are not our ways—because the salvation of a soul is more important than all material values—because Divine Wisdom can draw good out of evil—the human mind must develop acceptance of the Now, no matter how hard it may be for us to understand its freight of pain. We do not walk out of a theater because the hero is shot in the first act; we give the dramatist credit for having a plot in his mind; so the soul does not walk out on the first act of God’s drama of salvation—it is the last act that is to crown the play. The things that happen to us are not always susceptible to our minds’ comprehension or wills’ conquering; but they are always within the capacity of our Faith to accept and of our wills’ submission.
One question is never asked by Love, and that is “Why?” That word is used only by the three D’s of Doubt, Deceit, and the Devil. The happiness of the Garden of Paradise, founded on trusting love, cracked under the Satanic query: “Why has God commanded you?” To true love, each wish of the beloved is a dread command—the lover even wishes that the requests were multiplied, that there might be more frequent opportunities of service. Those who love God do not protest, whatever He may ask of them, nor doubt His kindness when He sends them difficult hours. A sick man takes medicine without asking the physician to justify its bitter taste, because he trusts the doctor’s knowledge; so the soul which has sufficient faith accepts all the events of life as gifts from God, in the serene assurance that He knows best.
Every moment brings us more treasures than we can gather. The great value of the Now, spiritually viewed, is that it carries a message God has directed personally to us. Books, sermons, and broadcasts on a religious theme have the appearance of being circular letters, meant for everyone. Sometimes, when such general appeals do appear to have a personal application, the soul gets angry and writes vicious letters to allay its uneasy conscience: excuses can always be found for ignoring the Divine Law. But though moral and spiritual appeals carry God’s identical message to all who listen, this is not true of the Now-moment; no one else but I am in exactly these circumstances; no one else has to carry the same burden, whether it be sickness, the death of a loved one, or some other adversity. Nothing is more individually tailored to our spiritual needs than the Now-moment; for that reason it is an occasion of knowledge which can come to no one else. This moment is my school, my textbook, my lesson. Not even Our Lord disdained to learn from His specific Now; being God, He knew all, but there was still one kind of knowledge He could experience as a man. St. Paul describes it: “Son of God though He was, He learned obedience in the school of suffering.” (Heb. 5:8)
The University of the Moment has been built uniquely for each of us, and in comparison with the revelation God gives each in it, all other methods of learning are shallow and slow. This wisdom is distilled from intimate experience, is never forgotten; it becomes part of our character, our merit, our eternity. Those who sanctify the moment and offer it up in union with God’s will never become frustrated—never grumble or complain. They overcome all obstacles by making them occasions of prayer and channels of merit. What were constrictions are thus made opportunities for growth. It is the modern pagan who is the victim of circumstance, and not its master. Such a man, having no practical knowledge of God, no trust in His Providence, no assurance of His Love, lacks the shock absorber of Faith and Hope and Love when difficult days come to him. His mind is caught within the pincers of a past he regrets or resents and a future he is afraid he cannot control. Being thus squeezed, his nature is in pain.
The one who accepts God’s will in all things escapes such frustration by piercing the disguise of outward events to penetrate to their real character as messengers of the God he loves. 1
If you would like to learn more about Sheen’s cause for canonization, check out the Archbishop Sheen Foundation.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Fulton J. Sheen, Lift Up Your Heart (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950), 228 and 231-233.