ULTON J. SHEEN wrote in his autobiography: “We kept a record in our office of the mail received every day. For years it averaged between 15,000 and 25,000 letters per day.” On page 66, Bishop Sheen mentioned a memorable missive: “We opened a yellow envelope and $10,000 in cash fell out alongside a note scrawled in pencil: I don’t need this anymore; God told me to give it to the poor.” On page 73, Sheen wrote: “It would have been interesting to have kept the hundreds of thousands of letters of soul-searching and reaching out for Divinity which came to our office, but I felt I owed it to the writers to destroy their letters.” [It hurts my heart to think of 15,000 letters tossed into the dumpster each day. Sadly, parishes which purchase ‘disposable’ missalettes waste tons more paper than that. Such parishes should consider this hardbound pew missal for the Ordinary Form.]
Over And Over Again • Bishop Sheen once received 30,000 letters in a single day. Yet he often repeated the same stories over and over.1 Why did he do that? After all, somebody who received 15,000 letters each day would undoubtably have plenty of ‘raw material’ from which to select anecdotes. I don’t know the answer, but I do know what it’s like to repeat myself. Indeed, I probably sound like a broken record when I say that if you look hard enough, you can find hymns in the Brébeuf Hymnal which were written by Protestants. It’s a tiny percentage, but it does exist. The following is an example:
Click here to hear our volunteer choir attempting to sing that hymn. It will improve the more we sing it.
“Dies Irae” for Advent? • We consider ADVENT the beginning of the liturgical year, but in the early centuries the liturgical year began with the feast of Christmas. The end of the liturgical year—which naturally came at the end of the missal, graduale, or lectionary—focused on death, judgment, and Christ’s Second Coming. With the eventual advent of ADVENT (pardon the pun!) some of these themes were retained. Indeed, the famous “DIES IRAE” chant was originally written for the season of ADVENT. In the classical Roman Rite, the 1st Sunday of Advent GOSPEL speaks of “the son of man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty.” To see this with your own eyes, take a look at the resplendent 3rd edition of the CAMPION MISSAL:
Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending, therefore, is eminently suitable during ADVENT.
Jeff Prefers “Helmsley” • Anglicans and Episcopalians often pair this text with a different melody, whereas I prefer a tune called HELMSLEY. I must admit that HELMSLEY is difficult for congregations, probably owing to its wide tessitura (“range”). Leaving the range aside, some won’t sing any hymn written by a Protestant. They even refuse to sing songs like Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and The First Nowell. Did you know Roman Catholic lyrics exist for HELMSLEY? Composed by Father Seraphim, they were inspired by Christopher Wordsworth. You can download them married to the HELMSLEY melody here:
* PDF Download • CATHOLIC VERSION of “Helmsley”
—Courtesy of the Very Rev’d Father Seraphim, rector of a Cathedral.
The volunteer choir I direct recently sang these lyrics for Mass:
Lo, he comes, whom every nation,
M Taught of God, desired to see,
Filled with hope and expectation
M That he would a Savior be:
M (3x) With what gladness
M To the homeland hasten we!
Yea, he comes, whom kings and sages,
M Prophets, patriarchs of old,
Distant climes and countless ages
M Waited, eager to behold:
M (3x) This great promise
M In fulfilment makes us bold!
Thou, the Lamb divine appearing,
M God of God, from heav’n above,
Thou, the heav’nly Bridegroom cheering
M His dear Bride with words of love:
M (3x) Lord, assist us
M Worthy of thy heart to prove!
Contrast! Contrast! Contrast! • The tune for HELMSLEY is quite merry. Therefore, it’s nice to add a bit of contrast with an absolutely splendid ADVENT melody known as “Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland.” I speak of that melody in What Makes A “Catholic” Hymnal? which is an article I worked hard on. I hope you’ll consider bookmarking it. In that article, I demonstrate how the melody known as “Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland” is actually an ancient (Roman Catholic) plain-chant called Veni Redemptor Gentium. Many post-conciliar Catholics associate that melody with “Where Charity And Love Prevail.” I can’t mention that song without speaking of Omer Westendorf (d. 1997). In his Comparison of Fifteen Catholic Hymnals, Daniel Craig points out that Westendorf originally published a book called “THE PEOPLES HYMNAL” (1955) but in 1964 changed its title to “THE PEOPLES MASS BOOK.” (As someone interested in grammar, Westendorf’s omission of the apostrophe drives me bonkers.) Using a fake name, Omer Westendorf wrote the lyrics to “Where Charity And Love Prevail.” Moreover, in THE PEOPLES MASS BOOK (1964), Westendorf attributes the melody (!) to someone named “Dom Paul Benoit, OSB.” See for yourself—if you don’t believe me—that Westendorf makes no mention whatsoever of the melody’s true origins. You will notice how the Brébeuf Hymnal favors this melody if you search the BRÉBEUF PORTAL for “Nun Komm.” Doing so yields these results. On the 1st Sunday of Advent, my volunteer choir sang this fabulous melody:
Digression on Sheen & Manliness
HE FINAL CHAPTER of Fulton J. Sheen’s autobiography has an appendix containing statistics assembled by the publishing company. (It merely contains facts. It wasn’t written by Archbishop Sheen.) On page 359, the appendix calculates Sheen’s various appearances on television and more than 300 radio stations. It’s estimated that he reached about 30 million people each week. If that doesn’t sound impressive to you, consider that RICHARD MILHOUS NIXON was elected president of the United States by getting 31 million votes in 1968. In other words, on a weekly basis, Fulton J. Sheen reached more Americans than voted for Nixon a decade later!
Sheen Was No Addict • In our times, a bizarre addiction has arisen. I’m talking about Catholic ‘influencers’ who would rather die than go a day without posting selfie videos. Specifically, I’m referring to laymen who are addicted to recording themselves (sometimes for hours at a time) and uploading the results to YOUTUBE. Frequently, such videos consist of rambling, sinful slander, idiotic jokes, gossip, and false information presented in a hysterical manner. Some of these ‘influencers’ are married with children, and it’s obscene that their wives tolerate such behavior. In any event, Fulton J. Sheen—although he was frequently behind a microphone or in front of a camera—was different for two reasons. First of all, he spent enormous amounts of time preparing his presentations. Much of his preparation was done in front of the SANCTISSIMUM. Secondly, although his fame brought him millions of dollars, he gave every cent to the missions.
Sheen Not Perfect • This isn’t to imply that Bishop Sheen was impeccable “in every possible way.” For example, when it comes to the liturgical arena, Bishop Sheen failed to make sure his diocese had excellent sacred music. (Bishops are supposed to make sure parishes for which they’re responsible conduct the Holy Mass in a dignified way.) Needless to say, I cannot judge Sheen’s culpability. Only the Lord can judge that. But he did fail, whether culpably or not. And he was hardly alone!
Good From Evil • Nevertheless, God can bring good out of evil. Because of the shameful ruination of sacred music beginning circa 1965, many faithful Catholics are now taking special care in this realm. As they say: Once stung, twice shy. It’s almost as if we’re ‘overreacting’ now. That is to say, the horrific situation has brought home to us the importance of preserving the THESAURUS MUSICAE SACRAE. Bishop Sheen often said: The only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them. I’ve experienced something similar, as I’m sure 99% of our readers have. I’m talking about family members (especially elderly ones) who can be grouchy or ‘on a short fuse’ or needlessly ill-tempered. For children who love their parents, this causes great distress. Yet, such pain can remind us not to follow suit with our own children. That pain can remind us to be patient, loving, and kindhearted with our children. Moreover, it can remind us that—at the end of the day—our refuge must not be in the comforts of this earth. At the end of the day, worldly pleasures (even holy pleasures like the love between family members) will never fulfill us. Ultimately, we were made for union with God in heaven. In spite of what some say, the goal of life is not to ‘get as much pleasure as we possibly can’ or leave a ‘legacy’ for tomorrow. Our Lord said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” And Saint Augustine said: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in Thee.”
True Manliness • When it comes to examples of manliness, I look to many contributors of this blog who are strong fathers to their children. Many of the online Catholic ‘influencers’ I mentioned earlier have it backwards. They look at everything through the prism of fame, pleasure, wealth, and pursuing maximum comfort—but that’s not what life is about. The life of a Christian is about doing God’s will. Needless to say, part of doing God’s will is showing humility, meekness, and being honest. Contrariwise, being obsessed with gossip, scandals, malicious detraction, and settling scores is not Christian. Many of these Catholic ‘influencers’ will burn in hell, because they know better. (That is to say, they are culpable for their deeds.)
People I Knew • I knew various people growing up—whether through school, family, or otherwise. I have seen some of these people become millionaires. They now possess numerous (massive) homes, vacation homes, successful companies, luxury cars, retirement plans, and so forth. I’m sure many readers have experienced this same thing. There’s a temptation to become jealous of their success, but when that temptation comes it’s probably best to remember Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” When it comes to the people we knew growing up—who are now successful and wealthy—how long can their pleasures last? Perhaps five years, perhaps fifteen, perhaps sixty; it ultimately doesn’t matter. That’s because once worldly pleasures are experienced they’re gone. They’re finished. They can never be experienced again. Moreover, sooner or later death will come to each one of us, no matter how much money we have in the bank. (Death is one of the themes of ADVENT, as we discussed above.)
Soft Culture • I do worry about how soft our culture has become. Consider the life of RICHARD MILHOUS NIXON, who died in 1994. While attending law school, he lived in the Whippoorwill Manor. The price for one room was $5.00 per month. Since four students lived in that room, the price came out to $1.25 each. (I certainly wish my monthly rent was $1.25.) Inside that room, there were two iron beds. Each night, Nixon and Bill Perdue slept together (!) on one bed while Lyman Brownfield & Freddy Albrink slept together (!) on the other bed. There was no inside plumbing (!) or even a sink to wash one’s hands. That’s just the way things were in those days. In 1947, John F. Kennedy and Nixon shared a ‘sleeper car’ traveling overnight from McKeesport, Pennsylvania, to Washington D.C. They even drew straws to see who’d get the lower bed. Nixon won.
Not Created For Comfort • But these days, because of our extreme luxury and wealth, it’s almost as if Americans have nothing to offer up. And not having anything to offer up is bad. For this reason, I believe that we should thank God not only for the blessings He has bestowed upon us but also for the crosses. In other words, even though a choirmaster’s vocation entails great sacrifices, betrayals, and heartache, let’s do our best to take comfort in these trials. Man was not made for comfort. God created us “to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world—and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
1 Sometimes, Sheen’s stories “changed.” For instance, when Bishop Sheen first told the story about Most Rev’d Francis Ford (a bishop who suffered brutal martyrdom in 1952), he had to change many of the details. He did so because it wasn’t safe initially to disclose certain details. As time went on, he was able to speak with more specificity.