What are the odds today that a Catholic Bishop would win an Emmy Award? Slim to midland as they say. But in 1952 Archbishop Fulton Sheen won an Emmy for his show "Life is Worth Living." He can rightly claim title to being the first televangelist. Unknowingly he spawned an entire industry of sometimes-great TV shepherds of the flock and sometimes-iniquitous wolves in sheep clothing. His legacy is far more than groundbreaking celluloid reels and now the Vatican has officially noticed his real legacy.
Pope Benedict recently declared, (what we already suspected) that Fulton Sheen lived a life of heroic virtue and has taken the first step on the road to canonization and now to be called "venerable." His TV and radio legacy may be a past remembrance but his spiritual legacy is on going. And boy do we need that sharp mind, clever wit and tantalizing logic to speak to our country once again. One of the biggest deficits that we Catholics have today is an inability to make our case, particularly our understanding of the human person and all that implies, to our culture. We can ask Archbishop Sheen to beg God to send us another "voice crying out in the wilderness".
So how would Fulton Sheen respond to some of our contemporary ways of thought?
Many today often equate a law that is Constitutional or legal with moral:
"Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right." (1953)
Today many have a false notion of Liberty:
"Our Generation is witnessing, whether it knows it or not, the conflict of two radically false concepts of liberty: a liberty of indifference which gives the individual the right to ignore society, and the liberty of necessity which gives the state the right to ignore the individual by absorbing him into a race or class and thus destroying his freedom of choice. Liberty of indifference forgets society, liberty of necessity forgets man. Liberty of indifference wrecks society by defining freedom as individual license; liberty of necessity wrecks humanity by defining freedom as the necessity which gives the dictator the right to absorb the person." (1948)
Many today dismiss the fact that our founders grounded our rights in God:
"If we wish to have the light, we must keep the sun; if we wish to keep our forests we must keep our trees; if we wish to keep our perfumes, we must keep our flowers- and if we wish to keep our rights, then we must keep our God." (1941.)
How politics has consumed our souls:
"It was through a loss of belief in the moral law that politics became so important. In the day when Christianity was the soul of civilization, when all men recognized they had a common end, both eternal and temporal, politics and economics held a secondary place (to the moral)."
How a twisted idea of tolerance causes us to tolerate the intolerable:
"There is no other subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance. Tolerance is always supposed to be desirable because it is taken to be synonymous with broadmindedness. Intolerance is always supposed to be undesirable, because it is taken to be synonymous with narrow-mindedness. This is not true, for tolerance and intolerance apply to two totally different things. Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons. We must be tolerant to persons because they are human; we must be intolerant about principles because they are divine. We must be tolerant to the erring, because ignorance may have led them astray; but we must be intolerant to the error, because Truth is not our making, but God's. And hence the [Christian] Church in her history, due reparation made, has always welcomed the heretic back into the treasury of her souls, but never his heresy into the treasury of her wisdom."
"This kind of broadmindedness which sacrifices principles to whims, dissolves entities into environment, and reduces truth to opinion, is an unmistakable sign of the decay of the logical faculty."
As his words guided us on earth may his prayers from heaven guide us still.
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Fr. John Bonavitacola