I found Fulton Sheen on my journey to Catholicism completely by accident. I had been watching a number of videos on Catholicism on Youtube and one of his sermons from his television show “Life is Worth Living” was next in queue. I let it play and in the first five minutes I was enthralled. He started the show, as he always did, with some good natured jokes that bordered on being cheesy but didn’t quite cross the line and instead were just corny enough to make the show feel relaxed. After the introduction he launched into a fantastic lesson about humility and nice people. I was hooked. Over the next few weeks I watched every video of Sheen’s TV show that I could find.
What struck me most about Sheen’s approach was how down to earth he was, while being completely unafraid to tell the truth. Sheen didn’t hold back to stay politically correct, but nor did he ever be deliberately provocative like some traditionalist Catholics do today in a misguided attempt to “fight the world”. Sheen was a simple straight shooter, he taught his lessons with simple analogies and humor and always touched on issues relevant to the modern world. There’s also no doubt that Sheen had a flair for the dramatic, his skills as a presenter were top notch and even though sometimes he could act a little over-dramatic with a sweep of his cape and throwing his voice, it never crossed the line into being cheesy.
My favorite episode is the episode on false compassion.
In a time when Christs message is increasingly watered down into meaningless feel good platitudes with no substance Bishop Sheen reminds us that while we should always be willing to extend forgiveness and mercy doing so to unrepentant sinners who continue to prey upon the good is self defeating.
This defines Fulton Sheen’s brand of Catholicism. It’s based in common sense, it’s pragmatic, yet places great emphasis on orthodoxy. It’s traditional yet doesn’t forget that the focus for the Christian life is living in Christ, not by how many dogmas you can recite. More than anything else it’s Catholicism relevant to the modern world, one that is easy to relate to and understand, that offers a path of love, charity and hope but also of self denial, self sacrifice and staunchly defending the truth against a world that desperately wants you to conform to it. Of all the great Catholic men throughout history the one to me who strikes me as the person who is the model of the Catholic person we should strive to be like in the modern age is Fulton Sheen. Certainly he is my own Catholic role model in many respects and had he been canonized would certainly have been my patron Saint for my confirmation.
In many ways it was exceptionally good fortune for Fulton Sheen to have lived in the time that he did. A time when he was able to reach millions of viewers and enshrine his message in digital form for future generations, but before the advent of the insane brand of political correctness we see today. There is no doubt that Sheen would never have gotten away with what he said on his show back then, today. We’re lucky to be able to enjoy his message without any compromise, in a time when he still had the ability to teach Catholic truth in the media without softening it or watering it down. It’s honestly a breath of fresh air whenever I go back and re-watch his show and contrast it with how careful modern Priests are with their message, how carefully they manage their words to avoid hitting the nerves of modern secularists.
Fulton Sheen reminds us that to be Catholic in the modern world means being like a thin branch on a large tree. It’s important to be able to bend, to meet the world where it stands, but also be strong enough not to break with the winds of change and to stand firm for truth. For a world that desperately needs the true message of Christ brought to it in it’s wholeness that exists only within the Catholic faith there is no better evangelist to model yourself on than Bishop Fulton Sheen.