Yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of the death of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. As some of our readers might be aware, Sheen (whom the Catholic Church considers “Venerable,” or two steps away from canonization or official recognition as a saint, as people in Heaven are called) was scheduled for “beatification” later this month. As a “beatus” or “blessed,” Sheen would have been one stop away from official recognition as a saint.
|Abp. Fulton J. Sheen, as if you didn't know.|
We’ve said this a few times before, but it bears repeating, especially since the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) republished a “Just Third Way Edition” of Fulton Sheen’s “long lost classic,” Freedom Under God (1940) and has something of a stake in the possibility of Sheen being recognized as someone extraordinary, even if CESJ is not a Catholic or, strictly speaking, a religious organization.
Canonization is an official declaration by the Catholic Church that an individual is — according to Catholic belief — in Heaven and may be officially termed a “saint.” Canonization does not, contrary to popular belief, “make someone a saint.” It simply recognizes what the Catholic Church believes to be true.
Unfortunately, Sheen’s “cause” has been subject to a measure of religious politicking that need not concern us, except to note that having a recognized and popular saint buried (or “enshrined”) in your town or church can be quite financially rewarding.
This is relevant because the Vatican announced last month that Sheen would be beatified on December 21, 2020. Naturally, a large number of people were outraged when at the request of some U.S. bishops the beatification was put on hold until a matter regarding Sheen’s role in the reassignment of a priest identified as a sexual pervert is settled.
|Saint (what else?) Patrick's Cathedral, Rochester, New York|
It does not appear that Sheen did anything inappropriate or improper, especially since his tenure as Bishop of Rochester, New York, was too brief to do anything except upset a lot of people due to his lack of administrative experience (he all but admits in his autobiography he was not a good administrator), but since Sheen was named in an official investigation, it is clearly prudent that his beatification be held up until the matter is completely resolved. Had Catholic authorities acted with equal prudence in other instances, finding out the truth before acting (or failing to act), much of the scandal currently shaking that institution could probably have been avoided.
Now, of course, some people with an interest in seeing Sheen being named a saint are starting to spread word about that Sheen’s cause was sabotaged and there’s a conspiracy afoot to prevent him from being canonized. This is allegedly because Sheen is presumably against what his latter day enemies are for.
|Msgr. J.A. Ryan, the very model of a modernist major general|
The problem with that, of course, is that it assumes that the bishops in question are lying. Believe it or not, this same accusation was leveled at Sheen himself by none other than the great Monsignor John A. Ryan of the Catholic University of America, and was part of what appeared to be an overall campaign to sabotage Sheen’s academic career. Interestingly, Sheen’s thought directly undermined that of Ryan, even though today Ryan is considered the virtual Dean of American Catholic Social Teaching.
We intend to tell this story in abbreviated form in an upcoming book, and plan on expanding it into a book of its own, but today we’ll just go into a key point that explains why Sheen’s work is important, not how and why it was sabotaged.
Ironically, the point Sheen made is one that most people today would look at and shake their head in bewilderment. They would see no difference in what sound philosophy says and what people like Ryan were saying.
And what is that point?
That God created human beings, not humanity.
Yes, we can almost hear the startled, “Say WHAT? You just said the same thing!”
No, we didn’t, and neither did Sheen . . . as Ryan realized immediately.
It might seem unimportant or esoteric, but it is an important point. Each and every human being is something concrete and specific. You can point to him or her and say, “That is a human being, no ifs, ands, or buts.”
|Fulton Sheen at his writing desk . . . writing.|
Humanity, however, is an abstraction. It is an idea created by people, not a concrete reality created by God. Sheen made this point in many of his early writings. God creates human beings. Human beings create humanity.
Why this is important is something we’ll look at in the next posting on this subject.#30#