NEW YORK, DEC. 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Fulton Sheen has been gone for a quarter century, but certainly not forgotten.
On Dec. 9, family, friends and admirers of the Illinois-born archbishop gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for a Mass marking the 25th anniversary of his death. Archbishop Sheen is buried in the crypt of the cathedral.
The archbishop, who died in 1979 at age 84, was a pioneer in using television to educate, inspire and convert. His cause for canonization is under way.
The vice postulator for Sheen’s cause, Father Andrew Apostoli, told ZENIT that the archbishop’s message is still as relevant today — and that includes his reflections on the Christmas season.
“Firstly, in his beautiful book, ‘Life of Christ,’ the archbishop starts by setting Jesus apart from all other religious leaders by saying that he was the only person in all of history ever pre-announced … prepared for and awaited,” Father Apostoli said.
The priest, who was ordained by Sheen, remembered that the archbishop linked Christ’s birth directly to the Eucharist.
“As he said, Mary was the first tabernacle who carried Christ within her and gave birth to the One who would say, ‘I am the living bread come down from heaven,'” the vice postulator said.
“In order to be our food and drink, Jesus had to become flesh and blood, and it was our Blessed Mother who provided this for him,” Father Apostoli said. “So he saw the incarnation as the basis of the Lord’s Eucharistic presence.”
The priest thinks that Archbishop Sheen would have been delighted over this Year of the Eucharist proclaimed by John Paul II.
“He truly loved and promoted the Eucharist and used to say that all his inspiration for his preaching and writing sprang directly from what he described as his daily ‘hour of power’ — an hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament per day, despite his very heavy schedule,” Father Apostoli said.
Known for his ability to keep television and radio audiences captivated by his dynamic presentation, Sheen had been told by his teachers that there was no hope for him as a public speaker.
“When people used to praise him for his abilities, he would answer that he had absolutely no talent as a speaker,” Father Apostoli explained. “He’d say: ‘All my insight and power of words come from the Blessed Sacrament.’ And it was before the holy Eucharist where he would faithfully prepare his talks.”
There’s a great revival of interest in Sheen’s books and tapes today, even for those who were not alive when he was broadcasting.
Father Apostoli said that that is because “Sheen drew his inspiration from Jesus in the Sacrament; and as we know, what comes from Jesus has a perennial power to attract.”
The priest told the story of a U.S. soldier, a Catholic, in Turkey who asked his unit’s Protestant chaplain for something inspirational.
The chaplain responded: “The only thing that the Catholic priest left behind were these set of audiotapes of Fulton Sheen.”
“The young man has since told me that after listening to those tapes, he couldn’t get enough of Sheen’s works!” Father Apostoli said.
Drawing inspiration from this story, the president of the Archbishop Sheen Foundation, Alan Napleton, told ZENIT of the group’s new project to promote both interest and funds for the cause of canonization.
“We are currently republishing one of Archbishop Sheen’s prayer books written during WWII called ‘The Armor of God,’ and are aiming, through this new campaign, to send them over to our men and women in the military around the world,” Napleton said. “We’ve already sent over 500 to Iraq alone.”
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