One of the great preachers through whom God really speaks to me is the famous American preacher Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. His anointed words still touch my heart and give me God’s saving perspective in my life. Holy Week is a splendid opportunity for us to let people like Fulton Sheen journey with us.
This famous creator and host of several television and radio programs throughout the American country has alot to teach us concerning the Holy Week. To begin with, Fulton Sheen regarded Holy Week as a time of tragedy for some people who are involved in the Passion account of Jesus. Take, for instance, the person of Judas. About the latter Fulton Sheen said during conference number 10 given during the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Priest’s Retreat in 1974: And the great tragedy of the life of Judas, one of the twelve, is that he might have been Saint Judas. It is true that we cannot decide where Judas has gone. However, he lost a golden chance to ask Jesus forgiveness. Having said that God’s grace is still limitless and only He knows how the story ended with this apostle of Jesus, one of the chosen twelve.
Another important reflection Fulton Sheen offers us is that in life the road to glory is the one taken by the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of the Cross. Without suffering and sacrifice nothing worthwhile is achievable in life. In his book Life of Christ, Fulton Sheen writes: Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday. If this is applicable in our day-to-day affairs of this passing world how much more such an approach should be embraced when living the life of the Spirit! In the Gospel of John chapter 16 Jesus directly tells us: In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
Moreover, Fulton Sheen makes us realize the importance of forgiveness in our lives. In the book The Cries of Jesus from the Cross: A Fulton Sheen Anthology Fulton Sheen’s appeal for forgiveness emerges so beautifully: What Our Lord did say on the cross was to forgive. Forgive your Pilates, who are too weak to defend your justice. Forgive your Herods, who are too sensual to perceive your spirituality. Forgive your Judases, who think worth is to be measured in terms of silver. His powerful reflection certainly recalls Jesus’ own words on the Cross as we find them written, black on white, in the gospel of Luke: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).
In a wonderful reflection found within the same book The Cries of Jesus from the Cross: A Fulton Sheen Anthology Fulton Sheen makes us aware of Jesus’ words: For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it (Luke 9:24). Meditating upon this verse Fulton Sheen tells us: The crown of gold we want may have underneath it the crown of thorns, but the heroes who choose the crown of thorns often find that underneath it is the crown of gold.
For Fulton Sheen, Holy Week is a great lesson not just about suffering but of how to suffer. In his homily for Good Friday of 1979 he said: It is only fitting, therefore, that the good Lord looked out on pain and leave[s] us a lesson about it. In a sense Fulton Sheen helps us appreciate more and more what Padre Pio had to say regarding suffering when he said: Fear nothing. On the contrary, consider yourself very fortunate to have been made worthy to participate in the sufferings of the Man-God.
Holy Week is so fully impregnated with God’s saving grace that we are undoubtedly left as spectators in front of God’s magnificent love for us. Within the same homily of 1979 Fulton Sheen says: We are spectators on this day. All of us in varying degrees are spectators. Even Padre Pio viewed his role in the experience of the Holy Spirit’s activity who worked incessantly in and through him, as being himself a spectator.
Fulton Sheen wisely calls our attention to the redemptive aspect of suffering. In his 1950 book Lift Up Your Heart: A Guide to Spiritual Peace, this amazing master companion in the spiritual journey said: The oblation of the soul becomes the condition of changing an agony into sacrifice, and this is not easy. It costs something to come to God, as it cost God something to come to us. When God asks for sacrifice some complain, when a trial comes, they rebel, when temptation assaults, they surrender. Indeed, belief is a yoke, as the Saviour said, but it is a yoke that is sweet and a burden that is light. If you and I are finding it difficult to offer our sacrifices and trials to the Lord let us be reminded of Jesus’ saving words as found in the gospel of Saint Matthew: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30).
According to Fulton Sheen, Calvary is the stage of hope. In the book The Cries of Jesus from the Cross: A Fulton Sheen Anthology, we find Fulton Sheen saying: No stage was ever better set for the drama of hope than Calvary. In his thought provoking reflection we find echoing Jesus’ words in the fourth gospel when he said: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12: 32).
Witness is an ongoing activity, in other words up till and especially on the Cross. In the same book just mentioned the Venerable Fulton Sheen says: The ideal is to reach a point in practice, where, like Our Lord on the cross, we witness to God even amidst abandonment and the agony of a crucifixion. Up till his very last breath Jesus kept saying to the Father: My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done (Matt 26:42).
Finally, the power of Christianity lies in the passage between the suffering of the Cross and the Resurrection. From the 1954 book The Life of Christ, Fulton Sheen teaches us: Christianity, unlike any other religion in the world, begins with catastrophe and defeat. Sunshine religions and psychological inspirations collapse in calamity and wither in adversity. But the Life of the Founder of Christianity, having begun with the Cross, ends with the empty tomb and victory. And here, in his own well-chosen words, Fulton Sheen is going back to what St Paul is writing in his second chapter from the Letter to the Philippians about Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:6-11).
I wish you a fruitful journey in this Holy Week thanks to the heavenly accompaniment of the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. After all, each and every one of us is the servant of the ‘Thorn-Crowned Captain.’