Venerable Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) has always been one of my favorite spiritual writers. Lift Up Your Heart (1950) is one of my favorite books of his. Men and woman have the same problems at root today as they have had in past times. So frequent spiritual reading should be highly esteemed. (Be assured that we're not talking about the "I'm okay. Your okay. We're all okay"-type of so-called spiritual reading that is popular these days.)
One aim of authentic spiritual reading is certainly personal benefit, manifest as principally a change in attitude and a change in decisions. Another aim is to actually and effectively help others when the opportunity should present itself. Coming to the aid of others religiously and morally is often difficult since, as Fulton Sheen nicely puts the frame of reference, it's always personal.
With all of Fulton Sheen's writings, each word is measured, accurate, well thought out, and always presented in a popular and engaging style.
The truths of the Church are not abstract truths like the truths of science, which are impersonal and a-ethical. Some escapist minds take refuge in the use of scientific truths as a basis for ordering their lives for precisely this reason. Psychological statements about man rarely demand moral amendment; they permit us to retain mere interested spectators of our own reality. Divine Truth on the contrary, involves me uniquely, and with an urgency that is at first frightening; it demands separation from the world. The full Truth permits no easy compromise on this point. There are a thousand other religious attitudes one can take without provoking the enmity of the spirit of the world, but that is because the spirit of the world recognized that, following these sects, one is still identical with it. Our Lord gave the test of whether we were His: Were we hated by the world? "I have taken you out of the world; therefore, the world will hate you" (John 17:14). It is, therefore, not enough for us to read and study about Christianity, for Divine Truth is not such abstract truth as a theorem in geometry, It will do us no good to know theology if all the while pride, sensuality, and selfishness are allowed their license and their anarchy in our lives. In that case, we may possess a knowledge of the love of God for us, but we have no love of Him. Love is meant to be reciprocal.
The moral preparation for the Faith or for making Divine Truth dynamic in us is as important as the intellectual; both kinds of readying should go together, as the Wisdom and the Love of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal in the Trinity. If the reason is neglected, a different sort of error follows. Those in whom the moral development outstrips the intellectual generally end in a religion that is negative, critical, and pharisaical, or else in a vague, emotional piety without content — as those who have intellectual without moral growth become skeptics, cynics, and doubters. We can never love until we know; but once we love, then love can increase knowledge: "If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23).
Many people like to discuss religion, to argue about it, nut as if it were impersonal, as if they were discussing Indonesian ritual dances. They miss the many-splendored thing because they never relate what they know to their own lives. A perfect example of this escape is to be found in the Gospel story of the woman at the well. The woman came to draw water, and Our Lord asked her for a drink. But when He tried to spiritualize the idea of thirst, to make her yearn to satisfy the thirst of her soul with the waters of everlasting life, she thought the waters He offered were something to de enjoyed and discussed, like poetry” that they carried no moral obligation. To jolt her out of such impersonality, the Savior said: "Go, call thy husband, and come hither" (John 4:16). As God, He knew the smallest detail of her life; and she saw, now, that her moral failings were in question. To avoid exposure, she answered: "I have no husband" (John 4:17). Jesus told her: "Thou hast said well: I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou hast now is not thy husband. This thou hast said truly" (John 4:17-18). This, to the woman conscious of her adultery, seemed an intrusion into her private life; she did have many marriages and divorces, it is true, but why need He bring that up? Couldn't religion be discussed "in a civilized way," without allowing it to become personal? Like anyone caught in an embarrassing situation, she changed the subject. She shifted the conversation away from her guilty life back to the intellectual plane, changed it to the less embarrassing topic of whether she should worship on the Samaritan hill nearby or in Jerusalem. That was her effort to escape the Savior's plea that she lay bare her sin — and it had been repeated a thousand times since then. Bring the necessity of repentance to a sinner and, nine times out of ten, he will shift the subject to the impersonal, will pretend that it his reason that keeps him back, will choose a safe topic with, "But what about the Decretals of Constantine?" or some such question.
The Philosophy of Communism, Part 1
The Philosophy of Communism, Part 2
The Philosophy of Communism, Part 3
Photo: Auxiliary Bishop Fulton Sheen, Archdiocese of New York, 1952
Tags: Fulton Sheen, Trinity, Gospel of John, Lift Up Your Heart