Although news and discussion about the Supreme Court’s decision is the main news topic of the day, there’s another news item that deserves mention: Fulton J. Sheen has been declared venerable by the Pope. With a miracle having already been submitted to the Vatican for review, it is not unlikely that Sheen will soon (soon in Vatican time, mind you) be beatified.
This is an occasion of great rejoicing for me personally. Although far too young to have watched his Emmy-winning television show, It was Sheen’s Life of Christ that challenged me to become more than a cultural Catholic and and exposed me to some of the depths of Catholic theology. Sheen’s gift for distilling complicated Catholic teachings and presenting them to a broad audience was impressive; managing to keep those messages challenging to his audience & keeping that audience tuning was amazing. Moreover, Sheen was an unapologetic American, though always a Catholic first (he condemned the use of the atomic bomb). He was known for wearing full clerics, including his garb as bishop, into heavily Protestant areas.
The timing of his being declared venerable is impeccable. With the news today that the Church will have to fight the HHS mandate in the courts Fulton J. Sheen’s intercession is particularly important. Sheen provides us an example of an American who brought the Catholic faith unapologetically to the American people, showing that Catholicism could not only be tolerated by the American project but also that Catholicism had the potential to provide important and unique contributions to American society.
That is precisely the argument the Church needs to win in our time. It is not enough to win legal decisions striking down the mandate; we need to do more than convince the American people that Catholicism should be left alone to do whatever wacky things. Rather, we need to demonstrate that Catholicism brings something to our troubled times; that the teachings of the Church are not antiquated but rather provide a vibrant thriving message for happiness in the 21st century.
Whatever battles lie ahead for the Church in America, the intercession of Ven. Fulton J. Sheen will be invaluable. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, ora pro nobis.