By Gabby Kromer
One of the best things about great friendships is the ability to share similar passions, interests, and devotions with each other. A few years ago, a good friend of mine introduced me to the writings of an incredible writer, television speaker, and radio host. Unfortunately for me, I was born about 50 years too late to experience the prime of this person’s career as a “modern-day” saint for the Catholics in America. Luckily for me, I was able to seek out and access many books and YouTube videos to really get to know who this person was and what he had to share with the world about Jesus Christ…
These three letters represent a devotion to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; they also point many devout Christians and Catholics alike back to a 20th Century Catholic Archbishop, Venerable Fulton Sheen.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, born Peter John Sheen on May 8, 1895, was born and raised in Illinois, and is well-known for his efforts in public evangelization during the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Sheen was ordained a priest in 1919 in the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois and quickly became a renowned theologian, studying and later teaching at the Catholic University of America.
Sheen began to create his unique place in Catholic history by first writing one of his 73 books in 1925, and five years later began a national night radio broadcast, The Catholic Hour. Two decades after the start of the broadcast, Sheen’s teaching met the ears of nearly four million listeners nationwide. With the help of advanced technology, Sheen was able to transform and engage his listeners by reaching them through broadcast television. His weekly program, Life is Worth Living, was a gig that Sheen was not paid for, yet paid off for his viewers. Sheen would simply speak in front of a live audience without any script or cue cards, and would famously use a large chalkboard to convey his messages to his viewers.
Notably, his chalkboards always contained those three letters, JMJ, written above his transcribed notes for the program. Writing these three letters was a way for Sheen to offer a prayer and devotion for his work back to Jesus and the Holy Family, and asking for their assistance in all of his work.
Life is Worth Living ran on television for six years, and gathered the attention of as many as 30 million people on a weekly basis, followed by The Fulton Sheen Program from 1961-1968.
Fulton’s skills in public speaking and writing earned him the title of “the first televangelist” by Time Magazine, as well as earning him two Emmy Awards. In 1952, when Sheen accepted his Emmy, his speech included his acknowledgement of his inspiration: “I feel it is time to pay tribute to my four writers- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”
Sheen’s efforts in his writings and television programs have just as much impact and attraction to modern readers and listeners as when they captured the attention of America in the 40’s and 50’s.
In order to learn about Sheen’s life, I first started reading his autobiography, Treasures in Clay. Sheen includes reflections on his childhood, his time in seminary, his travels, and his media stardom. Sheen writes (and speaks) with a unique sense of humor that beautifully relates the reader to the deep reflections of the spiritual life.
There is a close relationship between faith and humor. Materialists, humanists, and atheists all take this world very seriously because it is the only world they are ever going to have. He who possesses faith knows that this world is not the only one, and therefore can be regarded rather lightly.
Sheen’s motto was “Da per matrem me venire,” meaning “Grant that I may come to you through the mother [Mary].” Sheen’s devotion to Mary was one that allowed him to gain deeper truths and reflections on Mary’s life and devotion to her role as Mother of God. Next on my reading list was The World’s First Love, a deep, rich, and reflective writing combining spirituality, history, and theology that reveals to us the life of Mary, Mother of God.
Sheen had a deep devotion to prayer and would often find himself doing many daily tasks in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration; preparing speeches, writing books, and petitioning to God his needs. In Treasures of Clay, Sheen reflects on his offering to God of a Holy Hour everyday to remain in close contact and relationship with the Father. He writes:
The Holy Hour is not a devotion; it is a sharing in the work of redemption. Our Blessed Lord used the words “hour” and “day” in two totally different connotations in the Gospel of John. “Day” belongs to God; the “hour” belongs to evil.
The Holy Hour became like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit on the midst of the fowl and fetid atmosphere of the world. The Hour too became a magister and a teacher, for although before we love anyone we must have a knowledge of that person, nevertheless, after we know, it is love that increases knowledge. Please, if you are honesty concerned about making Christ known to literally every creature- give God one hour every day. Christ asked “could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40)
In 2002, the Cause for Canonization was opened for Archbishop Fulton Sheen by the Bishop of Peoria, and Sheen was known as a “Servant of God.” In 2012, the Vatican announced that Sheen’s life was recognized as one of “heroic virtue,” which now gives him the title of “Venerable.”
I’ll leave you with two more Sheen quotes to ponder:
Books are great friends; they always have something worthwhile to say to you when you pick them up. They never complain about being too busy and they are always at leisure to free the mind.
I have always contended in talking to missionaries that we are not so much to bring Christ to peoples as we are to bring Christ out of them.
Gabby Kromer is proud to be born and raised in “The Great Lake State” of Michigan. Her ‘Yes’ to Christ’s call to be a FOCUS missionary led her to her new home of Blacksburg, Virginia, after studying at Central Michigan University to become a special education teacher. When she is not adoring the beauty of the Virginia mountains, she can be found reading, baking, having acoustic jam sessions, and spending time with her fellow missionaries.