Fulton J. Sheen
Compiled by Alexis Walkenstein
144 pages, $12.95
Pauline Books & Media, 2018
To order: store.pauline.org or (617) 676-4458
For Catholics whose only exposure to Venerable Fulton J. Sheen has been on television, radio or the internet, this new book is a perfect introduction to the venerable bishop’s written work.
Journalist Alexis Walkenstein, the curator of this compilation, has mined the riches of Archbishop Sheen’s major books and here presents to the reader many gems of deep spiritual wisdom.
At only 100 pages or so, Walkenstein’s collection is easily readable in a day or two. But I recommend taking your time. Each chapter is one to three pages, on average, suitable for use during short windows of opportunity throughout your day: your morning coffee time, your lunch break or at bedtime. There are 31 chapters, making it a good choice for daily reading during Advent, Lent or a monthlong devotional journey any time of year.
After a charming introduction in which Walkenstein tells the story of her introduction to Archbishop Sheen and her subsequent involvement in his cause for canonization, she divides the book into sections by theme. Here’s where the bishop steps into the spotlight in his show-stopping style. In the section on “Divine Love,” for example, Sheen writes, “It takes not two, but three, to make perfect Love, whether it be in the flesh (husband, wife and child), or in the spirit (lover, beloved and love), or in the Divine Nature (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Sex is duality; Love is always triune. It is this fullness of Love that every heart in the universe wants.”
And there’s this: “Every person is what he loves. Love becomes like unto that which it loves. … This slow conversion of … a lover into the beloved, of a miser into his gold, of the saint into his God, discloses the importance of loving the right things.”
Some might find Sheen’s old-fashioned language stilted and awkward, but I find it enchanting and refreshing, not in spite of its diction, but because of it. As a prose stylist, Sheen has my admiration. Still, in some cases, he employs dated terms that modern readers would be unfamiliar with, such as “party line,” and for this, the editor’s “End Notes” are helpful.
I was also charmed by Sheen’s assertion that sacrifice, or dying to oneself, is not just mere denial. It is something profoundly more fruitful: “Sacrifice does not mean ‘giving up’ something, as if there were a loss; rather, it is an exchange, an exchange of lower values for higher joys.”
The six discussion questions at the end of the book are meant to spark further reflection and conversation in a group setting, but the questions refer to the book as a whole and to Archbishop Sheen in general. Perhaps it would have been more useful for each section of the book to have its own set of two to three questions based on that section’s theme. This would allow for more focused discussion on the profound wisdom contained in Sheen’s writing.
Nevertheless, I was truly blessed by this little volume, and it had its desired effect: After scanning the bibliography, I now have seven more books on my already-extensive “to-read” list!
Clare Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.