Early in the 1950’s, before JFK, cell phones, DVD recorders, 9-11, even before Elvis, Archbishop Sheen had a weekly television program on the Dumont television network called, Life Is Worth Living. The time slot in which he broadcast would have been the kiss of death for a lesser program. Life Is Worth Living was broadcast against Milton Berle’s program. As if being a broadcast personality was not enough, he was also a published author of several remarkable books dealing with Christianity.
While it is true some of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s comments are no longer current, items such as news, fashion, or politics meaningful to his time have long since ceased to be relevant. Many of his comments, observations, discussions which deal with the pursuit of the Divine, the person hood of Christ, the dogmas of the Church are still relevant. His discussions about Mary, life, love, relationships, and marriage are still appropriate and valid. Talks dealing with the Papacy and the Magisterium continue to be timely.
During Archbishop Sheen’s broadcast, he spoke to a camera for 30 minutes without notes or flip charts, nothing except a blackboard which was cleaned during commercials by his dutiful angels. Complex thoughts, concepts, or ideas would routinely be broken down into gloriously simple straightforward sentences.
When speaking on intolerance, his statement could just as easily, and just as accurately, have been made this week, “America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance — it is not. It is suffering from tolerance. Tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded.” This was expanded upon, by simplification, in his work, The Life of Christ, “Broadmindedness, when it means indifference to right and wrong, eventually ends in a hatred of what is right.” Doesn’t this seem to ring true in the battles between women’s choice and the right to life?
When speaking on apathy, his comment was, “The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiescence to evil. The Tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.”
During a meeting with Saint Pope John Paul II, when he was on a meeting to New York, the pope called Archbishop Sheen a Faithful Son of the Church.
Archbishop Sheen was also known for his sharp wit and his glorious sense of humor.
Archbishop Sheen’s Wit and Wisdom
He used wit and humor to keep his audience engaged. The comments would be used several times during the course of the program to keep things from getting too professorial. Some of his wit is displayed by the following:
“Baloney is flattery laid on so thick it cannot be true, and blarney is flattery so thin we love it.”
“To tell a woman who is forty, “You look like sixteen,” is baloney. The blarney way of saying it is “Tell me how old you are, I should like to know at what age women are the most beautiful.”
“There are two ways of waking up in the morning. One is to say, ‘Good morning, God,’ and the other is to say, ‘Good God, morning’!”
“When you think of the condition the world is in now you sometimes wish that Noah had missed the boat.”
“Hearing nuns’ confessions is like being stoned to death with popcorn.”
Complexity reduced to simplicity
One of Archbishop Sheen’s comments dealing with the Ten Commandments is particularly pithy, “Today, that which we call news is a litany of people breaking the Ten Commandments. Perhaps, at some future time, news will be people keeping them.”
Over the course of the years since he made that comment, I have found myself recalling it frequently.
In contrast to Archbishop Sheen’s programs, consider contemporary newscasts. The secular newscaster looks into the camera and reads the next story, “Police arrested Freddie Felon this afternoon and charged him in the arson fire which resulted in the shopkeeper’s death following a failed robbery attempt.” Following a commercial break, Azalea, the Hollywood reporter, brings the latest gossip from screen town. “Hillary Hockey puck and her long-time boyfriend Peter Penzance have announced wedding plans for the Fall. They have two children from their relationship and Hillary has two others from previous relationships. This is the first marriage for both of them.”
It seems to me, a newscast of 30 minutes loses at least 20% of that time to commercials, 40 to 50%to reporting news, 20% to presenting background, analysis, or further research into whatever story is viewed by the editorial staff as most significant. 5% of the remaining time may be nothing more serious than banter between on-screen talents. The remaining 5%, if the viewer is fortunate, is spent in“balance”; the reporter looks into the camera and says, “Dozens of friends and relatives of George and Gladys Goodnauff spent a few hours Saturday with the happy couple as they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Speaking of dozens, reports are still coming in from the mass shooting where dozens of shots were fired in a police standoff.”
Not all news needs to be bad
Although Christians are bombarded by bad news everyday, we must recall the word “Gospel” is translated from the phrase “Good News”. According to Matthew 24:6, all of this bad news is under God’s control, “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” (KJV)
As a counterbalance to all the tragedies occurring every day, we have the “Good News”. We have the words of Christ. We have the works of Paul. We have the Magisterium. In fact, we have a great deal of goodness around and within us if we open our eyes to the Truth.
Our society is beset with “copycat” crimes, that is, copycat killers, copycat arsonists and copycat criminals. Couldn’t we have a few positive copycat items? How about copycat honor roll students, copycat long-term marriages or copycat parental values? Even better how about a copycat Archbishop Sheen program?