Ever Ancient, Ever New
Despite the Byzantine COVID regulations of three separate jurisdictions and woeful understaffing of multiple, formerly reliable airlines, I’m back from Rome, more or less in one piece. After a week following the wearying turmoil in the Vatican, I returned home to find on my desk a package from that Energizer Bunny of Catholic publishing houses, Sophia Institute Press: three thick volumes republishing books by another tireless evangelizer, Fulton J. Sheen. Which got me thinking about what, if anything now, can help us overcome all the divisions and obstacles to returning home to something like Church unity again.
You can predict two partisan reactions, neither helpful and both emblematic of the main divisions, to the republication of Archbishop Sheen’s works. The first, among traditionalists, is a kind of nostalgia for the good old days when the Church was the Church. I admit to a bit of this myself. But though partly true, it overlooks what were already emerging challenges. Indeed, Archbishop Sheen didn’t think he was living in ideal times and was working vigorously to shore up both the Church and a secular world already starting to veer in dangerous directions.
The second reaction, typical of progressives, is to dismiss a figure like Sheen out of hand as representative of everything that the Second Vatican Council tried to overcome: the Church’s overconfidence, clericalism, contempt for the world. And yes, sometimes Sheen’s television style looks corny today (as will our current “hip” media to future generations). But Sheen really knew how to talk to people – Catholic and not. Who even comes close to what he could do today?