There are four steps in the process of canonization to sainthood in the Catholic Church:
Servant of God = declares the person to be pious
Venerable = the person displayed heroic virtue
Blessed = intercedes to perform miracles
Saint = A model for the whole Church on how to live as Christ
I mentioned Fulton Sheen in my last essay. The thing that is often most noted about him is that he was the first televangelist in the literal sense. He used television to preach the Gospel and he actually won 2 Emmys for it. Of course today in Canada he would probably be charged with hate crimes for doing so.
I have read two of his books. The first was The Life of Christ, which was a meditation on the different aspects of the Gospel story.
I don't remember all of it, but I was struck by the chapter on Judas. I will never forget the last line of that chapter. After going through everything Judas had done, Sheen laments Judas' failure to repent and instead giving into despair and suicide. "The great tragedy of his life," Sheen wrote, "is that he is not St. Judas." The truth of that statement blew my mind. Judas should have been a saint. But he could not do the one thing saints do: turn to Christ.
The other book I read was The World's First Love, which is about the Virgin Mary and her role in salvation history.
The part I remember the most is that he suggested if you ever want to engage in dialogue with someone of the Islamic faith, start with Mary. Muslims have an enormous respect for the Blessed Virgin. In fact, Sheen wrote:
Mary is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: "Thou shalt be the most blessed of all the women in Paradise, after Mary." In a variant of the text, Fatima is made to say: "I surpass all the women, except Mary."
I also own his autobiography, Treasure in Clay, but I have yet to read it.
As someone who is fully engaged in pop culture, I love the fact that Fulton Sheen did not shy away from the new media of television, but embraced it. He saw it as a new means to bring people closer to Jesus. Granted, what was acceptable on television in his day and ours is vastly different. But I think it is a mistake for Christians to cede the pop culture to degradation. Success of movies like The Passion of the Christ prove that there is a market for this (though that success has yet to be replicated).
Pope Benedict XVI has today signed the decree to move Sheen from Servant of God to Venerable.
I am no going to begin a devotion to Sheen. Also since he used new media to witness to the Gospel, which is something I attempt to do in a small way here, I will dedicate this blog to Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.