‘Discouragement is a form of pride; sadness is often caused by our egotism.” That sort of leapt off the page as I was doing a little late reading of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen recently, to mark the news that before the year is through, he will have made a big step toward being an official saint of the Catholic Church. The sentence was the linguistic equivalent of a five-alarm fire, to be perfectly honest, not just for the culture but for my life.
As you might be aware, there was a protracted court battle — involving Archbishop Sheen’s remains — between his hometown diocese of Peoria, Ill., and my hometown archdiocese of New York, where he ministered in the role for which he is most well known. Sheen was a communicator — on primetime television, at its beginning — of the faith to the world, in the world. And I was downright sad about the move of his remains earlier this year to the Midwest. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where he served and where his remains had been, happens to have the closest tabernacle to my office at National Review’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan. And rarely would I be in that church without praying above his remains, for his canonization, and for his help — for the Church, for people in media. Reading Sheen’s words on pride about discouragement and sadness made me realize my own pride — I’ve certainly been sad about the move of his remains to Peoria.
But why do we constantly cling to things of this world instead of the more that is better? While I do think more people might be affected by having his earthly remains just steps from Rockefeller Center, what do I know? God has some kind of plan here. And God doesn’t want us to be sad or discouraged. He wants us living the fullest freedom in His wisdom.
Writing about happiness, Sheen goes on to say:
If you will whatever God wills, you will always have exactly what you want. When you want anything else, you are not happy before you get it, and when you do get it, you do not want it. That is why you are “up” today and “down” tomorrow.
This is relevant in a heightened way during this time of year, and it’s why the timing of the Sheen beatification probably couldn’t be better. This time of year tends to be hectic. But it should be reflective. It should be a time of self-examination and the giving not of material gifts but more of our hearts. Sheen can help.
Here’s Sheen’s advice for making adjustments to how you think and live:
You will never be happy if your happiness depends on getting solely what you want. Change the focus. Get a new center. Will what God wills, and your joy no man shall take from you.
Be not afraid! — in other words.
Think not that you could do more good if you were well, or that you could be more kind if you had more money, or that you could exercise more power for good if you had another position! What matters is not what we are, or what we are doing, but whether we are doing God’s will.
And how’s this for a mantra for change? “It is not so much what happens in life that matters; it is rather how we react to it.” In his chapter on hope in a book reissued in the last year under the title Remade for Happiness, Sheen writes:
You can always tell the character of a person by the size of the things that make him mad. Because modern man lives in a world that has reference to nothing but itself, it follows that when depression, war, and death enter into his two-dimensional world, he tumbles into the most hopeless despair.
Talk about another siren for our lives in this time — it routinely takes but a tweet to get us worked up and angry.
Finally, I think this is key for us today and needs to be heard and digested, made a part of our lives: “There is another way out than suicide, frustration, and anonymity, and that is the way of hope, not natural hope, but supernatural hope that settles your soul in God, and directs your will toward Him.”
And for that to happen, you need to pause, you need to reflect, you need some silence in your life. Fight for a little silence. Fight for time for meditation and prayer. Give God some exclusive time and you may be pleasantly surprised how it changes your life. How it, indeed, settles your soul.
Fulton Sheen should be most well known for his devotion to a daily holy hour. He had some funny and dramatic stories involving his fights to make sure he spent an hour in front of Jesus in the Eucharist, what Catholics believe is the Real Presence of God. A little time every day with God, even simply communicating with Him at a quiet spot at home or work or anywhere in the world. That could be the greatest gift you give yourself and everyone in your life as we wind down the year.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association. It has been edited since posting.