At the news, late yesterday, that the cause for sainthood for Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen had been suspended, there was some understandable confusion and sadness. Some predictable high-drama and Catholic angst got flung around the web, too, as it seemed like — given the available information — Peoria’s Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria (“actor” of the cause and President of the Sheen Foundation) and New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan were having a tug of war with the corporeal remains of a possible saint, and an epic battle of wills, besides.
It’s always better to have two sides to a story before staking out one’s position and then going off to find a church door and a hammer. Now that the Archdiocese of New York has responded to Peoria, I confess I wish the public had never been invited into what is very likely a temporary setback due to a kerfluffle based on process.
Either diocese would benefit from having Sheen’s remains. Jenky could erect a world-class shrine in Peoria and build a spiritual center around it that could serve many of the faithful.
Dolan, of course, could do the same, although he likely would simply leave Sheen in the crypt below Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and honor his memory with this proposed center for Art and Culture, at which Dolan is scheduled to give the inaugural address, on September 15. This too, will serve the faithful.
As a New Yorker, and completely understanding Peoria’s work for the cause, and their sense of pride in Sheen, I can’t help feeling like we may need him here, more than they need him over there. I admit, I often look toward the Midwest (and also the South) with envious eyes and a covetous soul, because they are experiencing such a surge of “Catholic energy” in the New Evangelization — lots of vocations, new religious communities, long lines at the confessionals and well-attended masses — while the Catholics on the coasts are struggling with the demographic fallout of an aging, changing population. Bishop Sheen was dynamic, charismatic, comfortable with emerging media — indeed something of a visionary, in that respect. I can’t help feeling like his is a voice, and a presence, that could penetrate through the Eastern Seaboard’s fog of trendy secularism and sophisticated self-regard, and seep into some very needy souls.
And that is what the church is about right? Her mission is to save souls; to give assist as the Key of David unlocks what seems impossibly shut; to use the Keys of the Kingdom to impart the sacramental nourishment which sustains us; to allow the great cloud of witnesses to instruct us and encourage us forward.
That’s what Sheen’s entire life was about, and we ought not lose sight of that. Where might his instructive and sensible influence do the most good for souls, for the sake of Christ and his church?
It appears that Bishop Sheen’s own wish was to remain in New York, and his surviving family members apparently wish it, too. In truth, a case can be made that holy men and women do not belong to themselves, not even in their last wishes, but belong wholly to Christ and his church — in death, just as in life.
Dolan and Jenky are men of faith whose lives are not their own, and the family of Bishop Sheen — as devoted as they are — do not own him or his memory, either. All of them owe it to the faithful to prayerfully consider what is best for people of God, many of whom are sorely in need of opportunities to be mindful of — and instructed by — a champion in heaven who understands something of the struggles and temptations of our modern age.
Not to be puckish, or anything, but I think Sheen would want to be where he is most needed. Ahem. (Pssst, we’re dying on the coasts!)
I know many have been looking forward to a swift beatification of Bishop Sheen, and this delay is causing some disappointment, but if we believe that all things work to God’s own purpose, in God’s own time, then we can trust that something good will come of all of this, and that should help us to be patient. And Sheen himself counseled patience:
Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is “timing”
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.
Indeed. Let us pray that our shepherds will be prayerfully led to act for the right principles, in the right way.
And if you are feeling antsy and don’t know what to do in the interim, I like this idea by Michelle Arnold, to ask Bishop Sheen to intercede for the conversion of some souls, during the delay of his cause.
And we should pray for the same, along with him; praying with this great friend. Positive action while we wait is always better than stewing, yes? Especially when there isn’t anything else we can actually do about things?
Of course, this whole dust-up brings to mind something else Sheen said…