Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Did Archbishop Fulton Sheen prophesy about these times?
In a talk 72 years ago, Bishop Fulton Sheen appeared as visionary as prophets of old.
“We are at the end of Christendom.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen said during a talk in 1947. Making clear he didn’t mean Christianity or the Church, he said, “Christendom is economic, political, social life as inspired by Christian principles. That is ending — we’ve seen it die. Look at the symptoms: the breakup of the family, divorce, abortion, immorality, general dishonesty.”
Prophetic then, he was already a visionary and forewarning in the Jan. 26, 1947 radio broadcast.
“Why is it that so few realize the seriousness of our present crisis?” he asked 72 years ago. Then gave the answer: “Partly because men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation, and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times… Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world. The great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on.”
Certainly seems a snapshot of the usual suspects — the headlines and stories of today. To highlight his point, Sheen emphasized that the “very day Sodom was destroyed, Scripture describes the sun as bright; Balthasar’s realm came to an end in darkness; people saw Noah preparing for the flood 120 years before it came, but men would not believe. In the midst of seeming prosperity, world-unity, the decree to the angels goes forth but the masses go on their sordid routines. As our Lord said: For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:38-39)
Sheen wondered if we’re even aware of the signs of the times because “basic dogmas of the modern world [were] dissolving before our very eyes.” Replacing them were the assumptions man has (1) “no other function in life than to produce and acquire wealth,” (2) the idea man is naturally good and “has no need of a God to give Him rights, or a Redeemer to salvage him from guilt, because progress is automatic thanks to science-education and evolution, which will one day make man a kind of a god,” and (3) the idea reason isn’t for discovering “the meaning and goal of life, namely the salvation of the soul, but merely to devise new technical advances to make on this earth a city of man to displace the city of God.”
Isn’t technology, advancing at a dizzying rate, demanding the obedience of so much of the population?
Sheen pointed out the signs of the times reveal we’re “definitely at the end of a non-religious era of civilization, which regarded religion as an addendum to life, a pious extra, a morale-builder for the individual but of no social relevance, an ambulance that took care of the wrecks of the social order until science reached a point where there would be no more wrecks; which called on God only as a defender of national ideals, or as a silent partner… but who had nothing to say about how the business should be run.”
Then the great bishop said something that at first seems shocking as we look at today: “The new era into which we are entering is what might be called the religious phase of human history.”
But he quickly said this didn’t mean men will “turn to God.” Rather, they’ll turn from indifference to having a passion for “an absolute.” The struggle will be “for the souls of men… The conflict of the future is between the absolute who is the God-man and the absolute which is the man god; the God Who became man and the man who makes himself God; brothers in Christ and comrades in anti-Christ.”
Sheen goes on to describe the anti-Christ, which we’ll leave for another time, other than now to say “his religion will be brotherhood without the fatherhood of God, he will deceive even the elect.” The saintly bishop brings in Communism, too, which has its place in what’s going on at the time and beyond, as we still see. Remember what Our Lady of Fatima said about Russia spreading its errors (Communism) if the world didn’t heed Our Lady’s directives.
Continuing With Our Times
The farsighted Sheen reminded, “God will not allow unrighteousness to become eternal. Revolution, disintegration, chaos, must be reminders that our thinking has been wrong, our dreams have been unholy. Moral truth is vindicated by the ruin that follows when it has been repudiated. The chaos of our times is the strongest negative argument that could ever be advanced for Christianity… The disintegration following an abandonment of God thus becomes a triumph of meaning, a reaffirmation of purpose…Adversity is the expression of God’s condemnation of evil, the registering of Divine Judgement... Catastrophe reveals that evil is self-defeating; we cannot turn from God without hurting ourselves.”
Sheen gave another reason why a crisis must come — “to prevent a false identification of the Church and the world.” Our Lord wanted his followers to be different from those who were not: I have taken you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19)
Even in those 1947 days Sheen saw “Mediocrity and compromise characterize the lives of many Christians. Many read the same novels as modern pagans, educate their children in the same godless way, listen to the same commentators who have no other standard than judging today by yesterday, and tomorrow by today, allow pagan practices such as divorce and remarriage to creep into the family; there are not wanting, so-called Catholic labor leaders recommending Communists for Congress, or Catholic writers who accept presidencies in Communist front organizations to instill totalitarian ideas in movies. There is no longer the conflict and opposition which is supposed to characterize us. We are influencing the world less than the world influences us. There is no apartness.”
He quoted St. Paul on this very idea telling Corinthians “what has innocence to do with lawlessness? What is there in common between light and darkness? What harmony between Christ and Belial?”
Sheen perfectly mirrored 2018-19 headlines when it comes to people who stand up for the faith, for pro-life, for marriage. “Evil must come to reject us, to despise us, to hate us, to persecute us, and then shall we define our loyalties, affirm our fidelities and state on whose side we stand. How shall the strong and weak trees be manifested unless the wind blows? Our quantity indeed will decrease, but our quality will increase. Then shall be verified the words of Our Master: whoever does not gather with me, scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)
Looking on the Horizon
Already in 1947 Sheen saw “the coming of the Day of the Beast, when there will be no buying or selling unless men have been signed with the sign of the Beast who would devour the child of the Mother of Mothers.”
The good bishop noted — remember this was 1947 — “With the family disintegrating with one divorce for every two marriages in 35 major cities in the United States, with five divorces for every six marriages in Los Angeles — there is no denying that something has snapped… Anyone who has had anything to do with God is hated today, whether his vocation was to announce His Divine Son, Jesus Christ, as did the Jew, or to follow Him as the Christian.”
What would Sheen tell us today as we’ve deteriorated far beyond what he already saw as he added:
Every now and then in history the devil is given a long rope, for we must never forget that Our Lord said to Judas and his band: This is your hour. God has His day, but evil has its hour when the shepherd shall be struck and the sheep dispersed.”
Yet Sheen is not fearful for the Church but for the world in speaking of the “emergence of the anti-Christ against Christ.”
“We tremble not that God may be dethroned, but that barbarism may reign; it is not Transubstantiation that may perish, but the home; not the sacraments that may fade away, but the moral law. The Church can have no different words for the weeping woman than those of Christ on the way to Calvary: Weep not over me; but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28)
Over the centuries the Church has had its Good Fridays, he reminds us, but there’s always Easter Sundays “because Jesus promised the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.’ (Matthew 28:20)
As bleak as things may be, never has “there been such a strong argument for the need of Christianity, for men are now discovering that their misery and their woes, their wars and their revolutions increase in direct ratio and proportion to the neglect of Christianity. Evil is self-defeating; good alone is self-preserving.”
Like prophets of old, Sheen stood firm in hope, giving practical recommendations as true today as in 1947.
First, Christians “must realize that a moment of crisis is not a time of despair, but of opportunity. The more we can anticipate the doom, the more we can avoid it. Once we recognize we are under Divine Wrath, we become eligible for Divine Mercy. It was because of famine the prodigal said: ‘I will arise, and will go to my father.’ The very disciplines of God create hope. The thief on the right came to God by a crucifixion. The Christian finds a basis for optimism in the most thorough-going pessimism, for his Easter is within three days of Good Friday.”
Sheen offered this great, hope-filled encouragement too: “One of the surprises of heaven will be to see how many saints were made in the midst of chaos, and war and revolution.” He points out the great multitude standing before the throne of God and identified as “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)
There’s more to spur us on, firm in hope. Sheen strongly reminds that after “Our Divine Lord had pictured the catastrophes that would fall upon a morally disordered civilization…he did not say ‘Fear,’ but when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)
Sheen told all Catholics, Jews, and Protestants “that the world is serving your souls with an awful summons — the summons to heroic efforts at spiritualization. Catholics ought to stir up their faith, hang a crucifix in their homes to remind them that we too have to carry a cross, gather the family together every night to recite the Rosary that through corporate prayer there might be intercession for the world; go to daily Mass that the spirit of love and sacrifice might be sprinkled in our business, our social life and our duties. More heroic souls might undertake the Holy Hour daily, particularly in parishes conscious of the needs of prayers of reparation as well as petition, conducting such devotions in their churches.”
Sheen urged all to pray. “The forces of evil are united; the forces of good are divided. We may not be able to meet in the same pew — would to God we did — but we can meet on our knees.”
Sheen added orders for our spiritual and eternal good. “Those who have the faith had better keep in the state of grace and those who have neither had better find out what they mean, for in the coming age there will be only one way to stop your trembling knees, and that will be to get down on them and pray. The most important problem in the world today is your soul, for that is what the struggle is about.”
There is only one path out of the chaotic conditions, the concerned bishop revealed. “The only way out of this crisis is spiritual, because the trouble is not in the way we keep our books, but in the way we keep our souls. The time is nearer than you think.”
He advised us to turn to St. Michael in prayer. We once did with the St. Michael prayer after every single Mass until the 1960s. Today, some dioceses are restoring the practice. Would they all did.
We’re to turn especially to Our Lady, Sheen counseled, then prayed, “As Thou didst form the Word made flesh in Thy womb, form Him in our hearts. Be in our midst as tongues of fire descend upon our cold hearts and if this be night, then come, O Lady of the Blue of Heaven, show us once again the Light of the World in the heart of a day.”
And she will. As at Fatima she said, In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph.