WEST COVINA, Calif. — Not many individuals stand ready to give away millions of dollars of solid Catholic teaching on audio format. Terry Barber is.
And thousands of new Catholics who came into the Church at the Easter Vigil can thank him.
In February, as founder and director of St. Joseph Communications, Barber launched a free, no strings attached giveaway offer of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Life Is Worth Living course for converts.
Based on the retail price of this MP3 format course on the St. Joseph website (SaintJoe.com/BishopSheen.asp), the giveaway tops $12 million. The only proviso: that it is limited to RCIA candidates and to those received into the Church last year.
The numbers are high. According to Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the latest figures from 2007 list 49,415 adult baptisms (considered anyone over 7 years old) and 87,363 received into full communion. Similar numbers are expected this year. Many will be baptized or otherwise received into the Church during Easter Vigil Masses on April 11.
That’s fine for Barber. He believes that having Archbishop Sheen “supplement the RCIA program will continue to help all of them learn, love, and live out their Catholic faith.”
“This is his ‘Converts Course’; this is Bishop Sheen at his best,” he explained.
These talks aren’t from Archbishop Sheen’s similarly titled “Life Is Worth Living” TV series that ran from 1951-57 and drew more than 30 million weekly viewers. In 1965, after the Second Vatican Council, which Archbishop Sheen attended, he recorded over 24 hours of instruction for converts and sent the records to countless people requesting his help.
“He was preparing something that would give his converts a solid grounding in the faith,” said Father Andrew Apostoli, vice postulator for the cause for canonization of Archbishop Sheen.
Because Archbishop Sheen, who was named Servant of God in 2002, had at times as many as 500 people under instruction in the New York City and Washington areas at once, he well understood the importance of teaching those entering the Church.
“Because Bishop Sheen was a man dedicated to the truth, dedicated to the Church and her teachings, we’re going to get solid teaching all the way through,” said Father Apostoli, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, citing clarity and orthodoxy. “And our new converts need a solid grounding in authentic Catholic teaching.”
Father Apostoli continued, “He could bring even deep theological thoughts or concepts into language people could readily understand. That’s a great advantage in his series — plus you can go over it again and again with these CDs.”
Both Phil Vareanian of Tehachapi, Calif., and Bill Berry of Midland, Texas, testify to that.
Vareanian, who converted 10 years ago, is currently listening to this series again as a refresher and simultaneously reading Archbishop Sheen’s books. He first got the series on tape from St. Joseph Communications, which he credits in large part for his conversion.
“Archbishop Sheen is a real intellect, able to go to the depths of our Scriptures and Catholic faith and simplify them for lay people like me,” said Vareanian. “He gave me a deep understanding of our faith — and why we do things in the Catholic Church — which wasn’t above my head.”
Now in RCIA at St. Stephen’s in Midland, and preparing to be received into the Church at Easter, Berry got the MP3 series gift at February’s “Footsteps in Faith” Bible conference in Lubbock, Texas.
“Bishop Sheen does such a thorough job in explaining the faith and the reasons behind the beliefs, the different Catholic theology, and why the beliefs are important,” said an appreciative Berry, a lawyer who is from a Baptist background. Archbishop Sheen makes everything “easy to understand.”
Barber is no newcomer to this work. In 1978, already wanting to see as many as possible learn the faith from this particular series, he got permission from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith to put it on tape.
Since then, he has produced thousands of sets and has received many stories of people coming back to the Church though Archbishop Sheen’s teachings.
Barber said he ran his first ad for the tapes in 1979 in the Register.
By the mid-1980s he put this Life Is Worth Living into the Los Angeles radio markets, later on EWTN radio and then EWTN television.
Right away Barber had another source of encouragement: “John Paul II inspired me to get this material into people’s hands,” he said, because in 1979 he saw that John Paul met Archbishop Sheen at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and told him: ‘You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church.’
Added Barber, “If John Paul thinks Bishop Sheen is a loyal son, I want to distribute his material to as many souls as possible.”
Barber’s hopes are high. He said that if approximately 140,000 converts enter the Church annually, in five years he can reach 700,000 with Archbishop Sheen’s teachings. “The Church needs converts to get the cradle Catholics fired up about their faith,” he said. Bishop Sheen believed the same.
Barber’s giveaway appears unmatched. Kate Chioodo, head of the RCIA program at Church of the Holy Spirit in Lubbock, received news of this supplemental series with enthusiasm and will recommend it to the candidates.
She has been familiar with Archbishop Sheen since her childhood and catches him on EWTN now.
Said Chioodo, “His messages are timeless and take us to what it means to be a Catholic.”
“People tell me all the time [they] listen to his tapes and read his books and they think they were given yesterday,” said Father Apostoli. He feels there are two reasons for that: In the 1950s and ’60s, Archbishop Sheen foresaw the problems of today, such as the secularism in government and the lack of real commitment to the sanctity of human life and the family.
Also, Archbishop Sheen “wrote his books and prepared his thoughts in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament,” Father Apostoli said. “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. So Bishop Sheen’s teachings have a constant contemporary sound to them.”
“If Bishop Sheen were ever to get canonized,” Father Apostoli believes, “not only would the people in RCIA be listening, but everybody would be wanting to hear his great teachings on Catholic doctrine.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from