Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that all his “power” came not from any earthly office or intellectual gift, but from celebrating and adoring the Blessed Sacrament.
I was reminded of that comment — and the powerful effect that the famous archbishop had on my life — as I read a new biography, Meet Fulton Sheen, by Janel Rodriguez, published by Servant Books.
Rodriguez recounts how the charismatic Archbishop Sheen had the “power” to attract large prime-time television audiences, to convince countless numbers of non-Catholics to enter the Church, and to breathe new life into the souls of lukewarm Catholics, including priests.
I never met Archbishop Sheen and I am a tad too young to remember his TV shows, but passing contact with a central theme of his spirituality some 25 years ago continues to have a profound effect on my daily life.
I had just begun studies for the priesthood, and I came across one of his writings about the practice of a daily holy hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This was something the archbishop practiced as well as preached. I was struck by his description of a state trooper knocking on a rectory door in hopes of gaining access to the church to make his hour while on a dinner break.
This episode was consistent with Archbishop Sheen’s philosophy. In fact, writes Rodriquez, he often reiterated that Eucharistic adoration was “a type of prayer available to everyone, not just to priests and religious.”
By the way, impressed by the trooper’s devotion, the parish priest joined the officer in his hour.
The impact of his words was so great that it seemed to awaken in me a new vocation, but to what?
I was already living in a community that stressed prayer, including an hour of meditation in one’s room each morning and frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Yet, the distinctiveness and the attractiveness of the holy hour seemed to beckon somehow.
Archbishop Sheen had planted a seed that was cultivated after a certain amount of pain and confusion as I wrestled with my vocation.
When, a few years later, I decided to return to lay life, my thoughts eventually turned again to Fulton Sheen’s holy hour, deciding to begin the practice after hearing that a nearby parish had initiated perpetual adoration.
Making the hour proved difficult for a number of reasons, especially with marriage and the arrival of children. But the hour is now a foundational part of my daily life.
The fullness and richness of this vocation to pray and intercede before the Eucharist has brought me along a singular path in what has been an otherwise hidden and unremarkable life.
Yet, because of it, mine is a rich, fruitful life, one filled with love, romance, adventure and conquest. And all of this takes place in silence, unknown to just about everyone. At the foot of a tabernacle, in places largely abandoned by the world, I find my spirit at the very gates of heaven.
Archbishop Sheen once observed that, “from every human soul, Christ wants love and friendship.” From some of us — a great many, I suppose, given the growth of Eucharistic prayer — the Lord wants an even deeper companionship that also builds up the whole Church and helps change the entire world. That’s “power.”
Joe Cullen writes from