Fulton Sheen on the True Meaning of Easter

‘Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives, there will never be an Easter Sunday.’

A fresco of the Resurrection by S.G. Rudl (1900) in Prague
A fresco of the Resurrection by S.G. Rudl (1900) in Prague (photo: Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock)

In his inimitable style, Archbishop Fulton Sheen shed light on an essential part of Easter’s meaning during his early radio shows and then his television series.

During his The Catholic Hour radio show on April 5, 1942, he focused on “The Resurrection.”

“Friends,” he began, “celebrating Easter in a world that is more like a Good Friday and hearing the chance of peace amidst the explosions of war makes us wonder what lesson this blessed feast could have for these tragic days?”

“The answer is to be found in two distinct scenes in the life of Our Lord,” he went on. “The first scene took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. And there emerges this lesson: Evil has its hour, but God has his day. And that evil hour is inseparable from God’s day.”

He continued, “Without the war with evil in its hour, there will never be the day of peace. Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives, there will never be an Easter Sunday. Unless there is the crown of thorns, there will never be the halo of light. Unless there is the scourged body, there will never be the glorified body. And there is the answer to the question of Easter.”

“How can we celebrate Easter in a world that is like a Good Friday?” he then asked rhetorically. 

Sharing examples, he pointed out, “Our Blessed Lord never said, ‘Blessed are the peaceful.’ But he did say, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ Peace must be made. It must be won in a battle. Good Friday was not the day of appeasement. Therefore, Easter was not a day of false peace.”

Continuing, he stressed that “Easter teaches us that there can be no day of victory unless we pass through the hour of struggle against evil and in union with the Savior.” There can be no compromise with evil if our victory in Christ’s resurrection is the goal. Venerable Sheen proclaimed, “In the triumph of his resurrection our Divine Lord keeps the scars that he received in the hour of his defeat, and he keeps those scars for all eternity.” Explaining why, the priest emphasized, “And on the last day when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead, he will show them as pledges of his victory. He is a prince of peace, but only because he was once a captain of war and the Lord of Hosts.”

“Soldiers wear medals for bravery. But he wears his glorious scars as radiant suns in hands and feet and side; scars that he received the day that he fought in the battle for peace.”

Again, Venerable Sheen highlighted, with emotion, that we have to pass through that hour with Jesus to get to victory day. “The Via Crucis is the Via Pacis — the Way of the Cross is the Way of Peace.”

Father Sheen highlighted in his unique style, “Think of how many are suffering in these lands, and I speak only of those who are in these lands [who] are suffering in the name of Christ. There must be hundreds of thousands of them in these lands. They are having their hour, their hour of darkness, of famine, and of hate. Above all the battlefields of the world, beyond the din of national slogans, the scheming of foxes, the debates of politics, the selfish classes of economic forces, there is one common bond uniting them all — they are all prostrate before the cross of Christ. … And in this their hour of darkness, they have a pledge that if the Easter law holds true, and it does, to the extent that their sufferings are one with him, they will rise again.

“Not because of any reshuffling of politicians, or any new theory of economics will they rise, for politics again will fail; economists again will blunder; foxes will be caught in their own traps; schemers will be caught in their own schemes. But because these hundreds of thousands of chosen souls have been signed with a Sign of the Cross and sealed with a seal of salvation because they have borne their cross in Christ in that hour, they will rise with Christ. This war to them is the sowing of a seed. Evil has its hour, but God will have his day.”

A decade later, in one of his television shows in the early 1950s, then-Bishop Sheen spent much time speaking on the Passion before elaborating about Easter — and ultimately what the Resurrection brought for us.

He clarified that Jesus did not divest himself of his human nature after he rose because “the end and purpose of God coming to this earth was to bring us to perfect union with the Father.” Eventually, after the Resurrection, when he went back to the Father, “he brought back with him something that he did not have when he came to this earth. … Yes, he took his divinity back with him. But he also took something else back: He took back his human nature,” where it is “in glory at the right hand of the Father.”

This shows “those who pass through trials, suffering — whatever they be in this life, misunderstanding, would have their body glorified. By sharing in Christ’s cross, we share his glory.”

Earlier in his Easter message during that 1942 radio hour, before signing off with his signature “God love you,” then-Msgr. Sheen amplified the pivotal message once again: “We shall have our day of victory in him if we first have our hour of darkness with him.”

Turning to the Epistles, he highlighted, “St. Paul has said, ‘This saying is true — If we die with him, we shall also live with him.’ Now apply this lesson: It is only those who pass through Calvary’s hour with him [who] shall ever come to the day of victory.”

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