Meditations on Faith and Family

New book is timely for the synod

Reflections From Rome: Practical Thoughts on Faith and Family by Msgr. Richard Soseman of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy is an everyday guide for Catholics offering brief meditations, essays and reflections on everyday matters of faith, focusing on how to apply one’s faith to life’s situations or dilemmas.

Cardinal Raymond Burke of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura said Msgr. Soseman’s book conveys the truths of the Catholic faith “in an accessible and appealing manner.”

In this Sept. 17 interview with the Register, Msgr. Soseman, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., who has worked on the cause of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, discusses his reasons for writing the book, what he hopes readers will gain from it and the latest on Archbishop Sheen’s cause, which was surprisingly halted last month.
What is the main motivation behind the book?
As a priest, you get used to giving talks in many places to small groups or sermons, every Sunday or weekday. You get used to speaking in public and to preparing things to present and spread the faith, because we have to have zeal for souls.

When I came to Rome, I was helping out in a few places and preaching sometimes in Italian, but I was asked one Lent to prepare some things several times a week, such as a little meditation for an online group. So that’s what I started that Lent — and began to write every day then.

People would also email me questions to which I’d prepared long answers. I’d then adapt them and post them online, because people would be interested in answers to what, sometimes, are common questions. So that’s how I got into the practice.

I’ve always tried to use whatever other media — the latest media, multimedia — to reach people, because we have to use the world to evangelize the world. I worked on the cause of Bishop Sheen for canonization, and he certainly did that. He used radio and television. They said he would use whatever the latest gadgets were to enhance his sharing of the Church, the word of Christ. And I’ve always tried to do that myself.

I’ve started email groups, and I have used Facebook and text-messaging sometimes for messages with youth groups when I was in the parish; things like that. I just try to keep abreast, then publish things online — and kept going from there.
Has being a Vatican official had any bearing on the book? Has that helped at all?
It’s possible, but most of my reflections you find in the book were done for people I knew from my home: I have a couple of hundred relatives, because I come from a very large family, and then people from former parishes. So they were really the genesis, and most of the people I know don’t really look to the Vatican; but, of course, that doesn’t really hurt.

There may be some people who might look at it as more authoritative [because the author is a Vatican official], but they’re really reflections that can apply the faith in a practical way on a daily basis.
What do you hope readers will get out of it?
I’ve tried to share stories from growing up, stories from saints or Church history or silly things that happen in Rome with traffic or whatever — things people can appreciate or sink their teeth into instantly or chuckle about and then apply that to how we can live our faith in a better way on a daily basis.

We need to study and know Jesus in many different ways through prayer and studying the Catechism. Understanding more about God can be very helpful. But as a friend, we want Jesus to be with us throughout the day; so if we look at things in different ways, we can live the faith not just on a daily basis, but at every moment. That can be helpful, and so many of the anecdotes and applications in the book are meant to help that: to help our faith.
Pope Francis recently talked about the importance of Christians being apostolic. This seems very much part of the book as well — living the faith in the world, in everyday life.
Yes, and I should mention that my dad was a convert, so I’ve got lots of non-Catholic relatives, and some of them have used the book for their own non-Catholic faith groups and reading groups. So it seems to have a kind of universal appeal.

I’ve heard really great stories; especially women’s groups seem to really chuckle about some of the things and seem to want to keep going with the book and delve into it. So that’s a very nice thing.
You mentioned Archbishop Sheen. How much did he himself influence you in writing the book?
What’s part of the genius of the saints is that we learn to pattern our lives on those who pattern their lives on Christ, and so in learning more about Bishop Sheen, I’ve done some of the things that he has done.

Some people might think this is a book about Bishop Sheen. That’s coming down the line sometime, but this is actually, I think, really trying to do for our own people now what he did at that time: bringing the faith into the actual present world.
Could the book’s emphasis on faith and family help the faithful in following the synod on the family, perhaps in greater depth?
Oh, I would say so. This synod is being gathered to discuss practical questions. We’re all from families, even hermits, men and women who live singly in their religious life. Even cloistered religious come from families, and they form their own types of families. But we’re all conditioned by the great bounty and goodness that the Lord shows us, having gifted us with a particular time and place and particular families.

In the book, I try to emphasize my own drawbacks rather than those of my own brothers and sisters — they may see it a little differently! We receive so much from Our Lord through our families; and so, of course, many of the different topics on the synod of the family that we’re looking at are also addressed in my book, but in a practical way.
What is life like in the Vatican under Pope Francis?
Very positive, I think. Looking out the window today, it’s late September, but there are tens of thousands of people who’ve come for the audience; and the numbers have been consistent with the number of people who have been touched by a priest — this great high priest, now Pope Francis, a very faithful priest who nonetheless reaches beyond and tries to bring enthusiasm directly into their lives in a direct way.

Particularly with the economic crisis, the wars, the disease one hears about on the nightly news — these can make you depressed, but Pope Francis reminds us: “Well, Jesus is here; the Church is here.” No Jesus, no peace, as the old saying goes. He has helped a lot of people’s hearts to be opened again towards the Church.

As I tell fellow priests sometimes, “Well, fathers, now it’s our job to bring them, from that enthusiasm, back to the Church: to help them to see how they can know Jesus even more as a faithful daily communicant or weekly communicant; that they can at least make space for more daily prayer in their lives and a friendly relationship with Our Lord.”
People are perplexed by what has happened with the cause of Bishop Sheen. What are your views on that? Will the cause be restarted?
I still haven’t gotten into it a lot, but I do know that because of the communications breakdown between New York and Peoria, Bishop Jenky wrote to the Congregation [for the Causes of Saints] after two or three months, trying to resolve things, saying they’ve reached a stopping point because they couldn’t get anywhere, even just the next step, which is examining the body, one of the steps of the canonical process. They wrote back saying if you’re at a stopping point, then we’ll just hold the cause while you work it out among yourselves.

So Bishop Jenky waited for a couple of months and then, finally, I think, he wanted to make that public to supporters, donors of the cause, so they wouldn’t accept funds on false pretenses. I think he probably agonized over making it public, because he said Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan stands for the Church in many ways in the U.S. But I think that’s why he made it public. It was paused and archived, and he thought he should make that better known.
Are you hopeful this is something that can be overcome and that the cause will be restarted?
Oh yes, the Holy Spirit is still much alive in the Church, and God works in mysterious ways — and Bishop Sheen works in mysterious ways as well sometimes! So I have every hope.

But I also want to encourage people that even if the plans for beatification are on hold, that doesn’t point to anything negative about Bishop Sheen; so they should still be certainly listening to all of his vast recordings online, buying books of Bishop Sheen for Christmas, because he really does have that common touch where he touches hearts.

We have holy cards of Bishop Sheen in many languages: Maltese, Arabic, Hungarian, Eastern-European languages, so I give those away to different language-group priests in Rome, and then I buy translations of Bishop Sheen. I get old copies of old books of Bishop Sheen off EBay, and then I give those books to Italians, Germans, French, Spaniards, who either have known Sheen, forgotten about him or have encountered him for the first time.

I gave a German translation to a German priest here in Rome. He’d never heard of Sheen, but he spent a couple of weeks with the book, and he was telling me about it enthusiastically and thanked me for the great gift I’d given him by sharing Bishop Sheen’s book with him.
He remains very relevant to today?
Yes, certainly, and that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to bring faith at a practical level to people.