Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the death of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, and I am honored to be the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass to commemorate his life. A large gathering of priests, bishops, and cardinals are expected to attend. What a marvelous tribute to this devoted, tireless, holy son of the church whom Pope John Paul II called “Preacher to the World” in the Sanctuary of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the very place I will be preaching tonight.
Earlier today I recorded my weekly radio program for the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, and had as my guests Bishop Daniel Jenky, Bishop of Peoria, which was Archbishop Sheen’s home diocese, Monsignor John Kozar, national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith which Archbishop Sheen headed for years, and Monsignor Hillary Franco, one of Archbishop Sheen’s close collaborators and friends, and currently pastor of one of the great parishes of the Archdiocese, Saint Augustine’s, in Ossining, New York. The program will air Thursday, December 10 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and then various times throughout the weekend.
In my homily, I relate this story of a chance encounter I once had with Archbishop Sheen.
It was a damp winter day in 1973 when I was walking through St. Peter’s Square, then a seminarian at the North American College, only to see a small but excited crowd near the obelisk. Over I went only to see in the middle of the dozens of excited people himself, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Among the handshakes, flashbulbs, and autographs, someone shouted,
“What are you doing in Rome, Archbishop Sheen?”
“I just came from an audience with Pope Paul VI,” he replied.
“What did the Holy Father say to you?” inquired another in the crowd.
Archbishop Sheen blushed a bit and replied, “The Holy Father looked at me, took my hand, and said, ‘Fulton Sheen, you will have a high place in heaven’.”
“What did you say back?” pestered another.
“Well” responded our man with that familiar sparkle and grin,” I replied, ‘Your Holiness, would you mind making that an infallible statement?’”
Which I propose to you is the key message of Fulton J. Sheen: He wanted to get to heaven; he wanted to bring the world with him.
You can read the full text of my homily here.
UPDATE: Emily Marlow, producer of “A Conversation with the Archbishop,” forwarded me some photos from yesterday’s taping.