Saturday, April 26, 2014

Final Sheen Meditation: Easter!

Since Easter is not just a day but a season that lasts for fifty days, let us ponder it even now!

Background and Part I, here.
Part II, here.
Part III, here.
Part IV, here.
Part V, here.
Part VI, Good Friday, here.

Concluding our Lenten meditations on the Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.


Excerpts from his Easter address delivered on March 24, 1940, in the midst of World War II:

One of the greatest needs of our day is authority; for minds are not universally perverse, but they are confused -- they know not what is right. The criterion of right is agreement with a will or intention. For example, an engine works well when it conforms to the intention which the engineer had in designing it; a pencil is good when it writes, thus fulfilling the will of its maker. 


[R]ight for man means acting in accordance with the will of God or the intention God had in creating him. Holiness consists in fixation to that Divine will. It happens that, since God made man free, man may follow another will than God's will; for example, his own will, like the prodigal, or the popular will, like Pilate. Unfortunately, too many in our day choose the second standard and identify right with the will of the majority, or the mood of the masses, or the spirit of the world. 

Conflict arises between these two standards of right, the popular will and God's will, as it did when conscience told Pilate Christ was a just man and the mob told him Christ was the enemy of Caesar; or as it does in our own life when the good, such as fidelity to the marriage bond, is unpopular, and the wrong, such as divorce, is popular. In such cases where we are face to face with two standards of right and wrong -- God's will, the popular will -- we become confused and know not what to choose; we may even find it difficult to believe that what is so unpopular could be good. 

Just suppose you stood on Calvary on Good Friday and saw Him who called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, nailed to a Cross. On whose side would you have been? On the side of Christ or on the side of the government, the masses? If your standard of goodness and virtue is what the public believes to be good and virtuous, then with the mob you would have agreed that Christ was not the Son of God, but an impostor; not the Messiah of the Chosen People, but a perverter of the nation; not the Redeemer of men, but a mock king. There was no doubt that the Crucifixion was popular with the masses, as they chose Barabbas to Christ. 

And when finally the sun had set on Good Friday and the last lengthening shadows of three crosses had silhouetted themselves against a sealed tomb, everything proceeded to go on as normal. The world apparently was so right in its judgment that even those who believed were somewhat shaken in their belief, like the rocks of Calvary. 

But as He appeared among His disciples, spoke to His Apostles, ate with them, prepared a seashore meal for them, remained on earth with them forty days after His Resurrection instructing them in the Kingdom of God, the truth finally emerged. The mob on Good Friday was wrong; the majority had erred. He was in very truth the Son of the Living God, risen from the dead. Truth is oneness with the Divine mind, not the public mind; goodness is oneness with the Divine Will not the popular will. 

The lesson that emerges from Easter is that the world was wrong and Christ was right; that there is a world of difference between an authority on which you rely when it pleases you, and one which you trust absolutely whether it pleases you or not; for what the world needs is a voice that is right not when the world is right, but right when the world is wrong. 

To avoid another Calvary and its colossal error that the majority is always right, the world needs a standard of virtue, truth, and goodness, other than the will of the masses. In those moments when the popular will coincides with God's will there is no need of an external authority outside the mass; but there is need of one when there is a conflict between the two, as there was on Calvary.


The millions of the world who keep their fingers on the pulse of public opinion and follow every theory, every vogue, every panacea, every popular immorality, and who approve the appointment of every anti-moral educator, have no standard of right and wrong. A thing cannot measure itself: A tape measure must be outside the cloth; a speedometer must not be a brick in the roadway; a judge must not be a shareholder in the corporation whose cause he judges. In like manner the judgment of the world must be from outside the world. Such a standard is the need of the hour -- an authority that does not, like some politician, find out what the people want and then give it to them, but which gives them what is true and good whether it is popular or not. We need someone to be healthy when the world is sick; someone to be a stretcher-bearer when the battlefields are freighted with wounded; someone to be calm when the house is burning; someone to be right when the world is wrong, as on Easter when they who slew the Foe lost the day. 

Where is that authority except in the Church of the Risen Christ which in each new generation is condemned by the world and then rises to a new and glorious Easter? At least a thousand times the bells have tolled in history for the death of the Church, but the execution never took place; the coffin is ordered by the corpse never appears; the mourners assist at her burial but she sings a requiem over her mourners; still doomed to death, but fated not to die, she survives a thousand crucifixions and a thousand deaths, and alone has survived the crash of all civilizations, because not involved in their ruin. 

There is often an hour when the world cannot understand the reason the Church gives for her position, but there is never a time when men do not live to see that her judgment was reasonable. 

And now the Church is once more speaking to the world. The present Holy Father [Pius XII] in the first encyclical of his reign warned about a drift to chaos unless men restored "a universal norm of morality," rooted law in "God the supreme lawgiver," healed "the divorce of civil authority from every kind of dependence upon Supreme Being," and restored "religious education of the young." Once more the world brought the nails and the hammer and nailed him to the cross, saying his plan would destroy academic freedom, and -- worst nonsense of all -- lead to the union of Church and State. 

The world has not yet seen how wrong it is in rejecting [the Holy Father's] pleas for peace and a return to the authority of Christ; but it will when the civilization built upon sand begins to crumble and fall. Easter's lesson is ever the same: They who slay the Foe lose the day; men who do not see the Church's reason live to see the Church as reasonable. 

God grant that we may not be stupid children, but may soon come to recognize that authority of Christ living in our day which is right not when the world is right, but right when the world is wrong. Then shall we not despair even in times of war, for it is error and hate which perish -- not Christ and the Church. Despair not -- moments of great catastrophe may be eves of great spiritual renaissance. Easter was within three days of the tragedy of Good Friday, but not within three days of the glorious Transfiguration. 

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Venerable

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