Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fulton Sheen, Part III: The Third Word and the Virtue of Prudence

Background and Part I, here.
Part II, here.

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

The Third Word:
"Woman, behold thy son…. (Son) behold thy mother."

The Corresponding Virtue:

Excerpts from Sheen's February 25, 1940 address:

[T]hough men failed in this crisis [the Lord's Passion], there is no instance of a single woman failing. In the four trials the voice heard in His defense was that of a woman, Claudia Procul the wife of Pontius Pilate, warning her husband not to do anything unjust to that just man…. On the way to Calvary, it is the woman who offers consolation, first Veronica wiping away the blood and sweat from His Sacred Face … then the holy women to whom the Prisoner turned suggesting that only such multiplied mercies and charities as their own could avert catastrophe for their children…. Again on Calvary it is woman who is fearless, for there are several of them at the foot of the Cross. Magdalene, among them as usual, is prostrate. But there is one whose courage and devotion was so remarkable that the Evangelist who was there indicated that she was "standing." That woman was the Mother of the Man on the Central Cross.

Since He was the second Adam undoing the sin of the first, Mary would be the new Eve proclaiming the glory of womanhood in the new race of the redeemed. The woman Eve would not be so cursed that her most glorious daughter could not undo her evil. As a woman had shared in the fall of man, so woman should share in his redemption. 

Mary is a creature, human, not Divine. We Catholics do not adore Mary. That would be idolatry. But we do reverence her. And to those Christians who have forgotten Mary, may I ask if it is proper for you to forget her whom He remembered on the Cross? Will you bear no love for that woman through the portals of whose flesh, as the Gate of Heaven, He came to earth?

The gift of Mary was extremely prudent because it took cognizance of the difference between two faculties: The intellect, which knows, and the will, which loves. The intellect always whittles down the object to suit itself. That is why the intellect always insists on examples, explanations, and analogies. Every teacher must accommodate himself to the mentality of his class, and if the problem which he is presenting is abstract and complicated, he must break it up into the concrete, as Our Lord described the mysteries of the Kingdom of God in parables. 

But the will never works that way. While the intellect pulls down the object of knowledge to its level, the will always goes out to meet the object. If you love something, you lift yourself up to its level; if you love music you subject yourself to its demands, and if you love exploring you meet its conditions. We tend to become like that which we love…. It follows that the higher our loves and ideals, the nobler will be our character.

Our Divine Lord gave us His Mother as our mother. Too beautiful a treasure to keep only for Himself, He willed to share her with us. She was to become our Mother in the supernatural life of the Kingdom of God as really as a woman is our earthly mother in the human order. In giving her to us, He was equivalently saying: "Never do anything of which your Heavenly Mother would be ashamed." The nobler the love, the nobler the character; and what nobler love could be given to men than the woman whom the Saviour of the world chose as His own Mother?


Why is it that the world has confessed its inability to inculcate virtue in the young? Very simply because it has not co-related morality to any love nobler than self-love. Things keep their proportion and fulfill their proper role only when integrated into a larger whole. Most lives are like doors without hinges or sleeves without coats, or bows without violins; that is, unrelated to wholes or purposes which give them meaning…. The modern emphasis on sex is a result of tearing a function away from a purpose, a part away from a whole.


The level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. What they are, men will be, for, to repeat, love always goes out to meet the demands of the object loved. Given a woman like the Mother of Our Lord as our supernatural Mother, you have one of the greatest inspirations for nobler living this world has ever known.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Mother



  1. That does it, I have to read more Sheen. Just amazing how he puts so much teaching and meat into so few words. Timeless relevance, you'd think he wrote this last week.
    Thanks for this series.

  2. Chris, isn't he amazing? Timeless, indeed. Sheen is just so perfect for Lent (and for our age in general).

  3. Love Sheen! I am reading this and imagining his voice saying these words. Simply beautiful! I love the part where he talks about taking the function away from its purpose, brilliant.

  4. That. Was. Awesome.

    Carla - Henry's mom

  5. As a rule, Sheen rules! There are one or two of his books which struck me as too simple, but most went right to my heart, such as this one.

    I just finished The Virtues, Or The Examined Life, by Cessario. It is a very deep theological look at things, and I found much to underline (my way of saying this is a good point!). It's part of a series of 22 books, "Handbooks of Catholic Theology" put out by a group called AMATECA, which has Cardinal Schonborn as its president. I'm looking to get more of the books, including one coming out in April showing Schonborn as the lead author. Have you heard or read any of these books?

  6. DNBA, I have not heard or read of them, but I have lately heard that Cardinal Schonborn has gone a little weird lately. I have been wary ever since...

  7. Oh how I wish this could be plastered on billboards around the world! Women are not victims of a misogynist church, but beautiful vessels of God's glorious love for us. I am going to bookmark this and send it to a friend who constantly asks me why I belong to a church that "oppresses me." Through our Blessed Mother, I have found an even deeper love for Christ, and for myself. There is nothing oppressive about that! Thanks as always for amazing insight!

  8. Enjoying every second of this series....again!


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