Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fulton Sheen Part IV: The Fourth Word and the Virtue of Faith

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

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

The Fourth Word:
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The Corresponding Virtue:

Excerpts from Sheen's March 10, 1940 address:

[Y]ears ago, many who did not have faith knew what they disbelieved and why; today those who do not have faith do not even know what they disbelieve. Having abandoned all certitudes they have no standards by which to judge even their own agnosticism. 

Faith is not, as too many believe, an emotional trust; it is not a belief that something will happen to you; it is not even a will to believe despite difficulties. Rather faith is the acceptance of a truth on the authority of God revealing. It therefore presupposes reason.


You cannot start a religion with faith, for to believe someone without a reason for belief is credulity and superstition. The principal cause for the decline of religion in America is the irrational and groundless character of belief. Unless the foundation is solid the superstructure soon totters and falls. Try out the experiment and ask those who call themselves Christians why they believe and the majority of them will be found unable to give a reason. 

Since Truth is life, it must like a living babe be accepted in its entirety. Just as we are not falsely broadminded about life and accept a child on condition he has no arms or only one eye, so neither can we say we will believe Christ when He talks about the lilies of the field and not believe Him when He talks about the sanctity of the family. It is all or nothing.


[T]he condition of becoming a Catholic is the total, complete, and absolute submission to the authority of Christ and its prolongation in the Church. A Catholic may be defined as one who has made the startling discovery that God knows more than he does.

Faith then is related to reason as a telescope to the eye. A telescope does not destroy vision, but opens new worlds hitherto closed to it. We have the same eyes at night as we have in the day, but we cannot see at night because we lack normally the additional light of the sun. Let two minds with exactly the same education, one without and the other with faith, look on a piece of unleavened bread in a monstrance. The one sees bread; the other sees the Eucharistic Lord. One sees more than the other because he has a light which the other lacks -- the light of faith.

[Jesus experienced] isolation and abandonment. "Why hast thou forsaken me?" … And yet it was not abandonment, for it was  prefaced by: "My God, my God!" The sun does not abandon its task to light a world because temporarily overshadowed by a cloud. Even though these misty shapes hide its light and heat, we still know a day of dawning is near. Furthermore the Fourth Word was a verse from a Psalm of faith which ends: "He hath not slighted nor despised the supplications of the poor man. Neither hath he turned away his face from me: and when I cried to him, he heard me" (Psalm 21:25).

Faith does not mean being taken down from a cross; it means being lifted up to heaven -- sometimes by a cross.

Scripture states that when they crucified Christ, darkness covered the earth. That is exactly the description of our modern world. If the darkness of despair, the black-outs of peace, make our world wander blindly, it is because we have crucified the Light of the World.

It may even be that our woes are the last stage of sin. For a century or more, governments and people have abandoned God; now God is abandoning them. It is a terrible punishment when a just God strikes; but it is more terrible when He does not, but leaves us alone to our own devices to work out the full consequences of our sins. 

We are at the end of a tradition and a civilization which believed we could preserve Christianity without Christ, religion without a creed, meditation without sacrifice, family life without moral responsibility, sex without purity, and economics without ethics. We have completed our experiment of living without God and have proven the fallacy of a system of education which calls itself progressive because it finds new excuses for sins. Our so-called progressiveness, did we but realize it, is like unto the progressive putrefaction of a corpse. The soul is gone, and what we call change is only decay. How stop it except by reversing the process by which we drove God out of the world, namely by relighting the lamp of faith in the souls of men?

[We must not] abandon creeds, and water down the milk of religion to a point where it would no longer nourish. The Catholic Church for one would never do that, because since its truths are God-made they cannot be man-unmade. We are trustees not creators of faith. 

[T]o all, may there come the full-visioned understanding of how souls are won to truth by the Cross. As the poet puts it:
"I slipped His fingers, I escaped His feet,
 I ran and hid, for Him I feared to meet.
 One day I passed Him, fettered on a Tree,
 He turned His Head, and looked, and beckoned me. 
"Neither by speed, nor strength could He prevail.
 Each hand and foot was pinioned by a nail.
 He could not run or clasp me if He tried,
 But with His eye, He bade me reach His side. 
"For pity's sake, thought I, I'll set you free.
 'Nay -- hold this cross,' He said, 'and follow me.
 This yoke is easy, this burden light,
 Not hard or grievous if you wear it tight.' 
"So did I follow Him Who could not move,
 An uncaught captive in the hands of Love."
         -- Elizabeth Cheney 


  1. Darn it, Leila! You're making me REALLY want to read this book! And I can't get my hands on a copy, at least not at a decent price. :(

  2. Cassi, I know, ha ha! We really need to convince someone to republish it!! It is amazing, and you are getting only tiny bits here.

  3. This is one of my favorite lines of all time:

    "Our so-called progressiveness, did we but realize it, is like unto the progressive putrefaction of a corpse. The soul is gone, and what we call change is only decay."

    Sheesh, and this was in 1940! But then again, it was in the reign of the Nazi socialists and the Communists. We haven't learned much from those days, sadly.

  4. Apparently somebody shelled out for the single copy Amazon had, so I can't find it at all, anywhere. O_o They need republish it, or put it out for e-readers. . . something! This post is probably my favorite so far; it's a gold mine. And then you realize it's actually only a few select nuggets. :)

    1. Oops, excuse the typo. Apparently I can't edit after the fact, lol.

  5. Cassie, I found a copy for only $8 right here:

    Leila, here is the part that I needed to hear today: Faith is not, as too many believe, an emotional trust; it is not a belief that something will happen to you; it is not even a will to believe despite difficulties. Rather faith is the acceptance of a truth on the authority of God revealing. It therefore presupposes reason.

    I had to re-read that about 5 times, as it really "popped out" at me but I was having trouble digesting it. Faith is not even the will to believe--as which I really thought that this was faith. I didn't think that it was an emotion, but wanting to believe when all seems bleak or you are not understanding God's will.

    Faith is the acceptance of truth revealing! It is acceptance of God's will, even if you don't understand.

    Kylie--the woman that died from the massive stroke last week, left behind 4 children and a baby. Really hit home for me and hit me hard with "survivors guilt." It's been hard for me to understand why God works as He does. I don't understand right now, but this new explanation of faith (which I'm still digesting) helps me to continue to have faith.

  6. Becky, thank you for this comment! I knew going into this "series" that it would not get as many hits as my controversial stuff, but I think it's even more important, and I know that whoever needs to see it will benefit. You have proven that and I am so happy! In fact, these words of wisdom and teaching from Fulton Sheen are really penetrating my own heart as well, and opening up new understandings for me. So many layers to our Faith, so much to still learn. It's like a treasure trove, and there is just no end to it!! We are so blessed! Of course, the Truths of Christ are for every soul on this earth, and I just wish they knew it.

    Lord have mercy, I can see why Kylie's death hit home for you. I am so glad that Sheen's words have helped you grab on to something concrete and go forward.

    Also, I think that Sheen book you linked to is a different one. There are a few of his books that have similar titles and themes, but it's not exactly the same one. He wrote so many, but there are no doubt incredible treasures in that one as well!

  7. Yes, I realized after I posted that it wasn't the right book. :-( I'm going to keep looking though or it will bug me forever, haha.

    I had heard of "survivors guilt" before, and always thought it was strange that someone would feel guilty for surviving something out of their control. But it's something psychological, I think. I can reason with myself to not feel guilty for my life and Kylie's death, but the guilt is still there nonetheless. It's just something I'll have to get over, I guess.

    I hope your readers will keep Kylie's family in their prayers. Can you imagine how her children are calling out of "Mama" and she's no longer there? This kills my heart with familiar ache. Regardless of the guilt, I thank God that I'm here.

    Maybe these spiritual posts don't get many comments, but for myself, I always need to process the content of spirituality. I do enjoy them though so I hope you will keep posting them from time to time!

  8. So profound for our day and age especially "what we call change is only decay" that line gave me chills. Especially because of Obama using the word "change" for his first campaign and all I really see is decay. I also like "we must not abandon creeds, and water down the milk of religion to a point where it would no longer nourish." He is right the Church would never or could never do that because she does not have the authority alter truth but sadly there are some leaders in the Church that think they can alter truth. That is why this Year of Faith is so important for us to study our faith. Leila, I think you should slowly post the entire book on your blog!

  9. No longer could His hands minister to the needy, they were
    held by nails.
    No longer could His feet carry on His mission of mercy, they
    were pinioned to the cross.
    Never again could He instruct His disciples, His lips were
    soon to be silenced.
    BUT He could and did pray.
    "Father." With that prayer He reached Heaven. Amid His agony He
    had forgotten Who He was. Under great losses and crosses we act
    as though we have forgotten Whose we are. We respond as though
    He is not treating us like His children.
    One thief threw doubt in His face


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