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Mason Beecroft is a freelance Catholic writer in the Diocese of Tulsa & Eastern Oklahoma.

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The Spirit of the Lord: The Devotion of Romano Guardini to Christ and His Church

Romano Guardini is one of the most important voices in Catholic intellectual discussions of the last century. This is most evident in the significant influence his works have had on the last three popes. While a student at the University of Munich, Pope Francis started to write a dissertation on him and recently stated, “I am convinced that Guardini is a thinker who has much to say to the men of our time, and not only to Christians.” Some scholars have argued that much of Pope Benedict XVI’s theological work is a lengthy mediation on his thought. When Benedict XVI resigned his papacy, he cited the above quote from Guardini. And Guardini’s 1918 work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, became the subject of a dialogue with Max Scheler, who was the focus of Pope St. John Paul II’s doctoral dissertation.

Moreover, Guardini’s writing and thought was considered a significant influence on the Second Vatican Council, even though personally he was dissatisfied with its implementation. Pope Paul VI even offered to make him a cardinal in 1968, but he declined. As the author of 75 books, his influence on Catholic thought continues to this day. In commemoration of his faithful life and ministry, he was declared a Servant of God in 2016. The gravity of Romano Guardian’s theological and philosophical reflections continue to impact the life of the Church and its faithful nearly 140 years after his birth.

Romano Guardini was born in Italy in 1885. A year later, his father moved the family to Mainz, Germany where he raised the family as devout Catholics. Guardini was an excellent student, but during his university years his faith was challenged by the pervasive agnosticism and atheism. He suffered from depression and experienced a spiritual crisis. When he was home on vacation, he was engaged by this passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

“It became clear to me that there exists a law according to which persons who ‘find their life,’ that is, remain in themselves and accept as valid only what immediately enlightens them, lose their individuality. If they want to reach the truth and attain the truth in their very selves, then they must abandon themselves…,” he later reflected.

After resolving his own crisis of faith, Guardini studied for the priesthood at the University of Mainz. He entered Holy Orders in 2010 and then spent the next decade serving in various parish assignments while he pursued doctoral studies in theology. Guardini's real desire was to teach in the academy so that he could explore the impact of modernity in the life of the Church and the culture. This relationship between faith and culture was central to much of his theological thought.

“The task of Christian culture is twofold: on the one hand, to penetrate and transfigure nature by grace; on the other, to unlock revelation and take possession of it by means of nature,” he wrote in his essay, Thoughts on the Relation between Christianity and Culture.

While doing his doctoral studies at the University of Freiburg, Guardini chose to focus his attention on St. Bonaventure, which was unusual since Thomism dominated theological discussions in the Church at the turn of the last century. Guardini, however, found the rigid Thomism of the day to be cold and impersonal. His decision to write his dissertation on the Soteriology of St. Bonaventure even caused conflict with his clerical superiors and prevented him from obtaining a teaching position at the seminary.

After finishing his dissertation in 1915, Guardini served in the military as a hospital orderly and directed Juventus, a Catholic organization of students. He also became close friends with Ildefons Herwege, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach, which was the center for liturgical renewal in Germany. The centrality of the liturgy became a key theme in Guardian’s faith and thought. He published The Spirit of the Liturgy in 1918 and it became a best-seller in Germany and popular work for Catholics everywhere.

He believed that the liturgy was a means to overcome the cold rationalism in the Church. He argued that the liturgy had a sort of playfulness, writing, “The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking ‘why?’ and ‘wherefore?’”  The liturgy is, to be sure, serious play, with set rules and complex symbols, but these are all in service of a deeper experience of God.

 For Guardini, the spirit of the liturgy is above all a spirit of community, uniting the faithful with each other even as it unites them to God. This theme of community in the Mass and the Church was further developed in his 1922 work, The Church and the Catholic. Against the prevailing individualism of the day or the increasing popularity of communism, both of which destroy true community, Guardini contended that the Church as the Body of Christ is a community made possible by the voluntary association of people with “free personality,” which is necessary for any true community.

After writing his second dissertation on St. Bonaventure at the University of Bonn in 1924, Guardini earned a position as the chair of Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Worldview at the University of Berlin, which was largely Protestant and anti-Catholic. This academic position at a non-Catholic university left him outside the dominant intellectual circles of the period. Also, his focus on liturgy and community was unique. He avoided Thomistic language and categories as well as the popular focus on apologetics. Further, he engaged with classic literature and world religions, areas that few Catholic thinkers dared to explore during that period.

While he was not popular in Catholic academic circles, he began to attract the attention of some of the brightest young Catholic minds, including Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Hannah Arendt. Yet even as Guardini was willing to dialogue with modern thought and other religions, there was no doubt that Jesus Christ was the unique center of all truth. But Christianity was more than a set of rigid dogmas, it was a personal engagement with the person of Jesus Christ. This explains his focus on the Church as a community and the liturgy as the pinnacle of life in the Church.

One of Guardini's earliest and most influential works offers an insight into his thought. His Letters from Lake Como is a collection of his observations about the relationship between technology and humanity. Guardini reflected on “the manner in which human beings, through their architecture and craftsmanship, interacted non-invasively and respectfully with nature.” But he noticed that this interaction had started to change in the modern world and humanity had become more aggressive and domineering toward the creation through its architecture.

Guardini argued that technology “has become a destiny that subjugates its human creators as much as their creations” and believed that the modern person “must recover a sense of the sacred before the sacred name can be heard again.” He contended that technology had introduced an artificiality of existence, abstracting the person from reality and reducing the human experience to concepts, formulas and sentiments. While acknowledging the potential benefits of technology, he said we must receive it “yet with incorruptible hearts remain aware of all that is destructive and nonhuman in it.”

The most popular work in his extensive corpus is The Lord, first published in Germany in 1937 and introduced to English readers in 1954. In The Lord, Guardini offers reflections and commentary on the life and person of Jesus Christ and what faith in Him requires. Still popular with the Catholic faithful, Pope Benedict XVI commented, “The Lord has not grown old, precisely because it still leads us to that which is essential, to that which is truly real, Jesus Christ Himself. That is why today this book still has a great mission.”

Romano Guardini reflects on the nature of faith in The Lord, “Understanding of Christ requires a complete conversion, not only of the will and the deed, but also of the mind. One must cease to judge the Lord from the wordly point of view and learn to accept His own measure of the genuine and the possible; to judge the world with His eyes. This revolution is difficult to accept and still more difficult to realize, and the more openly the world contradicts Christ's teaching, the more earnestly it defines those who accept it as fools, the more difficult that acceptance, realization. Nevertheless, to the degree that the intellect honestly attempts this right-about-face, the reality known as Jesus Christ will surrender itself. From this central reality, the doors of all other reality will swing open, and it will be lifted into the hope of the new creation.”

“God Loves You”: The Evangelical Ministry of the Venerable Fulton Sheen

When I was still a Lutheran pastor, I regularly flipped around cable channels in the evening hours after everyone had gone to bed. Whenever I landed on EWTN and saw Bishop Fulton Sheen on “Life is Worth Living,” the channel surfing came to an end. Initially, I was attracted by his dramatic flair as he strode across the screen with a wide smile, cassock and flowing cope, theatrical stares into the camera, flamboyant hand gestures and nearly indecipherable scrawling on a chalkboard while explaining a theological doctrine. He was engaging. And I listened.

The Venerable Fulton Sheen ended each show with the statement, “God loves you.” He preached Jesus Christ and the Christian faith in all of its fullness. While his winsome personality and dramatic presentation stopped me from changing the channel, the clarity of his proclamation and the depth of his understanding of the Christian faith, the modern person and the decaying Western culture made me put down the remote.

Two months before Sheen’s death on December 9, 1979, Pope St. John Paul II sent him a letter of congratulations on the occasion of his 60th anniversary as a priest. He wrote, “God called you to proclaim in an extraordinary way his dynamic word....In these six decades of your priestly service, God has touched the lives of millions of the men and women of our time.”

Sheen was one of the most influential voices for the Catholic faith in the twentieth century. He not only reached millions through his popular television show but also through his radio presence for some 20 years, 66 published books, classroom instruction, public speaking, and countless newspaper and magazine columns. Pope St. John Paul II said to him regarding his ministry, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church.”

As a Roman Catholic bishop, he was an unlikely candidate to be the first televangelist in Eisenhower America. It is even more remarkable that his popularity would attract an audience of 30 million, appear on the cover of Time and win an Emmy. His Cause for Canonization was opened in 2002, and in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI recognized him as someone who had lived a life of “heroic virtue” and proclaimed him "Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen.”

Born in El Paso, Illinois, in 1895 to Newt and Delia Sheen, Sheen grew up in a devout Catholic home. He graduated valedictorian from his high school, attended minor seminary, and completed his training for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary. He was ordained in 1919 and then started his graduate studies. After earning two bachelor degrees at The Catholic University of America, he received his doctorate from the University of Louvain. His dissertation served as the basis for his book, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy: A Critical Study in the Light of the Philosophy of St. Thomas, which included an introduction by G. K. Chesterton.

Sheen then took a faculty position at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in 1926. For the next 23 years, he developed his skills as a scholar, educator, preacher and evangelist. During his tenure at CUA, his reputation as a published academic and dynamic communicator attracted not only throngs of students, but the attention of the media. In 1930, he was asked to serve as a fill-in on “The Catholic Hour” radio program. His phenomenal popularity resulted in the program asking him to continue as a weekly host for the show. He hosted this show for the next 20 years.

Sheen’s widespread popularity can be attributed to his gift of addressing significant theological, political and cultural topics with humor, depth and clarity. Having read the entire corpus of Aquinas in Latin, he used this foundational knowledge of the Catholic faith to not only proclaim Christ but also to apply the Gospel to the difficult moral decisions and complicated social issues of the time.

The impact of his ministry is revealed in a 1937 letter that he he wrote to the CUA rector, Msgr. Joseph Corrigan, “During the past year letters demanding personal attention have run between 75 and 100 a day.... This coupled with classes never given with less than six hours preparation for each lecture has left me physically exhausted. However the good to be done is such that one dare not shrink from its opportunities for apostolate.”

In 1950, Sheen left CUA to become the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Then, after being consecrated as a bishop in 1951, he started his famous television series, “Life Is Worth Living.” Initially, only three stations carried the program. But after Life and Time magazines did feature stories on it, the show spread nationwide and drew millions of viewers, propelling him to unprecedented fame and influence for a Catholic clergyman in America.

He won the 1952 Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Television Personality. Upon receiving the award, Sheen credited Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for their valuable contribution to his success. His show was so popular at the time that it competed with popular television celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle. When Berle's ratings declined and Sheen's increased, Berle commented, “​​If I'm going to be eased off TV by anyone, it's better that I lose to the one for whom Bishop Sheen is speaking.”

Sheen had an uncanny ability to explain the mysteries of the Catholic faith in ways that were engaging and easy to understand, while never retreating from difficult theological or social topics. Each episode opened with him in full vestments offering a few jokes to introduce the topic and then writing “JMJ” (Jesus, Mary, Joseph) on his blackboard. After presenting a significant theological or philosophical issue, he would instruct the audience on how to apply the lesson to daily life and would finish with an exhortation. He would then graciously bow to applause from the studio audience.

For the six years that “Life Is Worth Living” was on-air, Sheen shared the hope of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ with an increasingly secular nation and made the faith of the Catholic Church accessible to the American public. This was significant for a Catholic community that was sorely misunderstood during that time. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recalled how "Fulton Sheen ... would fascinate us in the evenings with his talks.

In addition to this popular show, Sheen was active in raising money to support  Catholic missions through his role as director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In this role, he influenced the lives of tens of millions of people all over the world. He is also considered instrumental in the conversion of an untold number of people to Catholicism, from working-class New Yorkers he encountered in daily life to a number of recognizable celebrities who sought him out for instruction.

After the show ended, Sheen continued to be a popular author and speaker. In 1966, he was named Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester but resigned from that position in 1969. In his resignation letter, Bishop Sheen wrote, "I am not retiring, only retreading." Pope Paul VI then named him Archbishop of the Titular See of Newport, Wales.

The grace of making a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament was a central theme to Sheen’s preaching and teaching throughout his ministry. Sheen also practiced this advice. Throughout his ministry, friends and witnesses commented that he never failed to keep his holy hour from the day of his priestly ordination until his death on the floor of his private chapel in 1979. Sheen once stated, “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white Host.”

Archbishop Sheen’s cause for canonization was opened by the Diocese of Peoria in 2002, and in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed him “Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen.” In 2014, a reported miracle attributed to his intercession was approved by both the medical board that reports to the Vatican and the theological commission that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Good Friday & Emmaus Sunday

My wife and I are finishing a small cabin on 10-acres that sits on the top of a 1,000 foot hill off of 6 miles of dirt road near Checotah, which means that I have a long commute, but I do not mind. It affords me an opportunity to listen to books and podcasts, some outlaw, red dirt music or Bob Dylan. This past Good Friday, however, I switched from my regular offerings to follow a tradition that I started some 20 years ago. For my journey into Tulsa to attend Stations of the Cross at Holy Family Cathedral, I turned on J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion. The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things once wrote that he listened to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion every Good Friday and, when I was a Lutheran pastor, I started to do the same. I would close the door to my office, pour a glass of good scotch, and listen to some of the most beautiful music ever written while meditating on the Passion of Christ. This year I had a long drive so I closed the door to my car and skipped the scotch. Of course, it is a good thing to ponder on Jesus Christ and His passion on Good Friday. On Emmaus Sunday, we recall that this is also what those two men were doing as they made their commute from Jerusalem back to the town of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). It was Easter and they were discussing everything that had happened to Jesus Christ on that first Good Friday when a stranger joined them. Luke tells us that this stranger was Jesus, but they were prevented from recognizing Him. They proceeded to tell Him all about Jesus of Nazareth as well as the trial and crucifixion. Then they shared the news offered by the women who failed to find His body at the tomb. It is a rather comical scene. When their commute came to an end, they invited Him to stay with them. Luke records, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and He vanished from their sight.” (24:30-31) These disciples eyes were opened to recognize the Resurrected Jesus in the Eucharist. Luke could not make it any clearer that the Risen Christ is made known in the Eucharist, the breaking of the bread. These disciples then reflected on their commute with Jesus and reported, “how He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” As we continue our commutes in this life, our own journeys, we would do well to listen to these disciples. When we make our way to Mass, our Lord fulfills His promise to be “with us always, to the end of the age” when we feed on His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. He opens our eyes to His enduring presence among us in this most precious mystery. This should cause us to ponder on His great love for each of us and the entire world and report it to our friends and neighbors that the Risen Jesus makes Himself known in the “breaking of the bread.”

Faith of Our Fathers: Irenaeus of Lyons

In the above summary of the Rule of Faith, Irenaeus emphasizes baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the means by which God saves sinners and gives them the new birth of eternal life, making them His sons and daughters and heirs of His Kingdom. Irenaeus also stresses that God is the creator and ruler of all things and there is no other god. While these teachings are at the core of the the apostolic faith of the Church, it was necessary for Irenaeus to recount them for the early Christians as they were being confronted by false teachers who were distorting them. Irenaeus likened such false teachers to people who would take a beautiful mosaic of a king, made out of precious stones by a skillful artist, and then rearrange the tiles and jewels to make a picture of a dog or a fox, thus destroying the image of the king. These heretics, according to Irenaeus, misuse and rearrange the scriptures for their own end: “In the same way, these people patch together old women’s fables, and then pluck words and sayings and parables from here and there and wish to adapt these words of God to their fables.” (Against Heresies, 1:8:1) As such, Irenaeus believed it was essential for the church to clearly outline its teachings so that its members would not be led astray by false teachings, which turn the image of the king into a fox and threatens the message of salvation in Christ. The purpose of the Demonstration, therefore, is very straightforward. In the opening paragraph, Irenaeus addresses Marcianus with a “summary memorandum” so that he may “understand all the members of the body of truth.” In other words, it is a catechetical treatise that outlines Christianity. This is the earliest summary of Christian teaching outside of the biblical canon, although in it Irenaeus follows the examples of the great speeches in Acts, recounting all the various deeds of God culminating in the exaltation of His crucified Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the bestowal of His Holy Spirit and the gift of a new heart of flesh for humanity. It is most remarkable that Irenaeus relies almost exclusively on the witness of the Old Testament for his summary of the faith, citing the New Testament only six times. As the bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus took seriously the charge that St. Paul gave to Timothy: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (2 Tim. 1:13-14). So when Valentinian Gnostics began teaching that the “god” of the Old Testament was a lesser demiurge to Sophia, who offered a true, secret knowledge to the enlightened, Irenaeus was compelled to respond. While Gnostic teachings were diverse and had many schools of thought, they generally denied the goodness of creation and matter, locating reality and salvation only in the “spiritual” realm or in the possession of “knowledge.” The human body, then, was merely reduced to a useless shell, which amounted to a denial of the bodily resurrection. Their teachings further rejected the apostolic faith that proclaimed the one eternal Triune God and the beauty of the creation as well as the physical incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. In the Demonstration, Irenaeus exhorts his readers to hold fast to scripture and the apostolic tradition that makes salvation known through Jesus Christ. Irenaeus forcefully argues that all of the biblical witness demonstrates that the one God has revealed Himself to humanity through the patriarchs and prophets in Scripture and in history through His Son, Jesus, by the one Holy Spirit. Thus, God has brought humanity, His creation, out of the mud into a relationship with Himself. God has recreated the human race through the gift of Jesus Christ so that they are no longer under the dominion of Satan, Adam, death and hell, but through Baptism made into a new creation under the rule of Jesus Christ. If Christians follow the false teachings of the Gnostics, then they risk falling back under the reign of sin and death. “We must keep the rule of faith unswervingly, and perform the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him, for He is Lord, and loving Him, for He is Father [...] Faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, as it is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have true comprehension of what it is” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, 1:3) For the church, taking great care of faith and having a comprehension of it, reveals the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ as well as our identity as beloved children of the Father through Baptism. In what is known as his “Recapitulation Theory,” Irenaeus taught that Christ reconciled all things to Himself by being born, living, dying, and being resurrected fully human. As the race of humanity under the disobedience of Adam was subject to sin and death, the race of humanity under the obedience of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, is redeemed and given new life. (cf. 1 Cor. 15) Rather than falling to Satan like Adam, the Second Adam defeats him. Irenaeus united the economy of salvation revealed in scriptures in Jesus Christ, citing further biblical examples such as the faithlessness of Eve and the faithfulness of the Second Eve, Mary. The importance of Christ reconciling all things to Himself, for Irenaeus, meant that the baptized human had been grafted into a new humanity, made into a new person, capable of communion with God and in the process of being transformed into sons of God through partaking the divine nature. This is often referred to in Christian theology as “theosis” and has profound ramifications for humanity. As we partake of the divine life through the sacramental economy of the Church, we are in the process of being made into the image of God, our very being, transformed by His grace so that in Christ we might be recreated so that we are truly and fully human and join Him in His Kingdom at the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. So, in the Eucharist, Irenaeus teaches, “For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.” (Against Heresies 4.18.5)

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The Spirit of the Lord: The Devotion of Romano Guardini to Christ and His Church

Romano Guardini is one of the most important voices in Catholic intellectual discussions of the last century. This is most evident in the significant influence his works have had on the last three popes. While a student at the University of Munich, Pope Francis started to write a dissertation on him and recently stated, “I am convinced that Guardini is a thinker who has much to say to the men of our time, and not only to Christians.” Some scholars have argued that much of Pope Benedict XVI’s theological work is a lengthy mediation on his thought. When Benedict XVI resigned his papacy, he cited the above quote from Guardini. And Guardini’s 1918 work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, became the subject of a dialogue with Max Scheler, who was the focus of Pope St. John Paul II’s doctoral dissertation.

Moreover, Guardini’s writing and thought was considered a significant influence on the Second Vatican Council, even though personally he was dissatisfied with its implementation. Pope Paul VI even offered to make him a cardinal in 1968, but he declined. As the author of 75 books, his influence on Catholic thought continues to this day. In commemoration of his faithful life and ministry, he was declared a Servant of God in 2016. The gravity of Romano Guardian’s theological and philosophical reflections continue to impact the life of the Church and its faithful nearly 140 years after his birth.

Romano Guardini was born in Italy in 1885. A year later, his father moved the family to Mainz, Germany where he raised the family as devout Catholics. Guardini was an excellent student, but during his university years his faith was challenged by the pervasive agnosticism and atheism. He suffered from depression and experienced a spiritual crisis. When he was home on vacation, he was engaged by this passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

“It became clear to me that there exists a law according to which persons who ‘find their life,’ that is, remain in themselves and accept as valid only what immediately enlightens them, lose their individuality. If they want to reach the truth and attain the truth in their very selves, then they must abandon themselves…,” he later reflected.

After resolving his own crisis of faith, Guardini studied for the priesthood at the University of Mainz. He entered Holy Orders in 2010 and then spent the next decade serving in various parish assignments while he pursued doctoral studies in theology. Guardini's real desire was to teach in the academy so that he could explore the impact of modernity in the life of the Church and the culture. This relationship between faith and culture was central to much of his theological thought.

“The task of Christian culture is twofold: on the one hand, to penetrate and transfigure nature by grace; on the other, to unlock revelation and take possession of it by means of nature,” he wrote in his essay, Thoughts on the Relation between Christianity and Culture.

While doing his doctoral studies at the University of Freiburg, Guardini chose to focus his attention on St. Bonaventure, which was unusual since Thomism dominated theological discussions in the Church at the turn of the last century. Guardini, however, found the rigid Thomism of the day to be cold and impersonal. His decision to write his dissertation on the Soteriology of St. Bonaventure even caused conflict with his clerical superiors and prevented him from obtaining a teaching position at the seminary.

After finishing his dissertation in 1915, Guardini served in the military as a hospital orderly and directed Juventus, a Catholic organization of students. He also became close friends with Ildefons Herwege, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach, which was the center for liturgical renewal in Germany. The centrality of the liturgy became a key theme in Guardian’s faith and thought. He published The Spirit of the Liturgy in 1918 and it became a best-seller in Germany and popular work for Catholics everywhere.

He believed that the liturgy was a means to overcome the cold rationalism in the Church. He argued that the liturgy had a sort of playfulness, writing, “The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking ‘why?’ and ‘wherefore?’”  The liturgy is, to be sure, serious play, with set rules and complex symbols, but these are all in service of a deeper experience of God.

 For Guardini, the spirit of the liturgy is above all a spirit of community, uniting the faithful with each other even as it unites them to God. This theme of community in the Mass and the Church was further developed in his 1922 work, The Church and the Catholic. Against the prevailing individualism of the day or the increasing popularity of communism, both of which destroy true community, Guardini contended that the Church as the Body of Christ is a community made possible by the voluntary association of people with “free personality,” which is necessary for any true community.

After writing his second dissertation on St. Bonaventure at the University of Bonn in 1924, Guardini earned a position as the chair of Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Worldview at the University of Berlin, which was largely Protestant and anti-Catholic. This academic position at a non-Catholic university left him outside the dominant intellectual circles of the period. Also, his focus on liturgy and community was unique. He avoided Thomistic language and categories as well as the popular focus on apologetics. Further, he engaged with classic literature and world religions, areas that few Catholic thinkers dared to explore during that period.

While he was not popular in Catholic academic circles, he began to attract the attention of some of the brightest young Catholic minds, including Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Hannah Arendt. Yet even as Guardini was willing to dialogue with modern thought and other religions, there was no doubt that Jesus Christ was the unique center of all truth. But Christianity was more than a set of rigid dogmas, it was a personal engagement with the person of Jesus Christ. This explains his focus on the Church as a community and the liturgy as the pinnacle of life in the Church.

One of Guardini's earliest and most influential works offers an insight into his thought. His Letters from Lake Como is a collection of his observations about the relationship between technology and humanity. Guardini reflected on “the manner in which human beings, through their architecture and craftsmanship, interacted non-invasively and respectfully with nature.” But he noticed that this interaction had started to change in the modern world and humanity had become more aggressive and domineering toward the creation through its architecture.

Guardini argued that technology “has become a destiny that subjugates its human creators as much as their creations” and believed that the modern person “must recover a sense of the sacred before the sacred name can be heard again.” He contended that technology had introduced an artificiality of existence, abstracting the person from reality and reducing the human experience to concepts, formulas and sentiments. While acknowledging the potential benefits of technology, he said we must receive it “yet with incorruptible hearts remain aware of all that is destructive and nonhuman in it.”

The most popular work in his extensive corpus is The Lord, first published in Germany in 1937 and introduced to English readers in 1954. In The Lord, Guardini offers reflections and commentary on the life and person of Jesus Christ and what faith in Him requires. Still popular with the Catholic faithful, Pope Benedict XVI commented, “The Lord has not grown old, precisely because it still leads us to that which is essential, to that which is truly real, Jesus Christ Himself. That is why today this book still has a great mission.”

Romano Guardini reflects on the nature of faith in The Lord, “Understanding of Christ requires a complete conversion, not only of the will and the deed, but also of the mind. One must cease to judge the Lord from the wordly point of view and learn to accept His own measure of the genuine and the possible; to judge the world with His eyes. This revolution is difficult to accept and still more difficult to realize, and the more openly the world contradicts Christ's teaching, the more earnestly it defines those who accept it as fools, the more difficult that acceptance, realization. Nevertheless, to the degree that the intellect honestly attempts this right-about-face, the reality known as Jesus Christ will surrender itself. From this central reality, the doors of all other reality will swing open, and it will be lifted into the hope of the new creation.”

“God Loves You”: The Evangelical Ministry of the Venerable Fulton Sheen

When I was still a Lutheran pastor, I regularly flipped around cable channels in the evening hours after everyone had gone to bed. Whenever I landed on EWTN and saw Bishop Fulton Sheen on “Life is Worth Living,” the channel surfing came to an end. Initially, I was attracted by his dramatic flair as he strode across the screen with a wide smile, cassock and flowing cope, theatrical stares into the camera, flamboyant hand gestures and nearly indecipherable scrawling on a chalkboard while explaining a theological doctrine. He was engaging. And I listened.

The Venerable Fulton Sheen ended each show with the statement, “God loves you.” He preached Jesus Christ and the Christian faith in all of its fullness. While his winsome personality and dramatic presentation stopped me from changing the channel, the clarity of his proclamation and the depth of his understanding of the Christian faith, the modern person and the decaying Western culture made me put down the remote.

Two months before Sheen’s death on December 9, 1979, Pope St. John Paul II sent him a letter of congratulations on the occasion of his 60th anniversary as a priest. He wrote, “God called you to proclaim in an extraordinary way his dynamic word....In these six decades of your priestly service, God has touched the lives of millions of the men and women of our time.”

Sheen was one of the most influential voices for the Catholic faith in the twentieth century. He not only reached millions through his popular television show but also through his radio presence for some 20 years, 66 published books, classroom instruction, public speaking, and countless newspaper and magazine columns. Pope St. John Paul II said to him regarding his ministry, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church.”

As a Roman Catholic bishop, he was an unlikely candidate to be the first televangelist in Eisenhower America. It is even more remarkable that his popularity would attract an audience of 30 million, appear on the cover of Time and win an Emmy. His Cause for Canonization was opened in 2002, and in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI recognized him as someone who had lived a life of “heroic virtue” and proclaimed him "Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen.”

Born in El Paso, Illinois, in 1895 to Newt and Delia Sheen, Sheen grew up in a devout Catholic home. He graduated valedictorian from his high school, attended minor seminary, and completed his training for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary. He was ordained in 1919 and then started his graduate studies. After earning two bachelor degrees at The Catholic University of America, he received his doctorate from the University of Louvain. His dissertation served as the basis for his book, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy: A Critical Study in the Light of the Philosophy of St. Thomas, which included an introduction by G. K. Chesterton.

Sheen then took a faculty position at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in 1926. For the next 23 years, he developed his skills as a scholar, educator, preacher and evangelist. During his tenure at CUA, his reputation as a published academic and dynamic communicator attracted not only throngs of students, but the attention of the media. In 1930, he was asked to serve as a fill-in on “The Catholic Hour” radio program. His phenomenal popularity resulted in the program asking him to continue as a weekly host for the show. He hosted this show for the next 20 years.

Sheen’s widespread popularity can be attributed to his gift of addressing significant theological, political and cultural topics with humor, depth and clarity. Having read the entire corpus of Aquinas in Latin, he used this foundational knowledge of the Catholic faith to not only proclaim Christ but also to apply the Gospel to the difficult moral decisions and complicated social issues of the time.

The impact of his ministry is revealed in a 1937 letter that he he wrote to the CUA rector, Msgr. Joseph Corrigan, “During the past year letters demanding personal attention have run between 75 and 100 a day.... This coupled with classes never given with less than six hours preparation for each lecture has left me physically exhausted. However the good to be done is such that one dare not shrink from its opportunities for apostolate.”

In 1950, Sheen left CUA to become the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Then, after being consecrated as a bishop in 1951, he started his famous television series, “Life Is Worth Living.” Initially, only three stations carried the program. But after Life and Time magazines did feature stories on it, the show spread nationwide and drew millions of viewers, propelling him to unprecedented fame and influence for a Catholic clergyman in America.

He won the 1952 Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Television Personality. Upon receiving the award, Sheen credited Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for their valuable contribution to his success. His show was so popular at the time that it competed with popular television celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle. When Berle's ratings declined and Sheen's increased, Berle commented, “​​If I'm going to be eased off TV by anyone, it's better that I lose to the one for whom Bishop Sheen is speaking.”

Sheen had an uncanny ability to explain the mysteries of the Catholic faith in ways that were engaging and easy to understand, while never retreating from difficult theological or social topics. Each episode opened with him in full vestments offering a few jokes to introduce the topic and then writing “JMJ” (Jesus, Mary, Joseph) on his blackboard. After presenting a significant theological or philosophical issue, he would instruct the audience on how to apply the lesson to daily life and would finish with an exhortation. He would then graciously bow to applause from the studio audience.

For the six years that “Life Is Worth Living” was on-air, Sheen shared the hope of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ with an increasingly secular nation and made the faith of the Catholic Church accessible to the American public. This was significant for a Catholic community that was sorely misunderstood during that time. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recalled how "Fulton Sheen ... would fascinate us in the evenings with his talks.

In addition to this popular show, Sheen was active in raising money to support  Catholic missions through his role as director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In this role, he influenced the lives of tens of millions of people all over the world. He is also considered instrumental in the conversion of an untold number of people to Catholicism, from working-class New Yorkers he encountered in daily life to a number of recognizable celebrities who sought him out for instruction.

After the show ended, Sheen continued to be a popular author and speaker. In 1966, he was named Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester but resigned from that position in 1969. In his resignation letter, Bishop Sheen wrote, "I am not retiring, only retreading." Pope Paul VI then named him Archbishop of the Titular See of Newport, Wales.

The grace of making a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament was a central theme to Sheen’s preaching and teaching throughout his ministry. Sheen also practiced this advice. Throughout his ministry, friends and witnesses commented that he never failed to keep his holy hour from the day of his priestly ordination until his death on the floor of his private chapel in 1979. Sheen once stated, “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white Host.”

Archbishop Sheen’s cause for canonization was opened by the Diocese of Peoria in 2002, and in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed him “Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen.” In 2014, a reported miracle attributed to his intercession was approved by both the medical board that reports to the Vatican and the theological commission that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Good Friday & Emmaus Sunday

My wife and I are finishing a small cabin on 10-acres that sits on the top of a 1,000 foot hill off of 6 miles of dirt road near Checotah, which means that I have a long commute, but I do not mind. It affords me an opportunity to listen to books and podcasts, some outlaw, red dirt music or Bob Dylan. This past Good Friday, however, I switched from my regular offerings to follow a tradition that I started some 20 years ago. For my journey into Tulsa to attend Stations of the Cross at Holy Family Cathedral, I turned on J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion. The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things once wrote that he listened to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion every Good Friday and, when I was a Lutheran pastor, I started to do the same. I would close the door to my office, pour a glass of good scotch, and listen to some of the most beautiful music ever written while meditating on the Passion of Christ. This year I had a long drive so I closed the door to my car and skipped the scotch. Of course, it is a good thing to ponder on Jesus Christ and His passion on Good Friday. On Emmaus Sunday, we recall that this is also what those two men were doing as they made their commute from Jerusalem back to the town of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). It was Easter and they were discussing everything that had happened to Jesus Christ on that first Good Friday when a stranger joined them. Luke tells us that this stranger was Jesus, but they were prevented from recognizing Him. They proceeded to tell Him all about Jesus of Nazareth as well as the trial and crucifixion. Then they shared the news offered by the women who failed to find His body at the tomb. It is a rather comical scene. When their commute came to an end, they invited Him to stay with them. Luke records, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and He vanished from their sight.” (24:30-31) These disciples eyes were opened to recognize the Resurrected Jesus in the Eucharist. Luke could not make it any clearer that the Risen Christ is made known in the Eucharist, the breaking of the bread. These disciples then reflected on their commute with Jesus and reported, “how He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” As we continue our commutes in this life, our own journeys, we would do well to listen to these disciples. When we make our way to Mass, our Lord fulfills His promise to be “with us always, to the end of the age” when we feed on His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. He opens our eyes to His enduring presence among us in this most precious mystery. This should cause us to ponder on His great love for each of us and the entire world and report it to our friends and neighbors that the Risen Jesus makes Himself known in the “breaking of the bread.”

Faith of Our Fathers: Irenaeus of Lyons

In the above summary of the Rule of Faith, Irenaeus emphasizes baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the means by which God saves sinners and gives them the new birth of eternal life, making them His sons and daughters and heirs of His Kingdom. Irenaeus also stresses that God is the creator and ruler of all things and there is no other god. While these teachings are at the core of the the apostolic faith of the Church, it was necessary for Irenaeus to recount them for the early Christians as they were being confronted by false teachers who were distorting them. Irenaeus likened such false teachers to people who would take a beautiful mosaic of a king, made out of precious stones by a skillful artist, and then rearrange the tiles and jewels to make a picture of a dog or a fox, thus destroying the image of the king. These heretics, according to Irenaeus, misuse and rearrange the scriptures for their own end: “In the same way, these people patch together old women’s fables, and then pluck words and sayings and parables from here and there and wish to adapt these words of God to their fables.” (Against Heresies, 1:8:1) As such, Irenaeus believed it was essential for the church to clearly outline its teachings so that its members would not be led astray by false teachings, which turn the image of the king into a fox and threatens the message of salvation in Christ. The purpose of the Demonstration, therefore, is very straightforward. In the opening paragraph, Irenaeus addresses Marcianus with a “summary memorandum” so that he may “understand all the members of the body of truth.” In other words, it is a catechetical treatise that outlines Christianity. This is the earliest summary of Christian teaching outside of the biblical canon, although in it Irenaeus follows the examples of the great speeches in Acts, recounting all the various deeds of God culminating in the exaltation of His crucified Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the bestowal of His Holy Spirit and the gift of a new heart of flesh for humanity. It is most remarkable that Irenaeus relies almost exclusively on the witness of the Old Testament for his summary of the faith, citing the New Testament only six times. As the bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus took seriously the charge that St. Paul gave to Timothy: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (2 Tim. 1:13-14). So when Valentinian Gnostics began teaching that the “god” of the Old Testament was a lesser demiurge to Sophia, who offered a true, secret knowledge to the enlightened, Irenaeus was compelled to respond. While Gnostic teachings were diverse and had many schools of thought, they generally denied the goodness of creation and matter, locating reality and salvation only in the “spiritual” realm or in the possession of “knowledge.” The human body, then, was merely reduced to a useless shell, which amounted to a denial of the bodily resurrection. Their teachings further rejected the apostolic faith that proclaimed the one eternal Triune God and the beauty of the creation as well as the physical incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. In the Demonstration, Irenaeus exhorts his readers to hold fast to scripture and the apostolic tradition that makes salvation known through Jesus Christ. Irenaeus forcefully argues that all of the biblical witness demonstrates that the one God has revealed Himself to humanity through the patriarchs and prophets in Scripture and in history through His Son, Jesus, by the one Holy Spirit. Thus, God has brought humanity, His creation, out of the mud into a relationship with Himself. God has recreated the human race through the gift of Jesus Christ so that they are no longer under the dominion of Satan, Adam, death and hell, but through Baptism made into a new creation under the rule of Jesus Christ. If Christians follow the false teachings of the Gnostics, then they risk falling back under the reign of sin and death. “We must keep the rule of faith unswervingly, and perform the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him, for He is Lord, and loving Him, for He is Father [...] Faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, as it is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have true comprehension of what it is” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, 1:3) For the church, taking great care of faith and having a comprehension of it, reveals the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ as well as our identity as beloved children of the Father through Baptism. In what is known as his “Recapitulation Theory,” Irenaeus taught that Christ reconciled all things to Himself by being born, living, dying, and being resurrected fully human. As the race of humanity under the disobedience of Adam was subject to sin and death, the race of humanity under the obedience of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, is redeemed and given new life. (cf. 1 Cor. 15) Rather than falling to Satan like Adam, the Second Adam defeats him. Irenaeus united the economy of salvation revealed in scriptures in Jesus Christ, citing further biblical examples such as the faithlessness of Eve and the faithfulness of the Second Eve, Mary. The importance of Christ reconciling all things to Himself, for Irenaeus, meant that the baptized human had been grafted into a new humanity, made into a new person, capable of communion with God and in the process of being transformed into sons of God through partaking the divine nature. This is often referred to in Christian theology as “theosis” and has profound ramifications for humanity. As we partake of the divine life through the sacramental economy of the Church, we are in the process of being made into the image of God, our very being, transformed by His grace so that in Christ we might be recreated so that we are truly and fully human and join Him in His Kingdom at the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. So, in the Eucharist, Irenaeus teaches, “For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.” (Against Heresies 4.18.5)