‘Venerable’ Archbishop Sheen brings us hope

rachel1639    In case you missed it, our church received some exciting news on June 28 when Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI. Don’t worry if you feel left out of the loop, though. It may have been difficult for anyone to hear about this right away, considering it occurred on the same day that Obamacare survived the Supreme Court. However, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.”
    Archbishop Sheen was a man who preached the Gospel fearlessly in spite of much criticism. Talking about Jesus in the media is no easy thing to do. It is a role that requires great courage. Archbishop Sheen also knew it would inevitably require him to suffer. Declared by the pope as a man of “heroic virtue,” Sheen understood that he must constantly die to himself in order to live for Christ. He knew that sainthood, in one sense or another, means martyrdom.
    It appears to be more than “mere coincidence” that martyrdom should keep popping up at a time like this. During the last two weeks, the liturgical calendar celebrated a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power. Simultaneously, the U.S. bishops called for a Fortnight of Freedom in which we were asked to pray, to study and to engage in conversation about religious liberty. The vigils of the feast days of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were at the start of this great hymn of prayer for our country. These are two saints who should be a great inspiration for us during our nation’s current crisis.

fultonsheen    We always hope that being a faithful citizen goes hand-in-hand with being a faithful disciple. Yet, the example of these men reminds us that when unjust laws are passed that violate our consciences, we are called to be faithful to Christ first – and we must be prepared to face the consequences. They remind us that our lives are not our own. We live for someone greater than ourselves, and it is worth it to lay down our lives for his glory.
    When our religious freedom is under attack, it is natural for us to wonder what we can do about it. As young adults, we feel able and willing to “fight” – but the ways in which we can do so are sometimes unclear. Perhaps the best thing we can do at a time like this is turn to the church in her infinite wisdom for the answers that we seek. What is she saying to us at this critical moment in our nation’s history? She is telling us, “Look at the martyrs” –  and she is saying it with purpose.
    The word “martyr” itself comes from the Greek word meaning “witness.” That’s what a martyr is – a witness. When people see others willing to give up their lives for something greater than themselves, they are changed. The witness of martyrdom does something drastic to the human heart. In the words of Tertullian, the second century church father, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Put very simply, martyrdom leads to conversion.
    It is quite clear that it is no longer enough for us to simply be believers. We need to be witnesses. Certainly there will be times when we are called to speak, but the church doesn’t need more people who can argue well. The church needs us to be saints. More than anything, the church needs us to be who we were created to be.
    St. Catherine of Siena tells us, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!” Take a look at the state of the world around you. It needs to be set ablaze.
    At a time where it has become difficult for many people to see the end of this dark tunnel our nation is in, the veneration of Archbishop Sheen brings us the light of great hope. We are encouraged by his example, and the example of the saints before him, to be courageous and to keep living the Gospel at all costs. We are reminded that martyrdom, whether physical or spiritual, leads to victory. Our example will change hearts and minds when we show that we cannot be forced to keep our religion behind church walls.
    As Blessed John Paul II often said to young people, we cannot be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium. We cannot be afraid to live our lives for Christ. Our church and our nation cannot afford our forfeit. They need our witness now more than ever. They need you and me to be bold lovers of Christ. They need us to keep being genuinely and unabashedly Catholic.
    Rachel Varisco, who attends Our Lady of Holy Cross College,  is a summer intern with the Clarion Herald. She can be reached at rvarisco@clarionherald.org.

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