“And fear not them which kill the body”

This evening I have been reflecting on the life and legacy of Fulton J. Sheen, one of the most influential Catholics of the twentieth century who died on this day at age 84 in 1979.

In 2011, I read his autobiography Treasure in Clay, which is really splendid. Tonight I was reminded that he dictated parts of it shortly before his death “from his sickbed as he clutched a crucifix.”

I want to share with you an excerpt from a brief piece by Fulton Sheen titled “Dying to Live“:

It is one of the curious anomalies of present day civilization that when man achieves greatest control over nature, he has the least control over himself. The great boast of our age is our domination of the universe: we have harnessed the waterfalls, made the wind a slave to carry us on wings of steel, and squeezed from the earth the secret of its age. Yet, despite this mastery of nature, there perhaps never was a time when man was less a master of himself. He is equipped like a veritable giant to control the forces of nature, but is as weak as a pigmy to control the forces of his passions and inclinations.

If, indeed, this life is a vale of character making, and if it involves conflict with those forces and powers which would drag us away from our ideals, then it behooves us to realize that the truest conquest is self-conquest, that true progress may more properly consist in mastering our rampant impulses and selflsh desires, than in mastering the winds and seas. But this conquest of self cannot be attained except by a struggle which in Christian language is mortiflcation. Mortification means dying to live for the love of God.

It’s an interesting point to consider: How much are we doing to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19? We have testing, vaccines, masks, distancing, travel restrictions, etc., etc., etc., etc. And yet, how much are we doing to prevent getting and spreading moral disorder? Do we know what these measures even look like?

On the anniversary of Fulton Sheen’s death, it is good to meditate on the verse: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28)

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