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“:
The German Jesuit priest Fr. Alfred Delp had just enough time to scribble a letter on December 22, 1944 before being handcuffed again. He was executed by the Nazis less than two months later.
Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote:
Pope Francis has a lot of countercultural recommendations and one upon which I came the other day is to remember the times that we have suffered most.
Usually, we want to forget the times we’ve suffered. Maybe we consoled ourselves in the midst of some trial saying, “This too shall pass.” And, once it has passed, we’re happy to move on from it.
But Pope Francis says, “I believe that in this time of the pandemic it is good for us to remember even of the times we have suffered the most: not to make us sad, but so as not to forget, and to guide us in our choices in the light of a very recent past.”
Today a friend of mine sent me a text with Ed Sheeran’s new-ish song “Visiting Hours” because, as she noted in her caption accompanying the video, it’s “On Mortality.”
I’ve listened to the song several times today, including watching the video of its premiere on the occasion of the state memorial for Michael Gudinski in whose memory Sheeran wrote the song in tribute.
In addition to being incredibly talented, there are other reasons why this song at this time is topping charts and resonating worldwide with the global population that has endured the pandemic – paradoxically, collectively and in isolation.
The first line begins, “I wish that Heaven had visiting hours…”
If there was any doubt that people could connect with such a paradisiacal lyric before the pandemic, the doubt has been resolved. The past two years, we have realized that we wish for our world to have visiting hours, too.
This evening I was contemplating the frantic modern aphorism YOLO – you only live once – in juxtaposition with today’s psalm (Psalm 90) which says, “So teach the number of our days, so that we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.”
The verse that I found most striking from this psalm, however, is this one: “Cause us to rejoice according to the days that You afflicted us, the years that we saw evil.”
Rashi’s commentary offers: “Cause us to rejoice in the days of our Messiah according to the number of days that You afflicted us in the exiles and according to the number of years that we experienced evil.”
Or, in other words: Redeem whatever time we spent not truly living. As many days as were sorrowful, give us glorious ones.
How natural is it to pray: As many days as we lived during the pandemic, give us in health and freedom and adventure.
Sometimes we don’t only live once. Sometimes we live affliction, then rejoicing. Sometimes we live exile, then return. Sometimes we live desolation, then hope.
Sometimes everything that wasn’t truly living can be somewhat redeemed, even in this life.
And when that happens, it’s like living (at least) twice.
Pope Francis has initiated a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly which was held this year on Sunday, July 25th with the theme, “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20).
Speaking about the day, His Eminence Cardinal Kevin Farrell said, “The World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is a celebration. We really needed it: after such a difficult year we truly need to celebrate, grandparents and grandchildren, young and old. ‘We should celebrate and rejoice’ says the Father in the parable. A new page opens after dramatic months of difficulty. Pope Francia invites us to take a step further, he speaks to us of tenderness. Tenderness towards the elderly is needed because, as the Holy Father recalls in the message we present to you today, the Virus ‘has been much harsher with them’. For this reason, the Pope hopes that an angel will visit, and will come down to console them in their solitude, and he imagines that this angel looks like a young person who visits an elderly person.”
Dr. Vittorio Scelzo added, “In these days we will launch a social campaign and invite everyone – especially the younger people – to tell about the visits and initiatives that will develop using the hashtag #IamWithYouAlways.”
Below are some of the kinds of tweets I found when searching this hashtag. It is wonderful to see this civilizing initiative of valuing the elderly more profoundly.
Sometimes I wonder about how we will look back at this Covid period of our lives.
Will this time be regarded as “lost years” or “missing years”?
Will we be able to recall events clearly or will they be blurred, absent the ordinarily vivid and communal expressions of milestones?
And, will trauma and grief be suppressed by gradual good humour and selective nostalgia?
In The Year of Our Lord 1943, Alan Jacobs writes about the effects of the end of World War II saying, “As war comes to an end, and its exigencies cease, and people return to a freedom absent for so long that its return is discomforting, they think of the apparent lawlessness of Nature and Man alike…”
A few pages later, Jacobs says:
One of the most well-known Hebrew songs, Kol Ha’Olam Kulo has these simple lyrics:
The whole world
is a very narrow bridge
a very narrow bridge
a very narrow bridge
The whole world
is a very narrow bridge –
A very narrow bridge.
And the main thing to recall –
is not to be afraid –
not to be afraid at all.
And the main thing to recall –
is not to be afraid at all.
Today there is a very interesting piece published in The New York Times titled, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”
This article describes the paradoxical combination of restlessness and lethargy that many people are now experiencing as “languishing.”
It turns out the etymology of the word is “to fail in strength, exhibit signs of approaching death” and the word is derived from the Latin word languere meaning to be listless, sluggish, and lacking in vigour.
The whole New York Times piece is very much worth reading because the author is not only articulate in describing the phenomenon but is also edifying in proposing some possible antidotes.
Adam Grant writes:
Jozef De Veuster was a Belgian Catholic who asked God to be sent on a mission.
Having done his formation for the priesthood in Belgium, he was then sent to Honolulu and was ordained two months later.
He took the name Damien and began his priestly ministry in the Hawaiian Islands.
During Fr. Damien’s time, there was a public health crisis. Mortality rates were high due to infectious diseases for which there was no herd immunity. Chinese workers were suspected of having brought the disease to the islands. The outbreak was not well understood and experts were unsure as to how it spread, whether it could be cured, and whether transmission could be stopped. The government passed mandatory quarantine legislation, even sending some people to isolate in remote locations. The officials insisted that these were not prisons, but there was certainly not enough medical supplies or doctors and nurses. Some experts thought the lepers would be better off dead. One health official conjectured, “It would seem that even demons themselves would pity their condition and hasten their death.”