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What Fulton Sheen Did When Churches Were Closed

I remember my utter shock and disbelief when our diocese closed all the churches. It seemed like an impossibility (and still does) that there would be no sacraments available to the laity. How does this make sense? In the time of global pandemic and such fear and uncertainty, the sacraments are what we seem to need the most! Yet we know that when God allows something to be taken from us, it is to teach us something, and ultimately to bring about a greater good through His Church’s suffering. But what good could possibly come from being deprived of the sacraments?

I think there are many reasons God has allowed this global pandemic, but in this particular area of our Catholic faith, God desires to bring about greater devotion and love for what is holy and set apart — namely, the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist! We know that the Church at large has, at the very least, taken for granted the immense and unimaginable gift of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We know this not only from the lack of reverence we see owed to God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass , but also by the recent Pew study that showed that only one third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence. Am I the only one who finds it odd that once this study was made public, there was not an outcry of reform from the hierarchy? There wasn’t — it was business as usual.

One doesn’t have to be a theologian or part of the clergy to know that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith and should be upheld and defended at all cost. Therefore, when it is not upheld and rightly adored within the hearts of many of our bishops and priests, it is not surprising to see the trickle-down effect that their lack of devotion has had on the laity. So many of the faithful are careless and lazy in their preparation for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and make no effort to ready their souls for the reception of Holy Communion. I can’t say I necessarily fault them. I might be in the same category if I had not been fortunate enough to be well catechized.

But this shows an underlying problem. People, by and large, aren’t seeking the beauty and knowledge of their faith. If they were, it would be self-evident. Our adoration chapels would be full. Daily Mass attendance would be for not just the elderly. And maybe, when it came time for the moment of the greatest gift and miracle of our lives, receiving the God of the Universe (Love itself) into our bodies, we might just act in a manner that makes apparent the reality and the depths and gravity of what is taking place.

Now is the time for every Catholic to seek more than we have ever sought before! If this shuttering of churches is not a wake-up call for Catholics, I don’t know what is. We must strive with even greater fervor to stay close to Jesus in these times of so much spiritual deprivation and sin within the Church and without. Bishop Fulton Sheen once said:

Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and your religious act like religious.

The time is now for the laity to band together and make reparation unto God for our own sins; for the sins of our Church leaders who have allowed the seed of irreverence toward the Holy Eucharist to grow and multiply; and for the sins of the world at large, whose people have outright rejected and condemned some of God’s most basic laws.

I believe that God is allowing Catholics to be denied the sacraments to awaken us to the fact that His Real Presence has been uncared for and unloved by so many. How many times daily is He received unworthily in Holy Communion? “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying” (1 Cor. 11:27–30). How many times do the visible fragments of the Eucharist fall to the ground without the faithful caring or knowing because we’ve disposed of patens and embraced Holy Communion in the hand?

For these reasons and more, I would like to recommend a certain devotion to make up for man’s lack of love and reverence to Jesus, who loves us so deeply that He takes the form of bread so we might literally consume His whole being.

My inspiration for this devotion comes from a man who I believe is a saint: Venerable Fulton Sheen. Bp. Sheen was known for making a daily adoration hour. However, when he had to travel and could not go to adoration during the day, while the churches were open, in the evening, he would find the closest Catholic Church, park his car in the parking lot, and make his adoration hour there, as close to Jesus as he could get.

Well…our churches are closed, but their parking lots aren’t!

Just because our adoration chapels are closed, that doesn’t mean we have to stop adoring because of a wall or two that separate us from Jesus’s Real Presence. He knows the sacrifice we’re making. He knows we desire with all our hearts to be in His Presence. Those of us who had our weekly adoration hour, why stop? Why not make that sacrifice in order to get as close to Him as we can?

Did not Mary Magdalene go to the tomb where Jesus’s body was laid after the Crucifixion for the purpose of being close to the body of Christ? Did she not weep because His body was no longer there? What about us? Do we weep that the doors to our churches have been closed, where Christ dwells? If Mary Magdalene went to visit the tomb of Jesus anticipating to reverence His dead body, how much more should you and I go to our Catholic churches to be as close to the living Jesus as we can be? Should we not beg God to roll away the stone that keeps us from the nourishing spiritual food of the sacraments, most especially the Bread of Life?

But maybe before God rolls away the boulder of our locked churches, we must come to realize what the boulder represents. Could the boulder possibly represent the weight of our crushing sins? If it is because of man’s sinfulness, man must make reparation to God for his offenses, most especially those toward His Real Presence. And let us not forget the parable of the persistent friend we read about in Luke 11:5–8, where Jesus tells the story of a man who shows up at his friend’s house late in the night to ask for bread to feed his unexpected guest. At the end of the story Jesus says: “I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.”

Just like the man who approached his friend’s house and knocked on his door to ask persistently for of bread to feed himself and his friends physically, we too should persistently approach the house of God and spiritually knock on the door to His house and beg for the bread that feeds us and our friends spiritually with the eternal life of Jesus Christ.

When the churches were closed due to normal office hours, it didn’t stop Fulton Sheen from making his adoration hour in the parking lot. The boulder didn’t stop Mary Magdalene from visiting the Body of Christ. Neither should a worldwide pandemic stop the faithful from getting as close to Jesus as we possibly can. In fact, it should be reason to pursue Him all the more!

At this unprecedented time, my prayer is that, as Catholics, we may live out the name “Catholic,” which means universal, and come together universally, to the doors of our closed churches where Jesus is present among us, so that together we may with one voice cry out, “Lord, we believe, and we ask for mercy and pardon for all those who do not believe.”

Image: Heather Cowper via Flickr.

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