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January 03, 2005

Memory Comes Back

Many thanks to Patricia Kossmann for calling attention to the 25th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on Dec. 9 of this year.

During the seasons of his Life Is Worth Living television series, the bishop would periodically decamp across the Hudson for a few days. His objective? The so-called bishop’s suite in St. Michael’s Monastery of the Passionists in Union City, N.J.

As seminarians, we took turns bringing Bishop Sheen a mid-morning snack of coffee, or mid-afternoon tea with a Danish or cookies. We all noticed the small piles of lined yellow foolscap on the floor along the walls. One classmate finally asked: Bishop, are those the drafts of your future talks? The answer: No, Confrater, each pile has drafts of separate paragraphs for the one talk I’m working on at the time.

As I begin to write a new homily, that memory comes back and gives me the courage to keep trying. Maybe it’s the same for my good classmates.

(Most Rev.) Norbert M. Dorsey, C.P.
Bishop Emeritus
Orlando, Fla.

Magical Encounter

Patricia Kossmann’s excellent article Remembering Fulton Sheen (12/6) brought back a host of pleasant memories of a time when a charismatic Catholic priest captivated television audiences of every creed. In those long-ago days in the 1950’s, when not every family had a television set, I gathered on Tuesday evenings with up to 20 others to watch Life Is Worth Living, featuring Fulton J. Sheen. It was an event not to be missed, and I was always one of the few Catholics among the neighbors who sat mesmerized in front of that tiny television set.

Some years later, around 1963, I was the principal of the American school for military dependent children located near the Plaza Castilla in Madrid. A friend working for our embassy tipped me off that Fulton Sheen was to say Mass the next morning at the Jesuit church just down the street from the embassy.

On that day I asked my Spanish secretary to cover for me, jumped into my Volkswagen bug and headed to the church. Much to my surprise, the number attending Mass seemed the same as on any normal weekday. I appeared to be the only American in attendance, which struck me as odd because of Fulton Sheen’s celebrity status.

At the end of Mass, I waited on the granite steps of the church like some star-struck teenager waiting for a rock star. The bishop soon emerged from the church accompanied by a priest, who turned out to be Irish. I engaged the great man in conversation for a very few minutes, and as I could see he was waiting to hail a taxi, I offered to drive him to his hotel. He graciously accepted my offer, and the two priests crowded into the Volkswagen, with the great man sitting in front.

I failed to ask the name of their hotel, and I proceeded to drive back toward the school. After a good 20 minutes and a never-to-be-forgotten conversation, I was asked if this was the way to the Hilton Hotel. Embarrassed, I did a quick U-turn and headed back into the city.

Arriving at the Hilton, Bishop Sheen graciously thanked me for the ride and for the conversation. During the whole trip, which took just a little less than an hour, the Irish priest said nothing, nor did I once even acknowledge his presence. Alighting from the little car, he gave me a wink, a smile and a handshake, and I headed back to school.

Though this took place well over 40 years ago, I still have vivid memories of that magical brief encounter.

Richard Strickland
Steilacoom, Wash.

Turn for the Worse

The Hidden Costs of War (11/8) was heartwrenching. It shed light on the all too common reality of some of the more hidden effects of war. When will we learn?

I prayed hard that we would not drop the bombs on Iraq that faithless night. It was as if I realized how much suffering this would bring to so many people in Iraq and in the United States and ultimately to all of humanity for years and years. As the television presented us with the light show, I could see beneath the clouds of smoke. What I saw on the ground was shattered bodies, destroyed buildings and little children screaming in terror.

The next morning, after Mass, I saw a friend across the chapel who I knew understood the magnitude of what it all meant. As I walked toward her I began to sob uncontrollably and dissolved in her arms. It was one of those days when we knew that history had again made a turn for the worse.

Some people re-elected President Bush on moral grounds, but the war in Iraq may be the greatest immorality of our time. Some people think the president will protect us from terrorists, but terrorists will fight all the harder against a bully. When will we learn that if we do not want war, we must stop making enemies?

Now that the election is over, I pray for our national leaders; and believe me, the Holy Spirit had to work hard on me for this one. So we must unite and support what we can, object to what we cannot and have the wisdom to know the difference. We must do some good for our country and for the world. We are blessed, and that means responsible; so God help us.

Irene Osborne
Billings, Mont.

Nationalist Christianity

Many people of faith, especially Catholics and other Christians, easily could be seriously troubled by the moral implications of our recent presidential and congressional elections. Particularly distressing for me was the caricature of the Christian Gospel put forth by many political partisans and the number of American bishops (and priests) who publicly left the mainstream thought of the bishops’ conference’s superb document Faithful Citizenship in order, it seems, to pursue a thinly disguised political partisanship. The regular use of the phrases pro-life and respect life seemed deliberately misleading, because in comparison to our church’s whole social justice teaching, its proponents were so selective about whose lives were to be protected. True religious faith and authentic patriotism (which includes legitimate dissent) were frequently distorted in order to accomplish a turn to a messianic nationalist Christianity.

My concern was compounded, because instead of an intense focus on the common good, many regarded the hegemonic power of the United States as an overriding good and because one-fifth of our country’s population who are now living below the federal poverty level were rendered invisible in the political campaign. The intentional conflating, by some, of the nation of Iraq and international terrorism (especially Al Qaeda’s) seemed particularly disingenuous to me. The continuous role of fear during the campaign was disheartening to me because it smacked of self-serving manipulation of the electorate.

It saddened me further that the lives of over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians and the wounds of countless more civilians seemed unimportant, that tens of millions of dollars were spent not on clarifying issues and positions but on trying to destroy the character of another and that the money and officers of multinational corporations apparently had a dominating influence. Furthermore, that people who actively defended themselves against a pre-emptive invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation were curiously called insurgents was personally disturbing, as was the highly dubious quality of some so-called news reporting and the questionable absence of a paper trail in some electronic voting systems, including in Ohio.

The Christianity I understand anoints disciples of Jesus Christ to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to encourage the brokenhearted and to proclaim the Father’s kingdom of mercy, justice, peace, reconciliation, love and compassion. Perhaps now is the time to work prayerfully, energetically and patriotically toward a third major political party, whose platform would honestly embrace an authentic and consistent ethic of life based on the church’s entire biblical and tradition-based social justice teaching.

(Rev) F. Anthony Gallagher
Grand Rapids, Ohio

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