Yesterday, some of the Word on Fire team traveled with Brandon Vogt to Peoria, Illinois, for a special Mass celebrating Archbishop Fulton Sheen's recently declared "venerability." So, what exactly does that mean? Today, Rozann Carter takes a moment to reflect on the term and to share some photos from the event.
If I weren’t Catholic, I might think that was a sinister term (not unlike “notorious,” a term that I mistakenly used to describe St. Therese’s “Little Way” at one point in my time here at Word on Fire. Oops.). If I didn’t know better, my first impression would be that venerable could be used to depict the wily ways of a character off of one of the earlier, more kitschy versions of Batman. I’m thinking someone with a cape…
Well, at least I had the cape part right.
Yesterday, Brandon Vogt, Sean Lee, and I drove from Chicago to Peoria to attend the Celebrate Sheen Mass at the home parish of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the world renown evangelist, theologian, and holy man of the mid-twentieth century who reached over 4 million viewers weekly during his primetime television hour. The Mass was organized to commemorate the recent declaration that the first step in Archbishop Sheen’s cause for canonization, the initial benchmark to him eventually (God willing) being declared “Saint Fulton Sheen” has been made. Now, the Vatican has spoken, the cause is underway. However, that hour and a half in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria taught me that “venerable” —only one short step away from “blessed”—encompassed much more than Fulton Sheen’s Batman-style cape (which the Church technically refers to as a “ferriola”).
I should begin by admitting that yesterday was, like the term “venerable,” very Catholicky —in all its bells & smells, goosebump-inducing Latin chants, Knights of Columbus feathery regalia, distinctive Catholic vocabulary glory. And, reveling in the pope-liness of it all, we found ourselves in an intense game of “Would You Rather” on our road trip through the Illinois cornfields. I posed the first question:
“Would you rather be forced to wear the ferriola of Archbishop Fulton Sheen every day for a year or sport the haircut of St. Francis of Assisi (tonsure) for 6 months?
Brandon: I’m not seeing a negative here. Is there a both/and option?
Me: Okay, Brandon: Supercuts, right after Mass. Done and done, St. Francis of Gotham City.
Me: But Sean, seriously. You have to wear it to work, you have to wear it to casual BBQs. You even have to wear it to the gym! Are you sure?
Sean: A ferriola at the gym? That would enhance the workout. For sure.
Maybe we are dorks. The game continued with a question related to Archbishop Sheen’s famous quote, “Listening to a nun’s confession is like being stoned to death with popcorn…” which hastened our arrival in Peoria. (“I think I would rather drive 3 hours every day to central Illinois than be stoned to death with popcorn?”) We found our seats and opened our programs to read a bit about both Fulton Sheen and this special event.
The Celebrate Sheen Mass proved that the process of seeking an official declaration of a holy person as “venerable” is complicated. It involves a compilation of stories and accounts, writings and interactions, evidence of miracles and signs of intercession. A person’s sanctity is uncovered and presented, subjected to a counter-argument from “the devil’s advocate,” and intensely researched to determine if it is appropriate to imitate. But, as the doors of that Cathedral opened yesterday, people poured in from all across the nation to joyfully take part in that process, to attest to the holiness of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
The church was packed. As the bishops and priests processed into the church through the lines of knights holding their ceremonial swords, as the incense heavily floated into the air and up to the classic gothic ceiling, and as light poured in through the vibrant stained glass windows—the orchestra played and choir sang the familiar hymn, “Lift High the Cross.”
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, ‘til all the world adore his sacred name.
As the song played, it occured to me that that was venerability. The higher a person’s life lifts the cross of Christ, the more apparent their sanctity. The higher they lift, the less they are visible, and the more their mission becomes one with that of the Church, to proclaim the love of Christ. This sanctity, this lived evangelization, calls all the world not to simply recognize his sacred name, as if to be forced out of ignorance, but to adore— to be drawn into an irresistible relationship with the one who is Love itself. The heart of holiness is the persistence with which one’s entire life presents that “offering”—that beckoning to adoration— in every encounter. Yesterday’s Mass and the process that preceded that celebration was an attempt to lift high a holy servant of God so that the cross he held for 84 years could be visible to the Church faithful for generations to come.
And, as we honored Venerable Fulton Sheen’s complete dedication to Christ, as we encountered his holiness on full display, it occurred to me that this pilgrimage served as another type of spiritual exercise. Seated in the pews all around us were manifestations of God’s love who were also called to be “venerable,” to be blessed, to be saints. What would it be like if we spent our lives guided by the mentality that had led those pilgrims to Peoria—a compelling desire to witness to the beauty of another’s soul, to lift up and promote his dignity and sanctity, to uncover who she is in the eyes of God so as to help her live in a state of sanctifying grace—in adoration?
Seems to me that venerability is contagious, and the condition is best spread by the process of finding it in another.
Rozann Carter is the Creative Director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
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Brandon Vogt met up with Catholic author and blogger, Lisa Hendey, who has written numerous books and articles on Catholic Motherhood.
In addition, the family who sought and received the intercession of Archbishop Fulton Sheen when their infant son was stillborn came to the Mass to attest to this miracle. Brandon is pictured here with Bonnie Ergstrom and her son "James Fulton." Read the miraculous store here.
Oh, and look who else made an appearance:
Little Flower, pray for us!