Archbishop Fulton Sheen on Advent and the Christmas Mystery
Through the Year with Fulton Sheen is Sheen at his best—the master storyteller, preacher, and faithful servant of Christ—with a word of encouragement, counsel, and direction for each day of the year. With characteristic insight and eloquence, he penetrates to the heart of the Christian life with practical reflections on love, holiness, spiritual power, miracles, and Christ-like living. These daily selections provide a fresh perspective on what it means to be a follower of Christ, on the challenge of serving God and the blessings of living a grace-filled life.
Here are the daily selections for the fourth week of Advent.
Nuptials | December 19
What is the idea that runs all through scripture? It is nuptials. The covenant is based on nuptials. As we used to say in the old marriage ceremony, "Not even the flood took it away, not even sin." There was the nuptials of man and woman in the garden of Eden, the nuptials of Israel and God in the Old Testament. In the prophet Hosea: "I your Creator am your husband." God is the husband of Israel.
In that beautiful passage of the book of Hosea, God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute, a worthless woman. She leaves him, betrays him, commits adultery, has children by other men, and when the heart of Hosea is broken, God says, "Hosea, take her back, take her back. She's the symbol of Israel. Israel has been my unworthy spouse, but I love Israel, and I will never let her go." Hosea taking back the prostitute is the symbol of God's love for his qahal, his church of the Old Testament. Now we come to new nuptials, the nuptials of divinity and humanity in our Blessed Mother.
Why Christ came to earth | December 20
You may remember from Shakespeare the famous speech of Mark Anthony over Caesar. He said, "I will show you sweet Caesar's wounds, poor, poor dumb mouths and bid them speak for me." Instead of showing you Caesar's wounds, I shall show you the wounds of Christ, who is both God and man, the only one who ever came to this earth to die and to conquer it. You and I came into the world to live; he came into the world to offer his life for us. And so he founded a new type of religion.
All other religions, without exception, go from man to God, either by contemplation or by a kind of mortification and self-denial. One, for example, is the eightfold path of Buddha. But with our Blessed Lord, religion comes from God to man. We need help and, particularly, redemption from sin.
Nature is in childbirth | December 21
In this late day of creation we are troubled by pollution, and nature seems to turn against us. Will nature ever be completely liberated? Yes. Scripture tells us it is waiting for the liberation of the sons of God. When the number of the elect is completed, then there will be a new heaven and a new earth. St. Paul has a beautiful description of that in the eighth chapter of Romans. "For the created universe waits with eager expectation for God's Son to be revealed. It was made the victim of frustration, not by its own choice."
Nature did not become rebellious because it willed it, but because of him who made it so-because of us. And always there was hope, because the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of God. "Up to the present, we know, the whole created universe groans in all of its parts, as if in the pangs of childbirth." just think of it. We hardly think of nature that way. No poet has ever sung about nature being like a woman in childbirth. And yet here it is. We can hardly wait. Each sunrise, each sunset: nature is expectant. When will men serve God and the number of the elect be complete?
Heaven was not empty | December 22
When we say that God became man, we do not mean to say that heaven was empty. That would be to think of heaven as a kind of a space, like a room that was twenty by thirty feet. When God came to this world, he did not leave heaven empty. When he came to this world, he was not shaved down, whittled down to human proportions. Rather, Christ was the life of God dwelling in human flesh. St. Thomas Aquinas includes a very beautiful description of this in one of his hymns. He said, "The heavenly Word proceeding forth, yet leaving not the Father's side."
One chance in millions | December 23
A Jewish scholar who became a Christian and who knew the Old Testament very well and all of the traditions of the Jews, said that at the time of Christ the rabbis had gathered together 456 prophecies concerning the Messiah, the Christ, the conqueror of evil who was to be born and to enter into a new covenant with mankind. Suppose the chances of any one prophecy being fulfilled by accident, say the place where he would be born, was one in a hundred.
Then, if two prophecies were fulfilled, the chances would be one in a thousand. If three prophecies were to coincide in Christ, that would be one in ten thousand. If four, one in a hundred thousand. If five, one in a million. Now if all of these prophecies were fulfilled in Christ, what would be the chance of them all concurring at the appointed moment, not only in place but also in time, as was foretold by the prophet Daniel? Take a pencil and write on a sheet of paper the numeral 1, and draw a line beneath it. Under the line write 84, and after 84, if you have time, write 126 zeros. That is the chance of all of the prophecies of Christ being fulfilled. It runs into millions and millions, trillions and trillions.
No room in the inn | December 24
Mary is now with child, awaiting birth, and Joseph is full of expectancy as he enters the city of his own family. He searched for a place for the birth of him to whom heaven and earth belonged. Could it be that the Creator would not find room in his own creation? Certainly, thought Joseph, there would be room in the village inn. There was room for the rich; there was room for those who were clothed in soft garments; there was room for everyone who had a tip to give to the innkeeper.
But when finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: "There was no room in the inn." No room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there's no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.
Now we come to what our Lord said about heaven. It was the night of the Last Supper. Jesus gathered about him all his apostles-poor, weak, frail men. He washed their feet. He was facing the agony in the garden, and that terrible betraying kiss of Judas, and even the denial of Peter himself. One would think that all the talk would be about himself. Certainly, when we have trials, that is what we think about. But our Lord thought about the apostles. He saw the sadness in their faces, and he said, "Be not troubled, do not be sad, I go to prepare a place for you. In my father’s house there are many mansions." How did he know about the Father’s house? He came from there. That was his home. Now preparing to go back home, he tells them about the Father’s house and he says, "I go to prepare a place for you."
God never does anything for us without great preparation. He made a garden for Adam, as only God knows how to make a garden beautiful. Then, when the Jews came into the promised land, he prepared the land for them. He said he would give them houses full of good things, houses which they never built. He said that he would give them vineyards and olive trees which they never planted. just so, he goes to prepare a place for us. Why? Simply because we were not made for heaven; we were made for earth. Man, by sin, spoiled the earth, and God came down from heaven in order to help us remake it. After having redeemed us, he said that he would now give us heaven, so we got all this: the earth, and heaven too.
Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:
• What In Christmas Season Grows: On the Days Leading Up to the Nativity of the Lord | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• Christmas: Sign of Contradiction, Season of Redemption | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• The God in the Cave | G.K. Chesterton
• The Incarnation | Frank Sheed
• The Perfect Faith of the Blessed Virgin | Carl E. Olson
• Mary Immaculate | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
• Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward
• The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
• "Born of the Virgin Mary" | Paul Claudel
• The Old Testament and the Messianic Hope | Thomas Storck
• "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary" | Hans Urs von Balthasar
Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) is considered by many to be the most influential Catholic of the 20th century in America. Millions of people watched his incredibly popular television series every week, "Life is Worth Living", and millions more listened to his radio program, "The Catholic Hour". Wherever he preached in public, standing-room-only crowds packed churches and halls to hear him. He had the same kind of charisma and holiness that attracts so many people to Pope John Paul II, who called Sheen "a loyal son of the Church."
Sheen was a prolific author whose books included his Life of Christ, The Priest Is Not His Own, The World's First Love, and his autobiography, Treasure In Clay.