Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) found his Irish heritage provided a multitude of teachable moments — about humor, the vagaries of everyday life and our shared path toward Heaven illumined by the light of Christ.
Saint Patrick’s Day often found the famed priest, author, and television personality giving a speech about the Emerald Isle and her patron saint. He found any day was proper for a discourse about Ireland. Sheen loved Irish humor; he attributed the cheerful disposition of the Irish to how they view the world — and beyond.
“The Irishman enjoys life, I repeat, because he lives in a bigger universe than anyone else. He lives in the universe of eternity as well as of time,” Sheen told a St. Patrick’s Day crowd at the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick banquet at New York’s Astor Hotel. “Ireland may be a small island, but every Irishman is bigger than Ireland. The earth may be a small earth, but every Irishman lives on a bigger earth than the earth. In a certain sense, it is therefore true to say that no Irishman is ever at home in Ireland, or that every Irishman is homeless at home.”
Sheen wore his Irish-American heritage like a proud son of Erin. Several of his grandparents emigrated from County Roscommon and Dublin. He saw in Ireland a special connection to America, the Catholic Church and to Christ himself. He noted Ireland’s long history of persecution and suffering, which brought it into unity with the sufferings of Our Blessed Lord. He likened the history of Éire to the Holy Mass, with the offertory being the appearance of St. Patrick, the sacrifice being Irish faith, and Communion the understanding and love of sacrifice of the Irish spread around the world.
“So multitudinous have been the sacrifices on this great altar stone of Ireland, that when on Judgment Day God sends forth His angels to sign with the sign, and seal with the seal of the Cross those destined to eternal salvation, He will find the Irish already marked,” Sheen told a Dublin audience, “for if God makes those whom He loves suffer, oh how he must love the Irish! Who will deny that all Ireland was like another Cross on which Christ was offered? Why, a finger might have dipped itself in the blood shed about that altar of sacrifice and written in its plains and valleys the whole history of Ireland.”
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