One of my favorite Catholic writers is the late Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen:
Venerable Fulton John Sheen (born Peter John Sheen, May 8, 1895 – December 9, 1979) was an American bishop (later archbishop) of the Catholic Church known for his preaching and especially his work on television and radio. His cause for canonization as a saint was officially opened in 2002. In June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI officially recognized a decree from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints stating that he lived a life of “heroic virtues” – a major step towards beatification – so he is now referred to as “Venerable”.
At one time, this unabashed promoter of the Catholic faith and its teachings was the most popular media figure in America. Anyone old enough to remember his radio or television programs will know why. His personality was warm and appealing, and his presentations were models of clarity and conviction.
Just yesterday I stumbled over a statement from Archbishop Sheen that I hadn’t remembered:
“The world is living today in what might be described as an era of carnality, which glorifies sex, hates restraint, identifies purity with coldness, innocence with ignorance, and turns men and women into Buddhas with their eyes closed, hands folded across their breasts, intently looking inward, thinking only of self.”
I think Sheen wrote that during the Sixties: before the Internet, before the porn explosion, before the de facto legalization of everything sexual short of rape, and before the emergence of such “interest groups” as the North American Man-Boy Love Association and the Freedom From Religion foundation.
What would Sheen think of today? I doubt he’d be less scathing. He might be too stunned to speak coherently. He’d goggle at the recent Balenciaga ad with a toddler holding a teddy bear in a bondage harness.
Your personal opinion of contemporary conditions and trends is in part a consequence of the cultural matrix that formed you. Sheen was born in 1895 and raised in Peoria, Illinois. He became a Catholic priest in 1919 and spent the next six decades in the service of God and the Faith. His cultural matrix regarded sex as supremely private, licit only within a sacramental marriage, and oriented principally toward reproduction.
As a priest sworn to celibacy, Sheen’s parishioners, listeners, and viewers would expect that he had no personal experience of sex or marriage. He was promulgating the Faith, and such was his fervor and his saintly way of conducting himself that virtually no one would have doubted his virginity. Only a case-hardened cynic would have entertained any doubts about him – and even a cynic’s cynic would never have voiced them.
Today it’s commonplace for the irreligious to scoff at the chastity of a Catholic priest. So what if they’ve vowed it before God and have taken on clerical duties? “They’re only human,” is the mocker’s rejoinder. “Besides, if they sin they can just confess it to one another.”
If you haven’t had any contact with persons who think and talk that way, you’ve led a remarkably sheltered life. Such is the cultural matrix of our time, and the perspective it inculcates in those raised in it.
Our era has ceased to believe that a man can make a promise to God and keep it thereafter. Granted that the vow of chastity is a demanding one that’s opposed by the urges of the body and frequently, of the heart as well. Yet the overwhelming majority of candidates for the priesthood make that vow sincerely, fully aware that they will be tempted to the limit of their strength.
Today, the temptations are everywhere. It requires all of a healthy man’s strength of character to remain true to such a vow. Do some fail and fall? I have no doubt of it. But the presumption abroad among laymen is that they will all fail and fall. That is monstrously unkind not only to Catholic priests but to the whole male half of our species. It embeds the assumption that we cannot possibly be sincere about something of such importance.
The mass media, both physical and electronic, are the principal promulgators of our cultural matrix and its assumptions. That they promote an assumption of general insincerity is a good argument for shunning any and every medium of information propagation extant today. Yes, yes, I know: as if another such argument were needed. But thence come many such assumptions, including the ones that have destroyed our willingness to trust one another.
Have a nice day.