Bishop Sheen was well acquainted with the media, through long years of experience. After beginning work as a priest in the 1920s, Bishop Sheen became a famous preacher. An elderly woman who had been a young lady in St. Patrick’s Parish in Peoria said that many of them would attend the Low Mass, early on Sunday Morning, to be able to receive Holy Communion, and then after breakfast they would slip into the back of the Church during High Mass, just to hear
the young Fr. Sheen preach. Father Sheen was present at the start of radio in the United States, and was the first preacher to be heard on radio, not the first Catholic, but the first preacher of any denomination.
Bishop Sheen’s wildly popular television program began in 1952. Occasionally I will hear people complain that they don’t like Bishop Sheen’s style, it is too stagy, they say. I suppose it is a bit stagey when watched on a digital television. Young Fulton Sheen received all of his speech training before sound magnification was used on stage, or for the debating societies he belonged to in high school and college. Projection was key, getting the message across, and some of the melodramatic techniques, popular during the century in which he was born, were still taught. By the time Bishop Sheen appeared on television he was 57 years old, and he adapted well to the medium which was still, in many ways, in its childhood. The show was live in New York, and in the early years rebroadcast in the West by means of Kinescopes, which was a film taken of one of the television monitors in the studio. What might seem stagy in our 21st century mentality was indeed of necessity for Bishop Sheen to get his message across through the haze of early television broadcasts, watched through the snow of early television receivers. His main intent, I believe, was to bring hope to people, as the early 20th century was not a time of hope, but rather of pessimism, of alienation, of depersonalization. Life is worth living! He proclaimed! as God loves each of us and wishes us to love Him!
God’s message is to be preached in season and out of season, and Bishop Sheen knew that. He prayed often that his message would be received by hearts ready to receive it. It was said by those who knew him that Bishop Sheen spent many hours in prayer, asking for the grace to preach well, and that hearts be prepared to receive the message. Dom Chartard said that a missionary in a pagan land, yes, could do good work, his ministry would be much more effective, however, if there were people at home praying for him.
Prayer is the foundation and bedrock of our relationship with God, and the only certain way that we have to be the cause of grace to come into the world. Many of us are not in a position, ever, to make the great sacrifices of a missionary life. What we can do, as often as we can and with every fiber of our being, is to offer our sacrifices on behalf of those who do this work the Church, whether in the mission territory of pagan lands, the home mission territory of rural America, or what I might term the new mission territory of the often Godless urban centers. Are you doing your part? Are you praying?