“How could this happen?” we ask ourselves, and anyone else who’s willing to listen.
I’ve been reading Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ at two pages a day for many months. He has the tedious habit of mentioning the Cross on almost every page, suggesting that everything Jesus said and did pointed to the Cross, and points us to our own crosses. I remember how this bothered me years ago when I read this book for the first time.
It stills troubles me, but he’s only saying what Jesus said.
Not just me, of course. Peter and the rest of the apostles didn’t want to hear it either. And reading the lives and words of the saints, guess what? They carried big crosses.
Since this virus descended on us, I’ve been thinking about my grandmothers, Beatrice and Cecilia. They nurtured their families through two terribly harsh periods, back to back: The Depression from the early 1930s to the end of WWII in the mid-1940s, almost fifteen years, day to day hardship and grief—alcoholism in their families, losing their homes, serious illnesses, hand to mouth, death of a baby brother in the war—battering them and their families.
The Fifties and Sixties were no picnics, with one son in the Korean War, husbands and another son dying. I respected my grandfathers but they desperately needed the support of their wives to carry on. Beatrice and Cecilia embraced their Catholic faith and were heroically generous to family, friends, and strangers, right to the end, in their eighties.
The more I think about them, and especially those long bleak years, the more astounded I am. When I was growing up, experiencing their kindness and joy, I couldn’t have guessed what these women had endured before I was born.
I live in Detroit, where Blessed Solanus Casey lived for much of his life and where his remains remain. He kept a book in which he recorded the needs of the thousands who came to him for counsel, hope, and miracles, including my grandmother Beatrice’s brother-in-law Bernard, and my grandmother Cecilia’s sister, Josephine. Blessed Solanus’s crosses: he was ordained a simplex priest who couldn’t preach or hear confessions, and he is now a Blessed and maybe a Saint someday. I was privileged to attend his beatification Mass, and I strive to learn from him.
Baby boomers like me, our children, and grandchildren, have never experienced something very bad, every day, for a long period of time. Yes, some of us have experienced terrible things—but not all of us, every day, for years and years like Beatrice and Cecilia.
The Easter season for many of us can be like Frodo Baggin’s experience after the Ring is destroyed: a great victory, but not the final victory. That only comes when we arrive at the Havens and embark on the ship toward mystery, where the cross is behind us, and God’s light is ahead of us. That’s where I expect my grandmothers to be, and that’s where I hope to go someday. Fulton Sheen had it right, the cross until the end.
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Fulton Sheen appears to have written “Life of Christ” as a solace for what can only be called the persecution he suffered at the Catholic University of America, where adherents of the “new things” destroyed his academic career after Bishop Shahan brought him in to raise academic standards and counter the modernist tendencies of some of the faculty. After Bishop Shahan retired and Bishop James H. Ryan took over as Rector and who tried to implement Bishop Shahan’s reforms, Sheen found himself accused of heresy, of dissent (and was called “a traitor to Christ”), of being a liar, and finally punished for refusing to sign a petition to have the Rector removed after the Rector annoyed the modernists. It was, as he hinted in his autobiography, “Treasure in Clay,” a time of great trial, and eventually resulted in his writing “Life of Christ.”
I love Fulton Sheen but haven’t read his autobiography so didn’t know the details of his crosses. Sad to say the modernism he fought is alive and well. It’s new, more horrid, more Church-ensconced (in some cases, sanctioned a la pachamamas). Against this backdrop, the Cross looms large for Catholics who belong to Christ. COVID is a tip on an iceberg. Our crosses seem titanic without Communion. This must be the time of dry wood, the dry spell which mystics mention.
Very good article.I have been to the Fr Solanus Church & Retreat on Mt Elliot in Detroit.So many of my early settler ancestor’s who came to Detroit from Neustadt Germany in 1850-1870 are buried in final repose across the street in Mt Elliot Cemetery.So many never reached much past 50 years of age due to,TB.Cholera,Diphtheria,Chicken Pox,Measles etc.All pandemics that ravaged the city back in the day.Good to see Fr Doran bring this to our attention.
Nice read. Thanks.Crosses come and crosses go. Crosses bring out the best in us. Long live the memory of the heroic Beatrice and Cecilia.
Thank you for this article. It puts so much into perspective. I’m sorry to say I find myself whining during this current virus situation. Its gone on too long, when will things be back to normal, etc. Its good to be reminded that our parents and grandparents went thru difficult times also. We need to have faith and do what we can to help each other through this. This too shall pass.