One of the most memorable days of my life happened when Bishop Fulton J. Sheen came to visit and give a talk to our parish. Bishop Sheen had a popular radio show from 1930 – 1950. From 1951 – 1957 Sheen had the top-rated evening show on television, Life is Worth Living. He received the Emmy Award for being The Most Outstanding Television Personality.
When he arrived at Our Lady of the Brook in Northbrook, Illinois, Bishop Sheen had just turned 80 years old. He landed all by himself at O’Hare Field at 3:30 pm on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 1973.
When we sat down to eat supper at the rectory, it was just the three of us at the table. The pastor was at the head of the table and I was seated across from Fulton Sheen. Our dinner conversation was stimulating on a host of topics. It was evident to me that he possessed a humble and caring heart with the topics that he talked about.
There was a lovely spread of food on the table, but he only put a tiny bit on his plate. He took only a bite of a delicious dessert and drank no coffee, only a few sips of water. I still remember how his face and deep-set eyes glowed at me with an inner peace and serenity.
After sitting for 45 minutes at the table, Fulton Sheen suddenly announced that he had to go and prepare for his talk. I looked at my watch. There was more than an hour and a half to go before his talk. He got up from table and found his way to our chapel. For over an hour this 80-year old man knelt like a statue in front of the Blessed Sacrament. At the age of 28, I learned from Bishop Sheen the source of inner strength and spiritual growth.
For 50 minutes Fulton Sheen held our overflow congregation of 1,200 spellbound. Sheen led the Benediction liturgy after his talk. I thought the ceiling might crack due to the volume of the raised voices and the musical instruments.
After his talk and service Bishop Sheen stood in the rear of the worship center for almost an hour talking with each person in the long line. I stood nearby. The first man in line seemed to have some emotional issues and obviously wanted to talk. With the line of people wrapped up and down the aisles, Sheen stood there with his eyes riveted on the man for 5 minutes. He stood there on the same spot for over an hour, never looking away from the person in front of him. I could sense that each person felt special and blessed to be talking with Bishop Sheen.
Everyone was gone by 9:30 pm. I said that I would show him to the room that we had prepared for him to spend the night. He glanced at his watch. He asked that we drive him back to O’Hare. He said there was an 11:30 pm flight to Milwaukee he could still make. He said he was giving a retreat to 500 nuns in Milwaukee and his first talk was at 9:00 am. Sheen put on his coat and the pastor drove him to the airport. Bishop Sheen was with us for only 8 hours, but his indelible mark on many of us has lasted a lifetime.
One of Bishop’s Sheen examples that he used in his other talks refers to the Valentine heart and the human heart. I have so loved his words that I have often quoted him in my homily at a funeral:
The human heart is not shaped like a Valentine heart, perfect and regular in contour. It is slightly irregular in shape as if a small piece of it were missing out of its side. It looks more like a closed fist.
It may very well mean that when God created each human heart, God kept a small piece of our hearts in heaven. God sent the rest of our heart into the world where it would learn the lesson that it could never be really happy, never be fully in love.
Yet we try and try to find a perfect love in this world like the Valentine heart. But we never can find it, because we never had a Valentine shaped-heart inside us to begin with. We were missing the piece that God was keeping for us in heaven.
We will only find complete happiness and joy when we go to God in heaven at the end of our life to reclaim the piece of our heart that God had been holding for us for a lifetime. Then and only then will we have a complete heart and a heart totally filled with love.