The Electronic Evangelist
By Katie Bogner
(Second in a series)
“Radio is like the Old Testament, for it is the hearing of the Word without the seeing. Television is like the New Testament, for the Word is seen as it becomes flesh and dwells among us.” From “Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen”
Best-selling author, popular radio personality, and award winning television show host — not exactly your typical job description for an American bishop. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, as a master teacher and preacher, didn’t limit his audience to a classroom or pulpit. Using the best sources of media available during his lifetime, Archbishop Sheen shared the Gospel with millions. His characteristic wit welcomed and warmed, but kept people reading, listening, and watching for the truth he conveyed, which was both simple enough to understand and deep enough to challenge.
Father Fulton Sheen began as a writer, publishing articles in newspapers around the country and the first of 66 books in 1925. In 1928, he was invited to host a radio show called “The Catholic Hour” which ran for more than 20 successful years. In 1951, now Bishop Sheen had the opportunity to move from radio to television, and the popular “Life is Worth Living” was broadcast into homes around the country. His time slot had him competing against Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle, but Sheen still pulled in an average of 30 millions viewers. The bishop became so popular that his office received 15,000 to 25,000 letters each day. After that first year, he won an Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality, beating out Lucille Ball and Arthur Godfrey.
In every publication, Bishop Sheen wrote and spoke of Christ and His Church, teaching both Catholics and non-Catholics alike how to live faith and virtue in a modern world. His background as a teacher carried through in his approachable style, but his stage presence and powerful voice kept his audience engaged. On his TV show, he used no notes and timed his own 27 minute commercial free broadcasts. Dressed in his customary ferriola, Bishop Sheen would write “JMJ” at the top of his only prop, a simple chalkboard, and start in on the topic of the day.
Technology is a tool to be used, with potential for both good and evil. I’d like to think that if Archbishop Fulton Sheen were still preaching today, he wouldn’t limit himself to books, radio, and television; he would be creating podcasts and websites, sending out tweets on Twitter, and posting on Instagram. He would recognize the potential of social media to share the truth of the Gospel in a form that meets the people where they are to then lift them to the Creator in a unique, applicable way.
LEARNING FROM SHEEN
There are many differences in the way we consume and create media compared to Sheen’s lifetime, but we still have much to learn from his example. Pray about the types of media that you read and watch, considering how they glorify God. Look to Fulton Sheen as a model for technology use and how it can be a tool to spread the Gospel, even in subtle ways.
SHARING SHEEN WITH YOUR FAMILY
Below are free printable prayer cards to remind your kids of how they should use technology. Make a family plan about how, when, and why technology is used in your home. Hang the card on your fridge where you can frequently read Sheen’s advice to “Always remember to love people and use things, rather than to use people and love things.”
Katie Bogner is the junior high faith formation teacher at St. Philomena School in Peoria. She blogs at looktohimandberadiant.com.