Venerable Fulton J. Sheen touched the lives of millions worldwide with his warmth, wisdom and humour. A master communicator, he had the great gift of preaching and teaching the Gospel in a way easy to understand. He is mostly remembered for having been one of the first great television evangelists. However, he also wrote many books on the spiritual life as well. His thoughts on prayer continue to be as relevant today for all Christians not just the Catholic priests to whom he was writing when he wrote his The Priest Is Not His Own1. We should remember that all Christians are members of the Royal Priesthood: in that sense Venerable Fulton J. Sheen addresses us as well today in his Aids to the Breviary2
Read the office of the day in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, a practice for which a plenary indulgence is granted. Furthermore, since the breviary is the Body of Christ praying, it is read with more faith when closely united with the Head, Who “lives on still to make intercession on our behalf’ (Heb 7.25).
Advert to the fact that most of the psalms confront us with two figures: one is the Sufferer; the other is the King. It helps us to interpret the suffering psalms as the Church, and the kingly psalms as Christ. That long Psalm 118 [RSV 119] would thus become the Church pleading its love for Christ, the New Law. And when we come across “cursing psalms’, it may be well to remind ourselves that, of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst and that the Judge takes sin seriously
Often appeal to the Holy Spirit during the recitation. As a mother first prays for her child even before he can know what she is doing, then teaches him to pray so that later she may pray with him, so does the Spirit pray in the breviary first in us and then through us.
Go on praying in the power of the Holy Spirit; to maintain yourselves in the love of God, and wait for the mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with eternal life for your goal. Jude 20–21.
Offer certain hours of the office for specific intentions. How seldom is a priest not asked to pray for someone: a boy taking an examination, a mother before childbirth, a father going on a trip, or a young couple about to be married? The breviary, the Church’s prayer, gathers up all these intentions of the parish, the diocese, the nation and the world. It helps to offer a particular psalm for a predetermined person.
The breviary can never be properly read while the priest is listening to the radio or watching television or has one ear and half his mind concentrated on a baseball game. Magna abusio est habere os in brevario, cor in foro, oculus in televisifico.
No need for Me to prove thee a guilty man, thy words prove it, thine own lips arraign thee. Job 15.6
This people does Me honor with its lips, but its heart is far from Me. Matthew 15.8
Moments of mental soaring may occasionally accompany the recital of the breviary, but in general the vision of the Mount of the Transfiguration is followed by the descent to the plain. Moments of exaltation are few and far between. We must be content to go on like pilgrims, usually on foot, sometimes with broken boots.
The breviary is, however, not only a yoke and a burden; it is also a duty—a duty of love. The two aspects seem almost contradictory, but the test of love is self-sacrifice, not emotion. Besides, the duty itself is a good. When we lose faith, we lose a sense of duty. How this duty is performed will depend upon the level of behavior. If a priest is egotistic, the breviary will be said out of duty alone; if he is conscious that it is the prayer of the Church, the duty will have love in it; if he is a priest victim, love will fan duty into an ardor that feels no obligation. Jacob had to toil seven years for Rachel, yet “they seemed to him only a few days, because of the greatness of his love” (Gen. 29.20).
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Wednesday 1 August 2012.
- Sheen, Fulton J., 1963, The Priest Is Not His Own, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2005. ISBN 1-58617-044-9.
- Op. cit., pp. 146–147.