Missionary Sending

American Eucharistic Witnesses: The Venerable Fulton Sheen and the Most Holy Eucharist

To help pave the way to the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–23, 2024, we are thrilled to present the American Eucharistic Witnesses. These are holy men and women who lived, loved, and served on the very soil upon which we now stand. They all testify—in unique and powerful ways—to what it means to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist and go on mission with him for the life of the world. Each month through July 2024, we will feature a new witness. Old and young, men and women, representing different cultural families and vocations, these men and women show us—in living color—what holiness looks like. We are also thrilled to partner with American artist Connor Miller, who is creating an original woodcut print of each witness to help us visually engage with this creative new series.

Fulton Sheen woodcut print by Connor Miller

“A Loyal Son of the Church”

An argument can be made that the most well-known and recognized Catholic priest in the United States in the middle of the last century was the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. His television series, Life is Worth Living, reached an estimated viewing audience of 30 million people each week. According to The Catholic University of America, he also authored 66 books. This priest of the Diocese of Peoria influenced countless men and women of his generation. Most significantly, as author Michael Dubruiel stated, “There is no one in the modern church who has done more to popularize the practice of praying in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.”

People did not tune into his television show or read his books simply because he was clever and entertaining (though he was both of these). Somehow, the love he had for God and for Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist was perceptible to those who watched him or read his books. Two months before he died, on 2 October 1979, Pope Saint John Paul II said to him at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church!”

Old-fashioned "tube" television set

Made for Love

Fulton Sheen recognized that human life is essentially relational. This is another way of saying that we were made for love—made to love God and love one another (cf. Mt 22:34ff). If we look at the people whom we admire the most—the ones whom we judge to be truly great—we very often find that it is their ability to love that makes them who they are. Love is more than an experience; it is the gift of oneself to another, and just as we differ from one another in our intellectual capacities and our athletic capacities, so too do we differ from one another in our capacity to love. Some continue to give of themselves even when it is difficult to do so or when it will entail a real sacrifice. The more we are willing to give of ourselves—through our words, our deeds, our patient endurance, etc.—the more we love. As Sheen put it, “True generosity never looks to reciprocity; it gives neither because it expects a gift in return, nor because there is a duty or obligation to give. Charity lies beyond obligation; its essence is the ‘adorable extra.’ Its reward is in the joy of giving.”1 Grace enables one to grow in this regard, and as we see in the lives of so many saintly people, it is their frequent contact with Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist—participation in Mass, receiving him in Holy Communion, and adoring him in the reserved Blessed Sacrament—that makes them who they are. Jesus, the source of all holiness and grace, stretches their hearts and increases their capacity to love.

Venerable Fulton Sheen was one such man who had a deep capacity for love. Starting when he made his First Holy Communion at the age of twelve, he was drawn to the Eucharist. As his faith matured and deepened, so too did his love for the Eucharist. It resonated deeply within him that Our Lord desires to live on in us and to have us live in him (cf. Jn 15:4). He would later write, “The sole requirement is the venture of faith, and the reward, is the depths of intimacy for those who cultivate his friendship. To abide with Christ is spiritual friendship, as he insisted on the solemn and sacred night of the Last Supper, the moment he chose to give us the Eucharist.”2

Black and white photo of priest incensing the monstrance on the altar during Eucharistic adoration

Belief Intensifies Love

Love increases by loving, and this is true in our love for one another and our love for God. Fulton Sheen’s initial love for Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist intensified as he matured, and his theological study deepened his appreciation of this great gift from God. His prayer and his study, strengthening one another, enabled him to understand the Holy Eucharist very well—both the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass and the abiding presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. So much was Archbishop Sheen’s life interwoven with the Holy Eucharist that it is impossible to understand his life apart from it, just as in a beautifully lived marriage, one cannot really understand the husband without understanding his relationship with his wife.

Fulton Sheen loved the Holy Eucharist because he believed Our Lord’s words when he spoke about the Bread of Life (Jn 6:22–59), and his belief, in turn, deepened his understanding of this great mystery. As his understanding increased, so too did his love. When it comes to the people in our life, including Our Lord, the belief we have in them and our understanding of them are related to one another. When we choose to believe someone—as when we say or think to ourselves, “I believe what you say,” or “I believe your intentions are noble”—we then see the person in a different light: we understand him or her in a new way. As we say today, we are able to “connect the dots” more fully. And when this new and deeper understanding of the person rings true over time, our belief in the person increases further. Fulton Sheen’s belief in the Holy Eucharist deepened his understanding of Our Lord, which in turn intensified his love.

Altar with a small monstrance containing a consecrated host with two white pillar candles on each side

Feeding and Being Fed by Love

Anyone who has ever loved someone over a long period of time knows that relationships must continually be fed, or they will die, and this is true in our relationship with Our Lord. We feed the relationship, and we are fed by it. When Fulton Sheen was ordained a priest, he made the commitment to pray a holy hour every day before the Blessed Sacrament, and he kept his promise. He explained, “When I stand up to talk, people listen to me; they will follow what I have to say. Is it any power of mine? Of course not. St. Paul says, ‘What have you that you have not received and you who have received, why do you glory as if you had not?’ But the secret of my power is that I have never in fifty-five years missed spending an hour in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s where the power comes from. That’s where sermons are born. That’s where every good thought is conceived.”3

This hour he spent with Our Lord each day—along with his celebration of the Mass—was the nourishment that fed his soul and made him the great man of God that he was: a man transformed by love. As Sheen so aptly noted, “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.”

Help the children and youth in your life grow closer to Jesus in the Eucharist through the witness of Venerable Fulton Sheen today! Download Katie Bogner’s children’s activities—perfect for home, classroom, and parish settings!

1. Love On Another, P. J. Kennedy and Sons, p. 111.

2. The Priest Is Not His Own, Ignatius Press (2004 reprint), p. 241.

3. The Wisdom of the Saints, Blue Sparrow, p. 50.