Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Director
A Divine Sense of Humor
September 29, 2019
This summer, it was announced that Archbishop Fulton Sheen would be beatified, moving his cause one-step closer to canonization. This stems from Pope Francis approving a miracle attributed to him in which a stillborn child, who showed no signs of life at birth, suddenly revived after his parents prayed for Sheen’s intercession. A seven-member panel of medical experts gave unanimous approval of the miracle as being beyond scientific explanation.
The advancement of Sheen’s cause is great news for American Catholics because he is a figure who has come to represent a golden age of Catholicism in our nation’s history. He gained prominence as a radio and television evangelist during the mid-20th century, when Catholics were exerting a widespread positive influence over the culture. Catholic schools were thriving and ethnic minorities, who tended to be Catholic, were enjoying acceptance in the mainstream of American life and finding new opportunities to contribute to our nation.
Sheen was a brilliant theologian, and he did not hesitate to defend the tenets of the Catholic faith, but he always made a point of reminding Americans of their shared values, and he directed his strongest arguments against the secularizing forces in society. Those who seek to evangelize today would do well to emulate his winning style. Sheen would often punctuate his presentations with humor. For instance, he once told the story of a professor who traveled around in a car driven by a chauffeur to give the same lecture at different locations. Sheen said, “One day the chauffeur said to him, ‘I think I've heard that lecture of yours a thousand times, and I could give it just as well as you do.’
“‘All right,’ said the professor. ‘You stand up on the platform tonight and give the lecture, and I will sit out in the audience in your chauffeur’s uniform.’
“The chauffeur gave a perfect lecture but at the end someone said, ‘There's a question I would like to ask you. When you mix that H2SO4 without any CO2 and compared with the photographic plates of the sun, how do you get the equation that equals M-over-C squared?’
“He said, ‘That's the most stupid question I ever heard in all my life, and to show you how stupid it is, I'm going to ask my chauffeur to answer.’”
Sheen once devoted an entire episode of his television program to what he called “the divine sense of humor.” He pointed out that the divine sense of humor doesn’t always elicit a laugh but is marked by an invitation to see beyond material realities to deeper spiritual realities, just as Christ invites us to do in the parables. Sheen concluded his episode by listing the many amazing characteristics demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels, and then he said, “But there was one thing that he does not show… one thing he saved for those who have a divine sense of humor. It was one thing he saved for heaven that will make heaven, heaven. And that was... his smile.”
As we prepare to call him Blessed Fulton Sheen, we should feel confident in the hope that he now enjoys Christ’s heavenly smile. In his life, he helped to teach many of us how to cultivate a divine sense of humor. It’s a humor that can produce much enjoyment and laughter, but it is also a deep way of looking at the world, with an eye towards the greatest joy that is still to come.