Archbishop Fulton Sheen is a man that needs no introduction. In addition to being a great priest and bishop, he was also a TV “personality” that shared the Catholic faith with millions — and a prolific author, whose message still rings true today. Ignatius Press recently reprinted one of his lesser known works entitled Go to Heaven. The title was inspired by a comment Sheen once made about hearing so often the expression “Go to Hell,” but never hearing someone say “Go to Heaven.” With this work, he hopes to provide a road map for the reader on how to choose Heaven in the life you are currently living, and not taking for granted the serious reality of Hell.
The book begins by examining how man has changed over the years. In the past, man looked to nature to discover God. Instead of seeing all the beauty and complexity that is in the world around them, man now discovers God in man’s own distorted nature. This leads to a chapter on how God helps our disordered mind and will. We are then presented chapters on grace and faith and their roles in the Christian life. Sheen beautifully explains that “Grace is the life of God among men,” and “Grace makes man more than a ‘new creature’, and infinitely higher than his former condition.” We also learn about how difficult it is to live a Christian life, what Mary’s role in the Church is, and the final choice of Heaven or Hell.
Archbishop Sheen’s genius is on full display with this work. In fact, if you have ever seen or heard him on TV, you can hear his voice coming off the pages as you read his words. When you think about how long ago this book was written (over 50 years), it is remarkable how accurate and relevant it still is today. The book poignantly explains the struggle of man in his fallen nature and gives him a map on how to find ultimate and eternal happiness. Will the journey be easy? No. Will there be slips and falls and struggles along the way? Most definitely! But like the caring shepherd he was, Sheen wants to ensure as many sheep make it home as possible. Like all of his works, I cannot recommend this one enough!
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I was lamenting the other day that there are no “middle-ground” Catholic books. There are thousands of beginner-level books that tend to blend together after a while, and there are hundreds of advanced level books that are great for the professors and theology majors. But where are the “middle-ground books” for people who feel they have progressed past the introductory level books? Then, I thought some more and realized I was being arrogant to think I was past the introductory stage and decided to tackle a classic Frank Sheed book called Theology for Beginners.
Theology for Beginners is a 200-page book originally published in 1957. Ignatius Press re-released it for the 60th anniversary. The book is divided into twenty chapters which were originally part of a diocesan weeklies column. The book begins with a chapter on why we should study theology, and to summarize Sheed, it is because the truth is food for us and light for us. We are then treated to lessons on the Trinity, Creation, the Nature of Man, Redemption, the Redeemer, Mary, the Sacraments, the Eucharist, and the Next Life.
One of the most interesting chapters in this book dealt with the Fall. In this chapter, Sheed looks at both the Fall of the Angels and the Fall of Adam. He talks of some angels choosing self over God. This sin of pride resulted in a rejection of God and His love. With Adam’s fall that resulted from Satan’s temptation, man had broken his union with God and he was supernaturally dead. All future men (and women) would now be born with original sin. Additionally, our imagination and passions (two things which were good before the Fall) have been distorted and disordered and now can consume us in a very negative way. We can now become slaves to them and let them rule us, if we allow ourselves. This leads us to the truths about Hell. It exists. It exists because of Satan and the angels Fall. It is a place of suffering. It is eternal. It is important to remember that God doesn’t send people to Hell. Man sends himself there by choosing self-love over love of God. Thankfully, Hell is not our only possible destination. If we love God, but have minor sins, we can go to Purgatory and receiving sanctifying purification to eventually get to the ultimate destination of Heaven!
This book is an excellent guide to theology that has stood the test of time. The writing style is concise and succinct, getting the message across without overly complicating matters. It was also a very humbling read, because it showed me that even in beginner-level theology, there is still much to be learned. I highly recommend this book!
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Copyright 2018 Stuart Dunn
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