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Chapter One

The Philosophy of Life

Rev. Father Fulton J. Sheen

Your Life is Worth Living

The Christian Philosophy of Life

by Fulton J. Sheen

Copyright 2001 Jon Hallingstad

Peace be to you.  Women are accused of doing all the talking.  This is to prove that men do their share!

I remember coming back from Europe one year and the steward came out on the deck of the ship and said, “Are you Bishop Sheen who gave the mission sermon at St. Patrick’s Cathedral two years ago?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “That was a wonderful sermon.  I enjoyed every minute of that hour and a half.”

I said, “My good man, I have never talked an hour and a half in my life!”

“Well,” he said, “it seemed that long to me.”  

Now this will well be over that hour and a half.

We have had alternatives in making this work.  One alternative was to write out everything I was going to say and then read it to you.  The other alternative was to study, meditate, and then talk out of the fullness of my heart without notes.  That is the way that I have chosen.

The second method has many imperfections.  There will be faults, mistakes, I will miss a word here and there and I am absolutely sure there will come a moment in your life that you had wished that I had read it!  You will be somewhat in the position God must have been in when he made Adam.  He looked at Adam and then said, “I could do better than that!”  And then he made Eve.

There are two ways of waking up in the morning.  One is to say, “Good morning, God,” and the other is to say, “Good God, morning!”  We are going to start with the second.

People who wake up that way have an anxiety about life.  Life seems rather absurd to them and considerable literature is being produced today on the absurdity of life.  One of the best expressions of that absurdity was a novel with two factories on either side of a river.  One factory took great big stones, smashed and ground them into powder and shipped the powder to the other side of the river where another factory turned them into great big boulders.  Then the boulders were sent back to the first factory and so the routine continued.  This was a literary expression of the way people regard life today.

One finds this absurdity expressed in the writings of an existentialist who pictured three people in hell.  Each one wanted to talk about himself, his own aches and his own pains.  The others were only interested in their own aches and pains.  Finally, when the curtain goes down, the last line of the play is, “My neighbor is hell!”  This is the way some people live.  Along with this sense of absurdity there is also a drift.  Many minds are like Old Man River; they just keep floating along, no goal, just a kind of an arrow without a target, pilgrims without a shrine, journeys at sea without any kind of a port.  What is the common conclusion of people who wake up and say, “Good God, morning”?  To them, life has no meaning, it is without purpose, goal or destiny.

I remember when I first went to Europe to study as a young priest.  I was taking courses during the summer at the Sorbonne, in Paris, principally in order to learn French.  I dwelt in a boarding house that belonged to Madame Citroen.  I was there about a week and she came to me and said something, but it was all French to me.  You get so angry in Paris because the dogs and horses understand French, and you don’t!  There were three American school teachers living in the boarding house and I asked them to act as an interpreter.  This is the story that came out.

Madame Citroen said after her marriage, her husband left her, and a daughter that was born to them became a moral wreck on the streets of Paris.  Then she pulled out of her pocket a small vial of poison.

She said, “I do not believe in God and if there is one, I curse Him.  I’ve decided since life has no meaning and is absurd, to take this poison tonight.  Can you do anything for me?”

Through the interpreter I said, “I can if you’re going to take that stuff!”

I asked her to postpone her suicide for nine days.  I think it is the only case on record of a woman postponing suicide for nine days.  I never prayed before as I prayed for that woman.  On the ninth day the good Lord gave her great grace.  Some years later on the way to Lourdes, I stopped off in the city of Dox where I enjoyed the hospitality of Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle Citroen.
I said to the village priest, “Are the Citroen’s good Catholics?”

“Oh,” he said, “It’s wonderful when people keep the faith all during their lives.”

Obviously, he did not know the story.  So it’s possible to find one’s way out of this absurdity.

Let’s come to a question which interests all psychiatrists and all of us, “What is the difference between a normal and abnormal person?”  A normal person always works toward a goal or a purpose; the abnormal person looks for escape mechanisms, excuses and rationalizations to avoid discovering the meaning and purpose of life. The normal person sets for himself a goal.  A young man may want to be a doctor or a lawyer, but beyond that there is something else.
Suppose you ask, “What do you want to do after you become a doctor?”

“Well, I want to marry and raise children.”

“And then?”

“Be happy and make money.”

“And then?”

“Give money to my children.”

“And then?”

There comes a last, “And then?”  The normal person knows what that “and then” is.  The abnormal person is locked up within the barrel of his own ego.  He’s like an egg that’s never been hatched.  He refuses to submit himself to divine incubation in order to arrive at a different life than he has.

What are some of the escape mechanisms of the abnormal person?  If he wants to go from New York to Washington, he isn’t concerned about Washington; he’s concerned about giving excuses why he doesn’t go to Washington.  A common escape mechanism for the abnormal person is a love of speed.  I believe that an excessive love of speed, or should I say, a love of excessive speed, is due to a want of a goal or purpose in life.  So they do not know where they are going, but they certainly are on their way!  There may even be an unconscious, or half-conscious, desire to end life because it is without purpose.  Another escape would be sex and throwing oneself into business in an abnormal kind of way in order to have the intensity of an experience atone for a want of goal or purpose.

One very famous psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Jung, said that after twenty-five years of experiences dealing with mental patients, at least one third of his patients had no observable clinical neurosis.  All of them were suffering from a want of the meaning and purpose of life, and not until they discover that will they ever be happy.  The vast majority of people today are suffering from what might be called an existential neurosis, the anxiety and the problem of living.  They ask, “What is it all about?”  “Where do I go from here?”  “How do I find it?”

You may be thinking, now I’m going to tell you to get down on our knees and pray to God.  No, I’m not.  I may say that a little later because people who have an existential neurosis are too far away from that for the moment.  I’m offering two solutions: the first, go out and help your neighbor.  Those who suffer from an anxiety of life live only for themselves.  Their mind and heart have been dammed up.  All of the scum of the river of life makes the heart and mind a kind of a garbage heap, and the easiest way out is to love people whom you see.  If we do not love those whom we see, how can we love God, whom we do not see?  Visit the sick.  Be kind to the poor.  Help the healing of lepers.  Find your neighbor, and a neighbor is someone in need.  Once you do this, you begin to break out of the shell.  You discover that your neighbor is not hell, as Sartre says, your neighbor is part of yourself and is a creature of God.

A father brought his young son to me, a conceited, young delinquent, who had given up his faith and was bitter with himself and everyone whom he met.  Following our visit the boy ran away from home for a year.  The boy came back just as bad and the father brought him to me asking, “What should I do with him?”  I advised him to send his son to a school outside the United States.  About a year later the boy came back to see me, requesting, “Would you be willing to give me moral support for an enterprise I have undertaken in Mexico?  There is a group of boys in the college where I am, who have built a little school.  We have gone all around the neighborhood and brought in children to teach them catechism.  We have also brought a doctor from the United States, once a year for one month, to take care of the sick people of the neighborhood.”

And I asked, “How did you become interested in this?

He replied, “The boys went down there during the summer and I joined them.”

He recovered his faith, morals and everything else in his neighbor.  It is the poor, indigent, needy, sick, fellow creatures of God, who give to us great strength.

Some years ago there was an Indian who went into Tibet.  He went in to do evangelizing in that non-Christian country with a Tibetan guide.  During the trip they got very cold crossing the foothills of the Himalayas and sat down, exhausted and almost frozen.  This Indian, whose name was Singh, said, “I think I hear a man moaning down there in the abyss!”

The Tibetan said, “You’re almost dead yourself, you can’t help him!”

Singh said, “Yes, I will help him.”

He went down and dragged the man out of the abyss and carried him to the nearby village and came back completely revived from that act of charity.  When he returned he found his friend, who had refused to aid the neighbor, frozen to death.  Therefore, the first way to escape the anxiety of life is to find your neighbor.  

The second way is to leave yourself open to experiences and encounters with the divine, which will come to you from without.  I say leave yourself open.  Your eye does not have light.  Your ear has no sound or harmony.  Food of your stomach comes from outside.  Your mind has been taught.  A radio pulls in unseen waves from the outside.  Allow yourself to receive certain impulses that come from without which will perfect you.  No matter how far away you are from what I’m talking about, they will still come.  

I remember inviting a woman to see me who had just lost her eighteen-year-old daughter.   She was very rebellious and had no faith whatever.

She said, “I want to talk about God.”

I said, “All right, I will talk about Him for five minutes, and then you talk about or against Him for forty-five, and then we will have a discussion.”

I was talking about two minutes when she interrupted me.  She stuck her finger under my nose and said, “Listen, if God is good, why did He take my daughter?”

I said, “In order that you might be here, learning something about the purpose and meaning of life.”

And that is what she learned.

I am suggesting you will not just reason yourself into the meaning and purpose of life; you will act yourself into the meaning and purpose of life by breaking the shell of egotism and selfishness and cleaning the windows of your moral life to allow sunshine in.  You would not be seeking God if you had not already, in some way, found him.  You are a king in exile with a kingdom.  We will tell you more later on.

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Photos used with permission of
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Bishop Sheen Archives
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Copyright (c) 2001