A conversation with the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen on his birthday

By Tom Quiner

[My ‘conversation’ with the late, great Archbishop Fulton Sheen on the subject of freedom continues.]
QUINER: Today is your birthday. Even though you now reside in heaven, allow me to wish you warm birthday greetings. Let’s take up our conversation from where we left off last time [“Love God, and then do whatever your please.”] We’ve been discussing the relationship between ‘freedom’ and ‘love’. What is the risk to us if we reject love?
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN:  An interesting insight into love is this -— that, to just the extent that we reject love, we lose our gifts.
QUINER: How is that?
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: No refugee from Russia sends a gift back to a dictator; God’s gifts, too, are dependent on our love. Adam and Eve could have passed on to posterity extraordinary gifts of body and soul had they but loved. They were not forced to love; they were not asked to say, “I love,” because words can be empty; they were merely asked to make an act of choice between what is God’s and what is not God’s, between the choices symbolized in the alternatives of the garden and the tree.
If they had had no freedom, they would have turned to God as the sunflower does to the sun; but, being free, they could reject the whole for the part, the garden for the tree, the future joy for the immediate pleasure. The result was that mankind lost those gifts that God would have passed on to it, had it only been true in love.
QUINER: How can we get these gifts restored?
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: What concerns us now is the restoration of these gifts through another act of freedom.
God could have restored man to himself by simply forgiving man’s sin, but then there would have been mercy without justice.
The problem confronting man was something like that which confronts an orchestra leader. The score is written and given to an excellent director. The musicians, well skilled in their art, are free to follow the director or to rebel against him.
Suppose that one of the musicians decides to hit a wrong note.
QUINER: As a musician myself, I plead ‘guilty’!
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: The director might do either of two things: either he might ignore the mistake, or he might strike his baton and order the measure to be replayed. It would make little difference, for that note has already gone winging into space, and since time cannot be reversed, the discord goes on and on through the universe, even to the end of time.
Is there any possible way by which this voluntary disharmony can be stopped? Certainly not by anyone in time. It could be corrected on condition that someone would reach out from eternity, would seize that note in time and arrest it in its mad flight. But would it still not be a discord? No, it could be made the first note in a new symphony and thus be made harmonious!
QUINER: Beautiful!
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: When our first parents were created, God gave them a conscience, a moral law, and an original justice. They were not compelled to follow Him as the director of the symphony of creation. Yet they chose to rebel, and that sour note of original revolution was passed on to humanity, through human generation.
How could that original disorder be stopped?
It could be arrested in the same way as the sour note, by having eternity come into time and lay hold of a man by force, compelling him to enter into a new order where the original gifts would be restored and harmony would be the law. But this would not be God’s way, for it would mean the destruction of human freedom. God could lay hold of a note, but He could not lay hold of a man by force without abusing the greatest gift that He gave to man -— namely, freedom, which alone makes love possible.
QUINER: This is getting good, Archbishop Sheen. But I understand that out newest saints, John XXIII and John Paul the Great, have planned a birthday party for you. We will take up this conversation again soon. Once again, happy birthday Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.
[Check back for more ‘conversations’ with Archbishop Fulton Sheen as Quiner’s Diner features another excerpt from his book, “The World’s First Love.”]