Having finished reading Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen I can say I can put this in the category of one of my favorite books. Even at 400 plus pages it is an enjoyable read and Bishop Sheen’s keeps you interested throughout. While the book is primarily an autobiography it is also much more. While his history from parish priest, to professor, and later having the number one television show in America is quite enough to hook you in you also get a beautifully written chapter on celibacy which provides one of the best explanations that I have read.
Since he ws born towards the end of the 1800’s and lived to 1979 his life spans a considerable part of the modern history of the Church in the United States. He participated in the Second Vatican Council and got to know almost every pope of this period except Pope John Paul I.
Though what I enjoyed most in this book is his stories of people he met along the way. He seems to enjoy much more writing about other people than about himself. While all of this stories usually involve him and his influence on them towards repentance, he shows an obvious joy in these conversions as an act of God working in their lives. You also get the idea that even though the book is chock full of these wonderful stories is that he could easily have added thousand more. While he brought some rather famous people into the Church he really delights in telling of the conversion stories of the more average joe. Plus many of these stories are quite funny.
Bishop Sheen was not a Saint Vianney or a Padre Pio with the ability to read souls, though he was a close observer of the human person and was often able to discern someone’s spiritual condition and what was bothering them. Kind of a Sherlock Holmes of the spiritual life. So his observations often were quite accurate in helpful him get past objections to the Church and there real reason for being upset about some aspect of the Church. He was also quite accurate in his observation of the world at large and was quite well known as an anti-Communist and predicted that Russia would take over Eastern Europe. Interestingly even though he was only around for the start of John Paul II’s pontificate he said that he would be known as one of the greatest popes.
A biography can so easily turn to bragging and glossing over mistakes, but Bishop Sheen made quite sure to include his failings. His chapter on his time as Bishop of Rochester pretty much shows that he did not think he was very successful there and many of his ideas did not come to fruition and some were actively fought against. The longest chapter of the book was on various conversions, yet he ended it with also some of his failures in this regard. He also references his failing at being able to fast.
His chapter on humor including a lot of funny stories along with poems that bishops had written during Vatican II. These poems were hilarious. Bishop Sheen didn’t consider himself to be a funny guy and thought he had a more serious deposition while appreciating humor. I don’t think he knew himself that well in this regard because watching his old television show he had very good comedic talent and the timing to go with it. Though he wouldn’t tell a joke just to tell a joke.
What tied Bishop Sheen together and what ties most of the book together is is advocacy of the Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Throughout his life he practiced this from before he was ordained until he died. This was his primary advocacy when he gave priestly retreats and something he held to be extremely important. He liked preaching on this because he knew he was practicing what he was preaching.
The edition I read is a new one put out by Image publishing and it is unabridged and includes plenty of photos from the bishop’s life.