By Venerable Fulton Sheen
Minor [corrections] were made, and asterisk* is used to indicate uncertainty of transcription.
Dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there was only once that you ever asked your disciples to do something special for you. Grant that through The Spirit we may answer that question in the affirmative. We ask this through your Agony and Resurrection. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many of us priests have made retreats 10 times, 30 times, 40 times. And so have many of the Sisters, and perhaps the laity. Can any priest recall a single resolution that he ever took in retreat, that he ever kept? Can a Sister? Can anyone? I’m sure there would not be over 1 or 2!
And why? Well, because retreats are like health congresses: there’s a series of conferences on how you ought to be spiritually healthy, but no one gives any concrete, definite challenge and proposal! And that’s what we’re going to do now. We’re going to offer you a Sacramental sign and symbol of our Victimhood in Christ. And we have to have it.
We just cannot go on in our priesthood the way we are. This is one of the principal reasons for the mediocrity of the Church today. We think that, well, we know our theology, we’ve been sanctified, and therefore we continue in routine. No!
No one today is the same as he was a year ago. Either we are better, or we are worse. It was the same or worse.* Because we have life in us, and we were made to grow!
And too often in middle age, we settle down, a routine way of life, and almost seem to lack the courage to become young again. As regards physical age, you can never get younger. But spiritually, we have to become younger! No old people ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” There are only nurseries in heaven.
And the reason we level off is because there is a principle of degeneration in us. There’s not only evolution in the world, there’s devolution. For example, there’s an animal in the cave of Kentucky called the Crustatsia* that seemingly has perfect eyes, but if you run a scalpel across the eye, you find behind it desiccated nerves. It spent its time in the dark, and it lost its capacity to see! The mole once had eyes to see, but it chose to grovel in the bowels of the earth, and nature, as if seated in judgment, said, “take the talent away!” And so they’re blind.
There’s more danger of a person with 1 talent losing it, than one with 10. It was the one who had the 1 talent in the Gospel who buried it, saying, “well, it’s of no use.” Therefore, we are face to face with the principle by which we decay.
If, for example, a man took poison, and the antidote was brought to him, it would make no difference whether he threw the [antidote] out of the window, or just left it beside his bed, because the poison is operating in his system. And the poison of sin is operating in us, and we have to act against it.
Well, what are we going to do about it? Now I will give you the reason why I am here giving a retreat. I am proposing to all of the priests and all of the Sisters, and to a lesser degree to the laity (and I will speak of that in a few moments) — I am proposing to you, one daily continuous hour in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
No 15 minute visits adding up to an hour. The only thing that would not break the continuity of the hour would be the Mass. The Mass is never included. But one could make 30 minutes before Mass, 30 minutes after Mass. How we make the hour, I will come to later.
Now this is the only reason that I am giving retreats. The only reason. I know this is the only thing that works with the priesthood! And those who are doing it now are completely changed men! In just a short space of time!
But, why do the hour? I’m going to give you three reasons for making it; it is the third that is most important.
First, we are to make the hour because we need psychological continuity of prayer. We are living in a distracting world, the like of which human hearts never lived in before. When we come into the presence of the Lord, we drag with us the news, cares, habits, impulses. The world is like an octopus, reaching out to us. And we just cannot put ourselves in the Presence of God in 5 or 10 minutes.
For the laity I am recommending to you 15 minutes a day. And it need not be spent in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, you may make it at home reading the Gospels. But quiet. Silence. And if you have not great responsibilities, then do the hour, as many lay people are doing.
But for the priests and Sisters: 1 hour.
Now let me give you the reason why it takes time. I think that prayer is very much like the visit of our Blessed Lord to the disciples on Easter Sunday afternoon. There was a 7 mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. And only gradually is Christ manifesting Himself to his disciples. Now remember, this is Easter Sunday afternoon! I shall recall to you this passage of Luke 24 on the Emmaus visit.
Here were the disciples leaving Jerusalem, Easter Sunday afternoon. What do you find? Talk talk talk talk talk! Discussion discussion discussion! When we’re not interior, we engage in a lot of talk. Poor talkative Christianity. “As they talked and discussed with one another, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them. But something kept them from seeing who it was. And he asked them, ‘what is it you’re debating about on the way?’” It’s the third time in two sentences that the word talk and discussion appears.
“And they halted, their faces full of gloom.” I wonder if that’s the way we appear to the good Lord? And incidentally, we are not as happy a body of priests now as we used to be 20 or 30 years [ago]. There’s gloom setting into us. We used to have priests portrayed by Barry Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien. Now what do we have? “The married priest.”* We’re beginning to be gloomy. And that’s the way the disciples appeared to the Blessed Lord, their faces full of gloom.
And one called Cleopas answered (he got kind of nasty with this stranger), he said, “are you the only one in Jerusalem who who has not heard what has happened these days?” Haven’t you been listening to the radio? Television? Haven’t been reading the press? See, the world, it gets hold of us. News, news, news, on the hour. We can do nothing about it. As a matter of fact we very often create a tremendous amount of inability to react to news that we can do something about.
So “are you the only one who has never heard what has happened?” (And see how Our Lord draws him out, “what do you mean?” — the Risen Lord, “what do you mean?”) “Oh, all about this Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied, “a powerful prophet in speech and action before God. And we have been hoping that he was the man to liberate Israel.” That’s it, political liberation! Too many of us are turning theology into political liberation. And that was what was grinding down the disciples of Emmaus. That is all our Blessed Lord was to them: someone who would give them political liberation.
Then Our Lord says to them, “did you not know that the Son of Man must suffer to enter into his glory?” What did you think I am, just a Priest? Did you not realize that I am a Victim, that’s why I have come into this world? Have you forgotten the Law of Good Friday and Easter Sunday?
Then Our Lord began to unfold to them Moses, David, and the Prophets, and what a beautiful interpretation of Scripture that must have been during these 7 miles.
And then finally, when they stopped, they recognized him at the breaking of the bread, which is always the symbol of the Eucharist in the New Testament.
And then they were reluctant to let him go. They said to him, “Lord, remain with us, the day is far spent.” This is prayer.
This is why we have to have an hour. When we begin, we’re like the disciples: talking, talking and discussing. Bringing the world with us. We come in before the Eucharistic Lord, “oh, he’s a prophet.” And then we begin to look back on his life. We understand that he is Priest and Victim.
That the Law of every Christian is His Law: unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there will never be an Easter Sunday. Unless there is the Cross, there will never be the Empty Tomb. Unless there is the Crown of Thorns, there will never be the Halo of Light.
And then as we remain with him, the earth begins to fade away. And then we are more conscious of the Presence of Christ. And at the end of an hour, very often we are reluctant to leave. “Remain with us, dear Lord. The day is far spent.”
This, my good Fathers and Sisters, is the reason for making a continuous Holy Hour. It’s the only way we can pray today! It takes that long to divest ourselves of the world. That’s the first reason.
Second reason: our Victimhood commits us to intercession. We have a relation to the world, which is that of interceding for it, atoning for the sins of the world, and therefore we have to pray for the world.
Perhaps one of the cruelest things that any priest can say to a person who comes for consolation is “pray” if he doesn’t pray. Believe me, when people ask us to pray, that is a great responsibility. And we have to pray for them. If we can remember the occasion; if not, recalling it the best we can.
A pastor who’s got sick in the parish, he has families that have left the Church. He has young men who are beginning to take dope. Young girls running off in the life of immorality. They’re on his back. School children on the backs of the Sisters. You good parents: members of families, relatives, and so forth. You have to intercede for them. As John Donne put it, “no man is an island.” St. Paul says, “no man lives alone, no man dies alone.”
We can intercede for one another, just as in the Church — the blood of a healthy member of society is transferred to an anemic member. If the face is burned, doctors will graft skin from another part of the body to the face. If it is possible to transfuse blood, it is possible to transfuse prayer. If it is possible to graft skin, it is possible to graft sacrifice.
And so we have to spend about an hour a day for those who need it under our care. Remember when the palsied man was led down through the roof? He never asked to be brought to Our Lord. He never asked to have his sins forgiven. He did not ask even to be cured! Our Lord forgave his sins and healed him. Why? The Gospel tells us, because of the prayers of the 4 men who led him down.
This is something we’ve forgotten in the Church, it’s intercession for others. And at a time when we have become so social-minded, we have neglected the spiritual influence that we have on one another! Now that’s partly because our relationships are restricted too much to the political and sociological order, and not enough to the spiritual.
Now in Russia there’s a group of people called the Erodivis*. Erodivi in Russian means “born fool.” These Erodivis will, in a concentration camp — they are mostly Baptists (there are a number of Baptists in Russia) — and when a prisoner is about to be beaten, a Erodivi will ask that the punishment be given to him, or her. Their argument is that, if that prisoner is beaten, he will hate back. There will therefore be an increase of hate in the world. If, however, this Erodivi is beaten, he will forgive, and there will be an increase of charity in the world. This is intercession.
And if we took intercession seriously, we would spend an hour in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. And believe me, the effects of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament are tremendous. And here I am speaking only in relationship to others, not what it does to ourselves — I will speak of that in a moment.
But these are the two reasons for making an hour. One, because it takes that long to pray in the modern world.
And secondly, because when we priests go to the altar, all the Chinese are hanging onto our chasubles. The atheists are at the end of our stoles. We’re dragging the burdens of the entire world at the altar. And if we consider ourselves as priests, we never think of intercession. If we’re Victims, ah! then we have to prolong the Redemptive Mission of Christ.
And that brings us to the third and the most important reason for making the Holy Hour. The one inescapable reason: the Lord asked for it!
The only request our Blessed Lord ever made of us was that! “Can you not watch one hour with me?”
Our Blessed Lord thought he had three on whom he could depend. Peter, he will be loyal, so will James, so will John. And he brings them into the garden. He advances about a stone’s throw — what an odd way to describe distance. And our Blessed Lord begins his bloody sweat.
Three times he goes out to ask his disciples to continue praying with them, and three times he finds them asleep. He goes back into the garden and takes upon himself all the sins of the world in what must have been the greatest moment of intense agony in His entire Passion.
We do not understand guilt, because we are guilty. We understand pain. But not guilt. Only innocence can really understand what guilt is. And he was sinless. And when he became the Victim, and all the sins of the world were to be imputed to him, then from North and South and East and West came this flood of sin.
Cain was there, purple in the sheet of his brother’s blood.
The abominations of Sodom and Gomorrah were there.
The coarseness of the Gentiles that taught greater coarseness to the Israelites, they were all there.
Sins of the old who should have passed the age of sinning.
Sins of the young for whom the Heart of Christ was tenderly pierced.
Sins of the city, committed in the city’s fetid atmosphere of sin.
Sins committed in the country, that made all nature blush.
Sins too terrible to be mentioned.
Sins too awful to be named.
Sin, sin, sin — until his blood began to ooze out from his body in drops, forming the first beads in the Rosary of Redemption on the olive roots of the trees of Gethsemane.
And then, the question again: “can you not watch one hour with me?”
Now this is a very profound question. The word “hour” is used in the Gospel 7 times, the Gospel of John. In every single instance, the word “hour” means evil. The powers of darkness. The atheistic will of man. Or the anti-God spirit. And 7 times it’s used. God has his Day. The devil has his hour.
And so our Blessed Lord would use it in such instances as these: When they attempted to stone him 3 times, he said, “my hour has not yet come.” On his way to Jerusalem, “Father, shall I ask to be delivered from this hour? It was for this hour that I am come!” And Judas, “this is your hour.” And all you can do is turn out the lights of the world! And when Judas went out, Our Lord said, “Father, the hour has come,” glorying in redemption.
So, the word “hour” is always related to the evil of the world. Now Our Lord said to his Apostles, can you not reverse this? Will you not spend an hour with me to make up for that hour? That’s what I’m asking! This is not a devotion! Believe me, in these days, the demonic — and I will be telling you about the demonic in another conference, today or tomorrow — in this demonic hour (rather than day, it’s always only an hour), the Lord wants us to spend an hour to make up for it.
How do we do it? And what does it do for us?
Well, for one thing, it will improve our spiritual vision. We have a fondness of the religious today becoming involved in social work — which is good, we have neglected that too much. But if one wishes to do effective work in the social order, he must begin here!
Believe me, when we train our eyes one hour a day to pierce that appearance of bread, and find the Eucharistic Lord, we’re prepared then to go out into the world, and to see in every human being, the Image of God. Our eyes have been trained! This is the classroom of sociologists. This is the classroom of politicians. And then — we’re interested in seeing the Image of God in everyone.
Then it will train our ears, too. Scripture says, “speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Scripture does not say, “listen Lord, thy servant speaketh!” We talk too much in prayer!
The Holy Hour can be made any way you please. You put yourself under the spiritual Eucharistic cobalt, which is good for the cancer of sin. [You] expose yourself to atomic radiation of the Lord. And the Lord speaks to us.
You can say your Office. Almost do anything one pleases, it’s an hour with the Lord. It’s a tête-à-tête, a colloquy. One thing is certain, however: we cannot, day after day, just come in and just spend an hour without having the Scriptures, or some interpretation of Scriptures, in our hands. Our prayers are not sufficiently Biblical. So read the Scriptures until something strikes you, and then meditate [on] it in relationship to your own soul and to the world.
I have had to decide on just one recommendation, for priests and Sisters and laity — what I’m recommending applies to the laity just as well. I recommend to you Bible Studies (that’s the general title) by William Barclay. Barclay is Professor of Scripture at the University of Glasgow. He’s written about 42 volumes on Scripture. His Bible Studies is about 17 volumes: 2 on Matthew, 1 on Mark, 1 on Luke, 2 on John. He will take 3, 4, or 5, at most 10 verses of Scripture, and then comment. He knows Hebrew, Latin, Greek, history, and he’s a believer.
He’s not a Catholic. I find among ourselves a reluctance to read great literature on Christ written by non-Catholics. They say ‘no, it’s a Protestant book’ — glory be to God! who put in this ceiling! A Methodist put it in! An atheist laid these carpets! A Presbyterian installed some of these lights! And we use them! Then we will get someone who loves the Blessed Lord, who suffered for the Lord — so you all know it’s a Protestant book! Sure there’ll be a mistaken in it. But you’ll not find as many heresies in it as you’ll find in some Catholic magazines every week! And you’ll learn something about the Good Lord.
You need not use Barclay. You can read anyone who knows Scripture well, and who is not interested in just… whether or not there’s a proto- or deutero-Isaiah, and then in the end they don’t know there’s an Isaiah! I picked up a 2 volume study on the Gospel of John, and there would be 40 references to books at the end of each text — meter, no poetry! It’s very much like modern sex, it’s all technology, ‘how to’. And, there isn’t any spirit in it! Christ isn’t there! You cut the pages of many of our theological text books today and ink runs out - not blood!
So it may not be Barclay but let it be someone [editor’s note: Fulton Sheen wrote such a book himself, called Life of Christ, which is still available for sale today], and you have to have that. You it because we’re busy men, and we need someone who will interpret Scripture for us. And believe me Barclay is the best preparation in the world. And when you good lay people hear good sermons in your churches from now on — Barclay… Barclay! So you can say “oh Barclay gave him that idea!” And that’s alright, you drink in Barclay.
And then later on, if you want, write to me and I’ll give you the names of other treatises. But there are great classics. And many are writing about the Good Lord who understand him, his Priesthood and his Victimhood. And they can give us great inspiration.
So make the hour to counter the devil. “Day after day?” Yes. “It’s hard.” Not particularly, except on days of vacation when we have nothing to do, then it’s very hard! But when we’re very busy, it’s not hard at all, because we know we’ve got to get it in! Alright it means getting up an hour early — what about it! Does that hurt us? Can we be victims just as well as priests? Sure, you’ll have to catch a plane some morning at 6 o’clock. Have to get up at half past three to make the hour. Sure! But at any rate you’re making it!
Sometimes you’ll be so tired you’ll just fall asleep. Alright. I once made a Holy Hour, I remember I was going from Louvain in Belgium down to Lourdes, and I had 2 hours in Paris and I had to make my Hour. I went to the Church of San Roque. And I went in a 2 o’clock. There are not three days a year that I can sleep in the daytime — this was one. I sat down, I was so tired I went right to sleep. I woke up exactly at the end of the hour! And I said to the good Lord, “did I make the hour?” And my angel said, “yes, that’s the way the Apostles made their first one.” But he said, “do better next time.”
Now the point is, you can never, never miss it. Never. We may have to give up golf some days for those of you who are older, or tennis for those that are young. You may have to skip cocktails, going out to dinner. That’s part of Victimhood, that’s wonderful. We’re giving something to the Lord! What are we giving now? Really!
“And that’s day after day?” Sure! I know we’re busy, but goodness gracious, we got to have a source of power. Listen, there are a number of you — most of you priests, some of you are far more intelligent than I am. Many of you are as intelligent as I am. But I have more power than any of you! A thousand times more power! I stand up and people listen to me! And I need only talk and they listen! Is it my power? No! St. Paul says, “what have you that you have not received? And if you have received, why do you glory as if you had not?” Where did I get this power? There! That’s where I got it! 54 years of continuous daily adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
And anyone can get it, it’s available to all! “Taste and see that the Lord is sweet.” Then we’ll have power! The Lord will be with us, His Spirit will be with us! We’ll be better able to console people! We’ll have a deeper understanding of the problems of others. And we’ll be making reparation for the sins of others as well.
Now this is why I came. The success of this retreat does not depend on whether you like the talks. That is unimportant. Just think of what would happen to the diocese […] if every single priest in the diocese, and what would happen to you Sisters, if every single one in your convent made a Holy Hour every day. If every priest in the diocese made a Holy Hour every day, there would not be a one single priest that would leave. There’s never been a priest leave the Church who made the daily holy hour. And for Sisters, it needn’t be community, no community reading, be with the Lord alone. Give yourselves time to do it.
For the lay people, if you can spend the hour, yes. But otherwise, silence. Silence. It is only in silence we know God. Only. He is not in the cyclone. He is only in the zephyrs.
You will hear about this in other conferences about the Holy Hour. And I beg you to become strong through Him.
I pray every single day of my life, that I will drop dead at 80. I am 78 now, I don’t look it but that’s alright. (I use palm olive soap!) I pray every day that I will drop dead — and incidentally, this is where physical strength comes, too. Believe me, when we spend our physical strength, maybe early in the morning, late at night, before the Good Lord, we get it back. [Latin phrase.] So I pray every single day that I will drop dead at 80, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, on any feast of Our Lady, or on a Saturday. I don’t know whether the Lord will grant my request or not. But I do know that if he doesn’t, after having asked him for so long, he’s going to be mighty embarrassed when he meets me.