Fulton Sheen’s Teaching Methods

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The following was a college essay written by Joseph Tuttle. It has been edited and approved by Mary Boneno. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By: Joseph Tuttle, Benedictine College

One of the main elements of Fulton Sheen’s teaching methods is the importance of sharing the truth in education in order to be an effective teacher. In his words: “The focus of education must be on truth, not political correctness and trendy theories” (Zia 4). Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 4:16): thus, we must teach Jesus Himself. To be an effective teacher, one has to speak and teach the truth. 

A teacher must also be authentic. This means that the teacher must put the truth they teach into action for the service of their neighbor; they must be a good example to their students and live what they teach. Fulton Sheen was a great example of authenticity. He would often preach to people of all walks of life, telling them to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. After his ordination, he made a vow himself to make a Holy Hour each day, and he fulfilled this promise every day in the presence of the Eucharist. He would do this even at the cost of missing his transportation, and being a very popular personality at the time and having a busy schedule, this was quite an inspiring and heroic act.

Another aspect of effective teaching is applying humor to better engage an audience. Sheen used humor to lighten up his audience, to get their attention before delving into some deep philosophical or theological lecture. Fulton Sheen did this often in his many lectures and episodes of Life Is Worth Living. Another important facet of Sheen’s use of humor was that he was never afraid to make fun of himself and share his own embarrassing stories.

Fulton Sheen suggests that teachers remember to be humble and not let pride control them. In his book, Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John Hardon, S.J. gives a splendid definition of humility: “It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors” (Hardon 260). Teachers should remember that they do not have all the answers. Fulton Sheen took pride very seriously: “All our other sins can be from ourselves; for example, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony. But pride comes direct from hell. By that sin fell the angels. It destroys the very possibility of conversion” (Zia 7).

Being prepared to teach is extremely important as well. Fulton Sheen spent almost six hours preparing for a single lecture! In fact, Sheen prepared for his lectures in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This is reminiscent of how St. Thomas Aquinas, when writing the Summa Theologica, would go into the chapel and lay his head on the tabernacle before writing, thus drawing his inspiration from God. Not having notes also meant that Sheen would almost constantly be looking at his audience, truly engaging them and speaking directly to them.

Following the guidance of the Church, the archbishop said that our primary education comes from our parents. Therefore, parents should strive to teach their children the truth, in humility, while being authentic and living what they teach. Parents should be not only the first teachers of academic subjects, but also the first teachers of virtue. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 2223: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom.”

Unfortunately, most secular institutions today try to indoctrinate children with controversial topics such as abortion, contraception, same-sex “marriage,” and so on. However, Fulton Sheen wisely noted that “tolerance applies only to persons, but never to truth. Intolerance applies only to truth, but never to persons” (Zia, 12). Furthermore, in an audio lecture, he said, “I love the Communist, but I hate Communism.” Thus, we are called to love individuals, but we should not tolerate their sin and falsehoods. 

The Baltimore Catechism says that we are here on earth to know, love, and serve God. The first of these is knowledge, which can be gained with a truthful and authentic education. In the end, “education’s ultimate purpose is to lead us to heaven” (Zia, 9). The second is love, or charity, which stems from knowledge. The more we know someone, the stronger our relationship becomes and the more we can love them. And the third is service. I believe, then, that service comes from love. The more we love someone, the more we are inclined to do things for them. Fulton Sheen knew God, loved Him, and constantly served Him. Fulton Sheen’s teaching skills and his entire life are a great example of how every Catholic should strive to live their life.

Bibliography

Hardon, Fr. John, Modern Catholic Dictionary. Bardstown, Kentucky: Eternal Life, 2008.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000

Zia, Mark.  The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen.  Cincinnati: Servant books, 2015.

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