Ven. Fulton J. Sheen: “Father, Forgive Them, for They Know Not What They Do!”

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Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

By Fulton J. Sheen, Catholic Exchange, April 10, 2020

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) was one of the best-loved prelates of twentieth century Catholicism. A prolific writer and orator, a distinguished scholar and teacher, an influential master of the media, Ven. Sheen was one of the most effective communicators of our time. His scores of books have offered inspiration, profound thought, and penetrating analysis of Christian faith and life.

Fulton J. SheenIt seems to be a fact of human psychology that when death approaches, the human heart speaks its words of love to those whom it holds closest and dearest. There is no reason to suspect that it is otherwise in the case of the Heart of hearts. If He spoke in a graduated order to those whom He loved most, then we may expect to find in His first three words the order of His love and affection. His first words went out to enemies: “Father, forgive them”; His second to sinners: “This day you will be with me in paradise”; and His third to saints: “Woman, behold your son.” Enemies, sinners, and saints—such is the order of divine love and thoughtfulness.

The congregation anxiously awaited His first word. The executioners expected Him to cry, for everyone pinned on the gibbet of the Cross had done it before Him. Seneca tells us that those who were crucified cursed the day of their birth, the executioners, their mothers, and even spat on those who looked upon them. Cicero tells us that at times it was necessary to cut out the tongues of those who were crucified, to stop their terrible blasphemies. Hence the executioners expected a cry but not the kind of cry that they heard.

The scribes and Pharisees expected a cry, too, and they were quite sure that He who had preached “Love your enemies,” and “Do good to them that hate you,” would now forget that gospel with the piercing of feet and hands. They felt that the excruciating and agonizing pains would scatter to the winds any resolution He might have taken to keep up appearances. ….

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