The Way Out of the Modern Straightjacket

The following article will appear in the November 2021 edition of Faith: West Tennessee. I am grateful to the editor & communications team of FWT for publishing my material. I am also grateful to be working with Our Sunday Visitor Press to publish a book on Ven. Fulton Sheen & American culture, which will be published in 2023.

During his long and illustrious career as a bishop and evangelist, Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote a short article entitled “Is Modern Man Far from Peace?” Sheen’s answer in that article was yes, indeed, modern humans are far from peace. The reason, he wrote, was that we have wrapped ourselves in a proverbial straitjacket of self. Modern humans have spent too much time using psychoanalysis and pop psychology to try to figure out problems that really are spiritual in nature. Humanity needs something else, a different focus.

Sheen offered an answer and a different focus. In that article, he wrote, “Those who search for pleasure, fame, and wealth are all seeking the Infinite, but the seekers are still on the outskirts of the Eternal City. Those with faith have penetrated to their real home within the Infinite and have found the ‘peace which the world cannot give.’” Modern humans remain on the outskirts of that Heavenly Kingdom, they remain sick of soul, because they continue to focus on themselves, their egos, sensual pleasures, and earthly realities that ultimately aren’t most important. Following the teaching of Jesus, Sheen reminds his audience that the path to peace is quite other than what our egos seek, and what the world can give.

In another short article entitled “Ingratitude,” Sheen proposes the foundation of the solution. Gratitude, he wrote, is the means of “curing the sick soul,” of curing the soul that is far from peace. Gratitude, he reminded his audience, is only found in those who are truly humble. That is because gratitude takes a person out of herself and causes her to be cognizant of “the Benefactor and of what He wants.” We are cured of pride and all other spiritual ills simply “by recognizing that all good things come from Him and are tokens of His love.” Gratitude, led by humility, causes us to remember that we need this Divine Benefactor, and that everything we receive is a gift from His loving hand.

Still more to the point, Sheen reminded readers that gratitude allows humankind to be “lifted above himself to the happiness for which he was made.” This is because the happiness for which we all have been made is not made up of wealth, pleasure, power, or honor. Rather, the happiness for which we are made consists in giving of self, even sacrificially, to others. Gratitude for the gifts of God causes us to act in sacrificial self-gift, and to put our focus on others.

Therefore, we must remember that we will find peace and fulfillment, which Jesus Christ wants to give us, only by acknowledging that we are created to be dependent on, and receive gifts from, God and others. We will find peace and fulfillment only by acting in self-gift toward others. Growing in gratitude, then, is the first step in allowing God to liberate us from the straitjacket of self, and to find the full and joyful life for which we have been created.

So, let’s bring goodness and beauty into the world by sharing the truth of gratitude with our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

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