The past couple months, the lives of two famous TV personalities have entered the moral spotlight.
First, actor and self-proclaimed “warlock” Charlie Sheen came under cultural—and legal—scrutiny after a series of unplugged, uncensored diatribes…costing him his role in “Two and Half Men” now filled by Ashton Kutcher.
Then this month another Sheen—Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton Sheen—made the news when the documents of his Cause for Sainthood were received by Pope Benedict, thereby submitting his life for scrutiny by the Congregation for Causes of Saints.
Putting the playboy and the priest on the same scale may seem like little more than a crude joke.
But is it really too much to look for common ground—not only in their names, but in their lives?
Pope Benedict offers this, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person.”
It must be possible to find in two men—or even two and half men—that vocation of love and truth found in “all people.” As part of the same human family, one can only be so different.
Granted, Fulton Sheen’s famous quote, “It takes three to make love,” may make Charlie Sheen think of something entirely different than a triune, God-centered marriage. However, beneath Charlie’s assessment of his love life—that dating two “Goddesses” at the same time is a sign that he is “winning”—is the idea that his “love life” is an integral part of his identity.
For both men, there is the expectation of extraordinary, larger-than-life love. For Fulton, that expectation is fulfilled in God’s love—a love that is sacramental, sacrificial, unfailing, healing, challenging, and everlasting. Even in Charlie’s case, there’s the expectation that someone—even if it’s the other person in the relationship—“seeks the good of the beloved…is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, §6).
The difference is the type of love—something Fulton laid out clearly: “Love exists on three different levels: the sex level, the friendship-love, and the sacramental.” His description of the first type sadly matches an all-too-familiar tabloid story: “Because it cares only for its own rapture and its own fulfillment, such love (sex-love) quickly turns to hate when no longer satisfied.”
Each in his own way, both Sheens tried to prove that “Life is worth living”—or at least my life is worth living. Each in his own way tried to live with freedom, and proclaim the truth.
In the 1950s, Americans saw in Fulton Sheen an unconventional, countercultural, straight-talking archbishop who declared there is truth and untruth, and who promised a free, happy life could be lived (life with Christ). As the Fulton Sheen website notes, “When it came to authoritative moral teaching, Catholics and non-Catholics alike listened to Fulton Sheen because he was someone they could trust to ‘tell it like it is.’”
Likewise, Charlie’s unplugged tirades may be entertaining—but he would not have been nearly as popularized had he not crossed the lines he did (becoming downright offensive). For audiences, part of his allure is that he’s had the guts to exit the PC and PR safe-zones. This attitude of “freedom from fear” of speaking out led him to launch his “Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour.
But who we popularize says a lot about the culture—and us. Why Fulton then? Why Charlie now?
If Fulton were here today, he might remind us of his words in the 1950s about freedom: “A proof that we are in danger of losing [freedom], is that everyone is talking about it. … Slaves talk most about freedom; the oppressed talk most about justice; the hungry talk most about food.”
Have we progressed to the point of not recognizing genuine freedom when we see it? We crave expressions of love and truth, but in all the hype over Charlie's antics, we can only gape upon and mock his sad illusions of the two.
Now, one Sheen’s audience ridicules when given the chance and moves on; the other wants to elevate him to sainthood, because he has enriched their lives, always pointing to Someone greater than himself.
Interestingly, as James Breig noted at FathersForGood, it’s Fulton Sheen’s fault that Charlie has the name “Sheen” at all; Charlie’s father, Martin (who returned committedly to the Faith), took the stage-name “Sheen” out of admiration for the archbishop.
But as hard as it is be scrutinized in the public eye when you’re alive, just imagine what it’s like after you’re dead—and cannot change, apologize, or improve your life. So for Charlie and for us, it’s a comfort that as long as there’s life, God’s love and truth never abandon us completely. There’s always an opportunity for grace, drawing us to God through a life of authentic love and truth.
And that is the real role of a lifetime, that no one—not even Ashton Kutcher—can replace.