He is a great writer; and a better teacher. His clarity of expression, bold proclamation, accessibility, and understanding of the faith are worthy of reverent appreciation. Influenced especially by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, Sheed has the ability to immerse his readers in the genius of Augustine and Aquinas in an accessible, and almost stealthy, way.
For a brief bio, visit Sheed’s author page at IgnatiusInsight.com. I especially recommend Patrick Madrid’s narrative piece on the Australian-born law student turned Catholic apologist (click here for it).
You have three things to gain by adhering to the reading plan that is to follow:
1. Greater Sanity. The Catholic Church – the pillar and bulwark of sanity – sees the world as it really is. The primary intellectual aim of every Christian should be to see the world as the Church does. Like any effective expounder of orthodoxy, Sheed does not propose anything new in his theological treatises; he merely re-presents what the Church proposes. Thus, by reading these books you will see the world more fully as the Church does – you’ll see things as they really are through a clearer lens; and grow in sanity.
2. Better Theology. Not to say your theology, or understanding of God, is in any way bad or inadequate if you haven’t read Sheed. But there’s always room to grow and fine-tune one’s knowledge of God. Every new thing we know about God is a new thing to love about God. And since none of us are neither omniscient nor all-loving, none of us will ever “know all there is to know” or “love all there is to love” about God. There’s always more to love about Love. But you can’t love what you don’t know.
3. Better Apologetics. Apologetics is a discipline of theology. The better our theology is, the better our apologetics will be. In other words, the better we know God and His Church the better we’ll able to defend them; a lover always defends what he knows to be true about his beloved.
Now without any further rambling, here’s a practical approach for steeping oneself in the literary classroom of Francis J. Sheed.
Read these three books in the following order:
1. Map Of Life
2. Theology For Beginners
3. Theology and Sanity
This order allows for a slow and systematic progression of thinking (it moves from the most basic to the most advanced of treatments on the fundamentals of the faith).
The first time you read Theology and Sanity, read it straight through. No pencil the first time, and no reverting back to a given passage or idea for clarification. Just read in one linear direction at a smooth, comfortable pace from front to back. Don’t worry about the words, phrases, quotations, or paragraphs you don’t quite grasp the first time through – you’ll wrestle with them the second time through.
The second time you read Theology and Sanity, it’s show time. You’ve introduced yourself to Sheed’s master work the first time through. Now it’s time to chew on it (not literally, please).
Prepare to get a headache, a common side-effect of active reading. Sometimes getting smarter hurts. Remember: your neurons are not omnipotent; they will tire out (but like your muscles, no pain no gain). Thus, the second time through Theology and Sanity, read with a pencil readily available and underline all that you believe are key points. Put stars by the most essential of the essential points. Make short, clear notes in the margins. Make the book more than just a book by Sheed; make it a conversation with Sheed.
The third time you read Theology and Sanity, read only the underlined passages. Do this often (at least a few times a year) to stay fresh. You can also refer to the key “starred” passages at your leisure. You can tell a lot about a person by what he reads; and you can tell a lot more about a person by what he re-reads.
Also, make sure you get a copy of the Catholic Evidence Training Outlines. This is a handbook assembled by Sheed and his wife, Maisie Ward. It is an all-in-one Catholic apologetics guide. It’s not meant to be read from front-to-back (but no one will stop you from doing so if you feel so inclined). Use this book as a reference point as specific apologetical themes arise. The Outlines is kind of like a dictionary, or even a miniature encyclopedia, of apologetics – except that it’s not a dictionary nor an encyclopedia – it’s an “Outlines”. It’s a thought-provoker rather than a thought-completer; and it’s a unique and essential component of your Frank Sheed library and endeavors to become a better defender of your faith.
Also indispensable is Society and Sanity. Some consider this to be the best popular work on Catholic social teachings available today. You can’t have faith without morals, which makes the co-mingling of Theology and Sanity with Society and Sanity a rather logical step in one’s intellectual journey with Sheed.
Make sure you’re also reading from the Gospels daily. Allow Sheed to provide your commentary. That is, along with the Gospels read Sheed’s To Know Christ Jesus. This book has been put on an equal footing with “life of Jesus” classics such as Life Of Christ by Fulton Sheed and The Lord by Romano Guardini.
At this point, you’ll have heard much of what the man had to say and, undoubtedly, you’ll be looking for some background on the man himself. Thus I recommend two books: The Church And I (an autobiography) and Frank and Maisie: A Memoir With Parents (written by his son).
***There are more books written by Sheed than the ones mentioned in this piece. I’ve only listed some of the essentials!