In 1952, the recently consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of New York, Fulton Sheen, began what would become the most watched religious television program of all time: Life is Worth Living. A 20-year radio veteran, Sheen was immediately successful on this new medium. He was accessible, but never watered down, and scholarly, but never dry. In fact, he won an Emmy Award that same year and the recently deceased baseball legend and Catholic convert Hank Aaron was said to have kept the book version of this program in his glove compartment at all times.
The same year that Life is Worth Living first aired, Sheen published a series of meditations on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary titled The World’s First Love. It is a book that has changed my life. Sheen has the remarkable ability not only to share profound spiritual insights but also to make them relevant for our daily lives.
“Every man who pursues a maid, every maid who yearns to be courted, every bond of friendship in the universe, seeks a love that is not just her love or his love but something that overflows both her and him which is called ‘our love’...That ideal love...is the same ideal that God had in His Heart from all eternity - the Lady whom He calls "Mother." She is the one whom every man loves when he loves a woman whether he knows it or not [and] she is what every woman wants to be, when she looks at herself.”
So, why do we sing to Mary every Sunday? As St. Augustine says, “cantare, amantis est”: “Only the lover sings.” After receiving Christ’s body in the Eucharist, we should pray to Our Lady, the “Gate of Heaven”: the door through which Christ was made into the world, and the blueprint for our own path to salvation.
This Sunday, as the Church’s calendar turns past the Presentation (February 2), we turn to a new Marian Hymn: “Ave Regina Caelorum,” “Hail, O Queen of Heaven.” It is, most simply, a love song to the Blessed Mother. Our Lady truly is “lovely beyond all other” and the “most beautiful maiden.” So, as we sing this up to Easter Sunday, let us pray this hymn with devotion and affection, growing in understanding of our own desires and purposes, and creating space, in ourselves, for our resurrected Lord.