December 16, 2015
Martin Sheen —
Spirituality of Imagination

Actor Martin Sheen as you've never heard him before. He has appeared in over 100 films, including Apocalypse Now. He’s best known on television as President Bartlet in seven seasons of The West Wing. But Martin Sheen, born and still legally named Ramón Estévez, has had another lesser-known life as a spiritual seeker and activist. He returned to a deep and joyful Catholic faith after a crisis at the height of his fame in in mid-life. He’s been arrested over 60 times in vigils and protests. "Piety is something you do alone," he says. "True freedom, spirituality, can only be achieved in community."

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Martin Sheen

is an actor and a Catholic activist. He has appeared in over 100 films including Badlands, Apocalypse Now, and The Way, as well as on television in The West Wing and most recently in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. Along with his son Emilio, he co-wrote the memoir Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son.

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A movie still of Martin Sheen in "The Way."

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Thank you for this. I've always admired his work on West Wing and loved The Way, but I had no idea Mr. Sheen was so thoughtful and articulate about the big questions.

I just shared this podcast on Facebook and here is what I wrote:
Friends of faith of any stripe - give yourself a moment of joy and listen to this podcast of Martin Sheen. As a former Catholic with a complicated relationship to the church, I was moved to hear him talk about his spiritual life. He is jolly and deep and committed to the work of justice. I can't recommend this highly enough. I love to hear Catholics and Christians (and Buddhists and HIndus and Muslims, etc....) talk about the deeper themes of their faith, and not just the surface story and rules. I had no idea Martin Sheen was this person. I'm going to watch "the Way" next. I always thought that was a dabbler's endeavor but I was wrong. Happy, happy, joy, joy to listen to this!

I wonder if you have listened to Fulton Sheen? Wonderful also! Much Love & Peace to you. Merry Christmas!

how do you save this to a fb podcast ??

I agree with your. I love how he speaks about his spiritual life that is within a community but is not bound by it. Like a great starting point that could expand beyond its walls and rules.

This Christmas lets be with
Our reflection in the mirror
Revere the habitual underground struggle
Of connecting with a deeply personal
Deeply universal humanity
Lets question how a wildly progressive conscience
Calls for expression of a profound mystery
Lets question the reality of active spirituality
Of integrated politics, commitment, dignity
Can you and I ignite love
Like a bed of purple lavenders
Calmly reawaken the senses
This Christmas we call for
A deep and joyful, honest and free life
We worry, if we act
What will happen to our children
What will happen if we don't

Gratedul for this conversation... for how he describes his inner journey with God as one of experiencing both freedom and community, even in one's darkest times...especially in one's darkest times. Thank you!

An extraordinary interview...a blessing to listen to. Many thanks to Krista and Martin Sheen .

How sad for him that he has to deal with the sad life his son has chosen. Our children often are challenges. Glad he has the stamina and spirituality to cope

I use to see Martin standing on the corner of Webb Way & PCH along with one or two others holding signs in favor of the Mexican laborors of which,sadly, ther were many in Mlinu with no home & no food living in the nearby brush. I'd see him other places too, especially Church-Our lady of MALIBU and St. Monica. We've all had a past of some kind or another and is a perfect example for me. i admire him for his Spirituality and sharing it with others, seeing him at frequent Masses, his family struggles which are so heartbreaking for any parent, but he continues to show me how to trust in Christ. God's will be done! Much love and many prayers, Anne Hartley

Like many people, I fell in love with Martin Sheen's work by watching the West Wing -- having gotten through many late nights of writing graduate school papers on public policy by taking a break to watch an episode of WW that would rekindle a love for government. It wasn't until later when I interned at Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA and attended a vigil at the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning that I learned about Sheen's life of activism and protesting. Shortly after I watched "The Way" and read "Along the Way" and was completely taken by what a meaningful life and profound faith Sheen was living on and off the screen.

When I saw that he was the guest on On Being this week, I squealed with excitement, immediately downloaded the episode, made some hot tea, and sat down to enjoy this rich and beautiful interview. Thank you so much for facilitating such an encouraging and insightful conversation. It was truly a delight to hear how his pursuit of faith, love, and justice has been and continues to be such a joyful journey for him.

So interesting--I wrote my dissertation to The West Wing. There is something about that show.

I enjoyed the interview greatly, but during every interview he does, he never mentions his work with the Paulist's. I first saw Martin Sheen on a show called Insight which was a Paulist production. These were spiritually driven stories with different actors of the day (known and newly discovered). The best known of these was when Martin Sheen was "The Fourth Wiseman" which I bought on DVD for my family years ago.

The one that sticks in my mind clearest is a very simple garden of eden story about the creation of Eve. The set is simple cardboard cutouts and cloth and Martin is wearing a blue sweatshirt that says Adam (it might have said Man, it was many years ago.) I think it was Ben Vereen was the Angel of the Lord ( he wore a sweatshirt that said Angel). Man complains how lonely he is to the Angel. He has a fun time playing in the Garden and The Angel is a great guy but he is an Angel, the animals are great and some play well to especially "dog". But now that he had named all of the animals, he was bored and lonely. The set goes black and next to Adam is a woman (in a blue sweatshirt that says Eve (or Woman)). Then they start walking around the garden and the episode ends.

These were great shows for a young person to see in his formative years because they gave me a better understanding of some of the bible stories and Christian thought in general. But as I said early on Martin Sheen (nor any of the other actors I remember seeing in these shows such as Alan Arkin) never talks about these and I always wonder why.

As an ex catholic, I find it strange when I see so much respect given to people of faith. As Phillip Appleton said, 'Using Your Imagination Is Easy. Learning Is Hard Work.'
I find life much more rewarding doing the hard work of learning of reality, instead of using hopes, dreams, prayer. Meditation is necessary I think. But don't confuse the benefits of meditation with religious beliefs. Christianity seems rather benign at the moment. But it does add fuel to the fire of radical religious beliefs, which is not compatible with the 21st century. Islam for example.
Over 800,000 Muslims want Sharia Law. Thats not a minority. Thats a majority. That is the problem we are facing.

I must totally disagree w/ the idea that Christianity adds fuel to any negative "fire." So the brotherhood of mankind adds fuel to some kind of bad fire? So loving others as you love yourself does that? Or is it praying for one's enemies that does that? You are painting very many millions of individuals around the world w/ a broad, negative brush & that's never ok to do - in fact, it does not represent "learning" at all. (It sounds more like a prejudiced statement to me, intentional or not.) To conflate Christianity with Islam (if that's what you're doing) is also not representative of learning at all.

There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world; 800,000 is certainly a minority.

There were some life changing bits of Wisdom in Mr. Sheen's words thanks so much for this. I would love to see Krista do a whole series on famous folks we would be surprised are so brilliant and thought provoking. May I suggest Will Smith be the next one? He has changed my life.

This was a thrilling episode. Thank you for such a wonderful show. I would like recommend this poem to Mr. Sheen, in case he is not familiar with it. I ran across it in a book in the library at the Gethsemani Abbey (Merton's home monastery before his death) during a recent retreat. Mr. Sheen's reflection on how Brothers K brought him to his senses made me want to share this poem, "The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson. You can find it in a book that combines the poem with photographs titled "I fled Him down the nights and down the days" published by Loyola University Press in 1970.

It seems to me that Mr. Estevez would be very familiar with "Hounds of Heaven".

Dear Krista, I've been a fan of your show for years. This episode touched me deeply. I have considered presenting myself for the Act of Reconciliation many times, especially during our Jubilee. Mr. Sheen really got to me.

Sheen's experience of the eucharist and the meaning was spot on. At least one other person agrees with me. Thanks for a great podcast.

First, let me say, I appreciate all of Mr. Sheen's work, I was a big fan of the West Wing, but also his other work. Second, like Mr. Sheen, I'm a Catholic. While I'm not as devout as Mr. Sheen (i.e, confession, mass) I try to hold to many of the Catholic doctrines. I am probably more "catholic", i.e., universal, than Catholic, with all of the rules and regulations. [Sort of makes me a "cafeteria" one, but still.] In any case, I approach each day with trying to do the best I can, with God's help; treating my fellow humans better (often) than they treat me. I applaud Mr. Sheen's faith, and that he tries to carry it over into his life and career. Bless him and Ms. Tippett. I am happy we have a Pope (Francis) who seems to be more "catholic" than "Catholic". That is, more universal, and trying to spread through his attitude and work, than doctrinal strictness, the work of Our Lord Jesus. Bless him too. Thanks.

Martin Sheen is a wonderful friend to our Universe, and as resilient and full of heart, and might I add a beautiful humble man. I had the pleasure of meeting him up in Ocala, Florida at a Pic a dilly cafe/store while going to visit some family members. He was actually out there shooting a movie in Ocala (at that time I was a film student). He grabbed a cup of coffee, and we had a light snack and my family and I enjoyed his company for a brief moment between shots of filming. Love you, man... keep hope alive in the new year 2016.

Love this interview thank you. Love your work thank you. Walked the Camino 2015 thank you. Love your activism thank you thank you!!!

I think Krista summed it up perfectly at the end: what a beautiful conversation! I love the way Martin Sheen weaves together his theology with his spirituality. As I was listening, I felt a strong desire to ask him to be my spiritual director. Wonderful! I plan to listen to this one again and again!

I felt such a transmission of Divine Love flowing from Martin in this interview! And at one point after he had been talking about brokenness (something about myself I am quite painfully aware) and such, I heard in my head, "What if I'm just fine?" Then somehow I felt this immense love pouring in accepting me exactly as I am, all that's flawed and really not working, etc. I wept and wept and wept, and felt all this acceptance. I am hoping this has somehow shifted something in me permanently, though I cannot tell yet, but I am immensely grateful. I also just loved hearing how Martin has approached social activism and protesting. I see so much protesting that involves vilifying the other (which I often see as projecting one's own shadow on the other). I just felt a sense of love and peace in the way he described his protesting activities. What a model and inspiration!

I now have three favorite interviews; John O'Donahue, Greg Boyle, and Martin Sheen. Thank you.

Thoroughly enjoyed your interview with Martin Sheen. He volunteered at St Joseph centers Bread and Roses CAfe when I worked there in the 90s. Sister Rose admired him tremendously because he was very low key and merrily washed pots and pans at the back of the kitchen.
Pam Tyler. YDS 95.

Have loved Martin Sheen for years and he is always such a joy to watch or listen to as someone who has seen the dark and light sides of life. The Way was such an impactful movie for me personally and for those who have not read it the book follow up by he and Emilio Along the Way- Journey of a father and a Son was great and gets into a good deal of this journey for both men.

I love Martin Sheen / Ramon Estevez (his real name) - he has been my all-time favorite actor for more than 35 yrs! In fact, he's the only #1 favorite I've Ever had in my life (since I ever remember having a favorite) or ever will. A lot of people don't know he's a devout Christian. At 1st I didn't know that myself. I saw the film he made w/ his son Emilio, btw, called 'The Way.' Wonderful. I also read the book that kind of goes along w/ it called 'Along The Way' which is the story of he & Emilio as father & son. They alternated on writing chapters - 1 chapter by Ramon Martin & the next by Emilio & so on.

Great episode, Krista.

I don't know if you have ever interview either Christopher Hedges or Morris Berman on the aspects of spirituality in our modern political sphere of moving toward or away from Empire or democracy --- but either or both of these highly spiritual and knowledgeable political individuals would provide an interesting episode in this fan's opinion.

I continue to turn people on to your NPR show.

Sincerely,
Alan MacDonald
Wells, Maine

I am a volunteer at the Fordham Infirmary where Fr. Daniel Berrigan now lives. I spent some time with him this morning and told him about the interview with Martin Sheen. I told him that Mr. Sheen had said it was Mother Theresa who got him to go to church but that it was Fr. Berrigan who kept him in it. Fr. Berrigan got a good chuckle out of that!

Thank you for visiting Fr. B, truly one of the few giants of American Catholic life. I've worked for the last decade or so on a bibliography/index of his writings, and sent him a copy of the work-in-progress for his 90th birthday. Should you visit him again, please tell him there's a soul in the state of his birth who utters a prayer of gratitude for his life and witness every night.

I loved hearing this interview with Martin Sheen. I was aware of his activism but unaware of his Catholic faith. It was inspiring. However, I wanted to hear more about how or why he interprets his faith in a way that causes him to be an activist. There are many "progressives" who are fine with being spiritual or pious but don't see activism as a necessary part of their faith. Why does he see it as necessary? I know that he has had several connections with the Catholic Worker Movement and Fr. Berrigan, but what is it that gets him out of his comfortable life and into the streets? I listened to both the edited and unedited episodes hoping to find more discussion of this. I am a big fan of Krista and this show but this seemed like a missed opportunity to explore this connection in more detail.

Thank you for this wonderful interview with Martin Sheen. I was a big fan of WW when it originally aired and now I am watching again via Netflix. I am midway through season 5 and I am continually amazed at how spot on this show is - many of the problems that were serious issues in the late 90s are still with us today. I loved Martin Sheen as Josiah Bartlet and now I have a whole new respect for him and all the work he has done to help others.

My wife and I have been members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena and learned to have a faith that resonates so much with the one Martin Sheen describes. It was very affirming to hear his words and questions this morning. My strongest impression is the idea of being in community being of utmost importance. Having moved to Oregon and left that faith community behind for now, this interview is reminding us both that we need to get back into community up here . . . .so that we can rediscover that joy and be of service ourselves.

This was an encouragement to me as I seek to become more pious, more intentional in my spirituality.

Joy filled calm filled after listening. Thank you!

I love the film "The Way". I love the line: ... you don't choose a life, you live one". I wrote it down, and taped it to my door. I traveled to Medjugorje in '96. I can't say my journey back to the Church has been all that great, in fact the opposite. I am devoted to the Rosary.

I heard this program a couple weeks ago, then watched The Way on (I think it was Netflix). Anyway, it was a beautiful film, very moving. I have great admiration and respect for Mr. Sheen--always have--but now a greater understanding of who he is. I am thankful for that, and for the reflection his work engendered (and that of Emilio Estevez, his son who directed the film).

For me, one of the most powerful interviews I have ever heard.

Just listened to your interview with Tami Simon for the first time. And found such wonder-ful connections between these two different lives of prayer and service. Thank you for creating and offering these public conversations of the heart!

A great conversation about the true nature of God . You need not search for God for He in us and all around us. God's love can never be earned, nor ever be lost. I've always appreciated Mr. Sheen's work and continue to regard him as one of the greatest actors of our time. I hope to meet him some day to thank him for his work.

I listened to this podcast on the way to work this morning. I was moved in a couple of ways... Ramon is very inspiring! I had no idea, as I am only in my 30s.

What I found quite interesting and refreshing was when he asked how people you interview pray. He FLIPPED THE INTERVIEW! Really, this spoke volumes to his grounding and humility.

Loved the episode! Thank you, again, Ms. Tippett!

This is "The Way" in nutshell, this statement from Martin Sheen: "Piety is something you do alone. True freedom, spirituality, can only be achieved in community."

I have only seen Martin Sheen in his role in the movie The American President so I didn’t have a strong opinion about him even as a celebrity, certainly not as a person. I was surprised to hear the father of “Charlie Sheen” is so spiritual and serious. It sounds like he was brought up with traditional family values and old fashioned Catholic rituals, going to mass every week, confession, etc. but that he drifted away from the Church for some reason. He did not leave behind the values he learned, though. I thought his statement “I wanted the sacraments, wanted the community … not the microscope” is something a lot of us can understand. As we grow up, get educated on the “real” world, and become more rational in our thinking, we start questioning all those rules and rituals from our childhood. It’s easy to set them aside when we are busy building our independence, but stressful events in our lives provoke those of us who grew up participating in a church to return. If we did not grow up in a religious family, we still want to be loved, connected, part of something, and we try to make that happen through other ways – reconnecting with estranged family, marriages, clubs, etc. I thought Mr. Sheen’s comment that we have a huge desire to “know we are loved, despite everything” was very apt. His statement “True freedom, spirituality, is communal, achieved as a part of something” is very good – it is through service, when we are giving to others, that we feel loved ourselves. The social and community responsibility Martin Sheen exhibits and promotes are totally in support of the basic things Jesus taught – passionately – and died because of. Love your neighbor, take care of the least among us, pay your fair share of taxes but don’t worship the politicians.

All of the goodness and joy Sheen found in being proactive and charitable can be so without faith in God. I wish more people could understand this.

I have only seen Martin Sheen in his role in the movie The American President so I didn’t have a strong opinion about him even as a celebrity, certainly not as a person. I was surprised to hear the father of “Charlie Sheen” is so spiritual and serious. It sounds like he was brought up with traditional family values and old fashioned Catholic rituals, going to mass every week, confession, etc. but that he drifted away from the Church for some reason. He did not leave behind the values he learned, though. I thought his statement “I wanted the sacraments, wanted the community … not the microscope” is something a lot of us can understand. As we grow up, get educated on the “real” world, and become more rational in our thinking, we start questioning all those rules and rituals from our childhood. It’s easy to set them aside when we are busy building our independence, but stressful events in our lives provoke those of us who grew up participating in a church to return. If we did not grow up in a religious family, we still want to be loved, connected, part of something, and we try to make that happen through other ways – reconnecting with estranged family, marriages, clubs, etc. I thought Mr. Sheen’s comment that we have a huge desire to “know we are loved, despite everything” was very apt. His statement “True freedom, spirituality, is communal, achieved as a part of something” is very good – it is through service, when we are giving to others, that we feel loved ourselves. The social and community responsibility Martin Sheen exhibits and promotes are totally in support of the basic things Jesus taught – passionately – and died because of. Love your neighbor, take care of the least among us, pay your fair share of taxes but don’t worship the politicians.