Martin Sheen has had a quite interesting journey with maintaining his faith.
The Apocalypse Now actor credits May 1, 1981 as the day he returned to Catholicism, and he has been a devout Catholic ever since. But there was a brief time where he strayed away from the religion.
Sheen was born into Catholicism. Being one of 10 children, he attended Catholic school, frequented church, and was even an activist and Catholic worker.
From 1972 to 1974, Sheen had worked with filmmaker Terrence Malick on the movie Badlands, but they soon lost connection afterwards. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that Sheen ran into Malick again in Paris while shooting for a different film, while also having since been not as religious as he once had been.
“Because my family wasn’t able to join me at that time, I spent every available moment with [Malick], and he became like a mentor,” he told Sojourners in 2021. “He gave me a number of books to read along the way, and we would discuss things philosophical, and we would go to services. I had been raised Catholic but I had pretty much left the faith, for just negligence, more than anything. And he had inspired, he had re-ignited really this burning desire to get healed, to become myself. And eventually it led me back to Catholicism, and I’ve remained a Catholic since then.”
“I wasn’t interested in the piety of it. I was interested in the honesty of it,” he added. “I needed to become my real self, which is what all of us are meant to be. For me, I felt more comfortable in Catholicism because I loved the sacraments — confession and the Eucharist and the Mass were of utmost importance to me. I reunited with that, and I found myself. I’m not saying my life was any easier. On the contrary! But I became happy. I loved being alive.”
Around the same time, Sheen had suffered a heart attack at the age of 40. This near-death experience opened his eyes to how he wanted to live the remainder of his life, as a faithful man.
“It’s always a crisis that brings you back,” he said in a separate interview with the Irish Times in 2014. “And we begin to ask those two fundamental questions, if you’re gonna reflect on your life and take serious responsibility for it: who am I, and why am I here? And you reflect on those. I damn near died; I had the last rites.”
But it still took a little time before he was committed to being a Catholic for the right reasons.
“I started going to Mass again but it was out of fear and apprehension that I would die . . . and so it was another four years that I actually committed to come back,” he admitted. “I came back to the Church of Vatican II, which I didn’t have a clue had gone on in my absence.”
He talked more about his relationship with Catholicism a year later with Chicago Catholic, reflecting on all the different things going on in his life before he decided to return to Catholicism.
“My life was fragmented. I was a father here, and a husband there, and a brother there, and then I was an actor and then I was a Catholic and then I was an activist,” he explained. “I lived in these pigeonholed kinds of definitions. But I managed to unite them. That was what was so important about my return to the church, because I could do everything on that level. It was all nourished and inspired and focused by my faith.”
With all these new perspectives of life in mind, it was inevitable that his view on Catholicism once he returned would change, in some ways, for the better.
“I came back with a whole different vision of Catholicism,” he reflected. “As a result, since then my life has been extremely difficult but equally happy because I have been able to unite the will of the spirit with the work of the flesh if you will.”
The reason for people wanting to choose faith varies greatly. Some need guidance or answers, and some just want something greater to believe in. And some, like Martin, just need to be reminded that they’re not in this life alone. And that’s a comforting thought.