07 March 2009

Venerable Solanus Casey: Always Grateful to God

Father Solanus Casey was a Capuchin Friar and perhaps redefined simplicity. He had a difficult time with his studies in the seminary as the courses were instructed in German and Latin. He had little to no familiarity with either language. He was, however, ordained a priest in 1904 but with the condition of being a simplex priest, meaning that he would not be permitted to hear confessions or deliver homilies. His daily duties were those that are usually reserved for Brothers, not priests. He spent much of his time as a porter, someone who would sit at the reception desk and greet visitors at the door of the Friary. Beginning in 1924 he spent more than twenty years and at least ten hours per day doing this at Saint Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. His ministry would be one of healing as he listened to the concerns of visitors and with great patience, offer them comfort and reassurance.

His faith was very simple: if our Lord said it, then it’s true. Father Solanus had a childlike trust in God. Our Lord said that He is the Bread of Life. Father Solanus had written a poem for Christmas about the Eucharist and we who receive Him. He titled the poem: “Always Christmas Eve for Daily Communicants.”

Here is the poem:

“With love and with Christmas blessings to all
Comes the Infant once more to free us from sorrow
Whose smile and Whose power and Whose gentleness call
To each heart and each soul for a manger tomorrow.
Whose love and Whose goodness, Whose wonders proclaim
Him, the Son of the Virgin, as promised of yore.
O may He estrange us from sin and its shame
And reign in our hearts as His crib evermore.”

Once on a train bound for Detroit after having been to Seattle for his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, he arrived at Saint Paul with little time to catch his next train. Father Solanus, always putting God first, had not yet said Mass for the day. He considered this more important than catching a train. Thus he went to a local parish, said Mass, spent time in thanksgiving, and even ate break breakfast at the parish’s rectory. When he finally arrived back at the train station, he was right on time to catch his connecting train because it was delayed and had arrived three hours late. He would later say: “It’s an easy thing for the great God and Governor of the universe to hold any train He might wish me to take.”

The dictionary may not agree but the opposite of complicated is surely Father Solanus Casey. He followed his Community’s Rule. He said Mass, spent time in Adoration. He even considered spiritual reading to be an act of worship. He especially loved, “The Mystical City of God.” Father Solanus wrote, “If we want to profit from our reading about God and His Saints, we must read with reverence, we must appreciate.”

Interesting how most of us make plans and we get annoyed when those plans are interrupted. Father Solanus, however, considered everything to be a source for spiritual growth. There were no obstacles on the journey to his heavenly Father. Since his faith was so simplistic and accepting, more puzzling to him than the German and Latin languages were those who were atheists or agnostics. A faith built so firmly on the rock could not begin to entertain or comprehend the opposite view. Much of Father Solanus’ writings were geared toward this unbelief. One can only imagine how agonizing this must’ve been to the interior life of a man who approached God with such absolute certainty.

Unfortunately, words about his incomprehension of nonbelievers found their way from his pen to the paper much easier than the expression of his own faith. His love for our Lord was so strong and his faith so immoveable that he had trouble expressing it in words. But he was one of the Church’s spiritual greats and did find ways to express that treasure of faith.

Here are two of his written statements:

“To know is to appreciate, to love when the known is good, to adore when divine.”

“What a horizon for sinners, if we but stop and remember that to know God covers everything!”

He had a wonderful devotion to our Blessed Mother. He had a dream when he was young, which would perhaps seem disturbing to most, but he considered it inspired. He dreamt that he was standing over a fiery pit, he looked up and a Rosary dangling, which was coming towards him. He grabbed onto the Rosary and it saved him from the fire. He interpreted the dream to mean that he would always be sustained by his devotion to our Blessed Lady and the Rosary. Father Solanus actually didn’t want to be a Capuchin but he believed that the Virgin Mother of God had spoken to him telling him that this was her desire. And, of course, with his inspiring faith, he could not refuse. In 1950 when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Father Solanus wrote that this could “rescue men’s hope in the supernatural and their souls from despair.

Father Solanus thanked God for his weaknesses because weakness increases dependency on God. For him, everything begins with the human heart. Everything that stands in the way of God’s grace must be cleared out. Here are his words: “O Brother dear! Why are we all so stupid? We are all alike in a way. We worry our heads and our hearts about many things like Martha and almost totally undervalue the invitation, most beautiful of all, ‘learn of Me because I am meek and humble of Heart.’”

Father Solanus received many visitors who came to him for prayers and consultation. There were miraculous healings through his prayers. He also had a heavenly gift in preparing others for bad news. He seemed to know when God would heal someone and when He wouldn’t. In once such instance, someone came to him with a child who appeared to have a cold. Father Solanus knew the child would not be healed and told the father of the child to go to the chapel and tell God He can have her. The child passed away a few days later from an undiagnosed pleurisy.

But Father Solanus was no stranger to physical suffering himself. He had a very painful skin disease which infected his whole body. Nearing the end of his life, as he lay prostrate in a hospital bed for days, while being aided by two nurses, he suddenly lifted himself up and extended his hands and said: “I give my soul to Jesus Christ.” Then his body fell back down into the bed and he was dead.

Perhaps this great man of faith’s advice to all of us can be found in one of his letters: “Shake off the excessive worry and instead exercise a little confidence in God’s merciful providence.”

(Many thanks to the booklet: "Thanks be to God" in preparing this post)