Venerable Solanus Casey (1870-1957)
Barney Casey became one of Detroit’s best-known priests even though he was not allowed to preach formally or to hear confessions! Barney came from a large family in Oak Grove, Wisconsin. At the age of 21, and after he had worked as a logger, a hospital orderly, a streetcar operator and a prison guard, he entered St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee—where he found the studies difficult. He left there and, in 1896, joined the Capuchins in Detroit, taking the name Solanus. His studies for the priesthood were again arduous. On July 24, 1904, he was ordained, but because his knowledge of theology was judged to be weak, Father Solanus was not given permission to hear confessions or to preach. A Franciscan Capuchin who knew him well said this annoying restriction "brought forth in him a greatness and a holiness that might never have been realized in any other way." During his 14 years as porter and sacristan in Yonkers, New York, the people there recognized him as a fine speaker. "For, though he was forbidden to deliver doctrinal sermons," writes his biographer, James Derum, "he could give inspirational talks, or feverinos, as the Capuchins termed them" (18:96). His spiritual fire deeply impressed his listeners. Father Solanus served at parishes in Manhattan and Harlem before returning to Detroit, where he was porter and sacristan for 20 years at St. Bonaventure Monastery. Every Wednesday afternoon he conducted well-attended services for the sick. A co-worker estimates that on the average day 150 to 200 people came to see Father Solanus in the front office. Most of them came to receive his blessing; 40 to 50 came for consultation. Many people considered him instrumental in cures and other blessings they received. Father Solanus’ sense of God’s providence inspired many of his visitors. "Blessed be God in all his designs" was one of his favourite expressions.
The many friends of Father Solanus helped the Capuchins begin a soup kitchen during the Depression. Capuchins are still feeding the hungry there today. In 1946 in failing health, he was transferred to the Capuchin novitiate in Huntington, Indiana, where he lived until 1956 when he was hospitalized in Detroit. He died on July 31, 1957. An estimated 20,000 people passed by his coffin before his burial in St. Bonaventure Church in Detroit. At the funeral Mass, Father Gerald, the provincial, said: "His was a life of service and love for people like me and you. When he was not himself sick, he nevertheless suffered with and for you that were sick. When he was not physically hungry, he hungere with people like you. He had a divine love for people. He loved people for what he could do for them —and for God, through them." In 1960 a Father Solanus Guild was formed in Detroit to aid Capuchin seminarians. By 1967 the guild had 5,000 members—many of them grateful recipients of his practical advice and his comforting assurance that God would not abandon them in their trials. He was declared Venerable in 1995.
James Patrick Derum, his biographer, writes that eventually Father Solanus was weary from bearing the burdens of the people who visited him. "Long since, he had come to know the Christ-taught truth that pure love of God and one’s fellowmen as children of God are in the final event all that matter. Living this truth ardently and continuously had made him, spiritually, a free man—free from slavery to passions, from self-seeking, from self-indulgence, from self-pity—free to serve wholly both God and man" (The Porter of St. Bonaventure’s, page 199).
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (15.1-10)
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them. Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
God the Shepherd
(Homily by Fr. E.J.Tyler)
It is well-known among anthropologists that in traditional native religions the high god, the principal deity, tends to withdraw from view after the initial work of creation. Thereafter the scene tends to be left to lesser spirits, and it is with these inferior beings that man deals. The high god is a remote and withdrawn deity. The Vedic, Buddhist, and Jain religions share cultural roots in north-eastern India and both the Buddha and Mahavira hailed from this region. It is doubtful that these great Asian religious founders had any clear notion of a supreme deity who actively loves man. Man seeks the Absolute, rather than the Absolute seeking man. Indeed Buddha seems to have been firm that to achieve salvation, one did not have to accept the existence of God. I can think of one modern British scholar of Buddhism who maintains with great erudition that Buddhism rejects the notion of a loving Creator. There is no doubt about the monotheism of Islam, but the Judaeo-Christian observer would hesitate with its image of Allah. Man is called to surrender to Allah with all his heart. Allah is absolute Master and Lord. He is not the Husband of a chosen people referred to by the prophets prior to Jesus Christ, the Husband yearning for fidelity from Israel who is his chosen spouse. Least of all is he the ‘dear, dear Father’ revealed by Jesus Christ, the One we are to address as Abba! The God whom Jesus Christ revealed to man and whose revelation he commissioned his Church to bring to all the nations, is a God who lovingly and anxiously seeks man out. He is consumed with love for man, a love far exceeding man’s ordinary experience. That is to say, the Christian religion has brought to the world a revelation from God and an image of him that is unique in its overwhelming stress on divine love. God is love. That is his most complete definition. For many religions this would reduce God to something less than the One who is utterly transcendent and beyond the world. But no. Such is the surprise of God. God is love in his essence and life - being a communion in love of three divine persons who are each the one only God - and he is love in his involvement with man and the world.
In our Gospel today our Lord, the Son of God made man - Oh, wonder of wonders! - speaks of what the transcendent God is like. God - the high god of the native peoples, the Absolute who is obscurely sought by Hinduism and Buddhism, the One whom every man vaguely seeks and in whom lies his only true happiness - is the joy and fulfilment of man’s heart. This one God, in whose hand is held our vast and mighty universe, gazes on every man and woman with a yearning and compassionate love. He is Father to each of us in a sense we can scarcely imagine, precisely because of the infinite power of his love. The world throbs with love and it throbs with hate. The love that is found in the world - that love which exists between man and wife, between parents and children, between friend and friend, and occasionally even between enemies - all this love is as nothing compared with the love which the Creator of all has for each person he sustains in existence. It is a love which seeks each out, pursuing him silently, discreetly, unrelentingly. It is a love which will never give up and which is determined to prevail. Ultimately, though, it is a love that can be rejected and if it is rejected it will be to the sorrow of the mighty Father who is our Creator. God is love, and our Lord shows this in his parable of our Gospel passage today (Luke 15: 1-10). God is like the shepherd, one of whose sheep has strayed. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” God will rejoice if we turn back to him, and our turning back to him will be the result of his loving pursuit of us. Moreover, the whole of heaven is filled with this divine love that anxiously pursues wayward and sinful man. Just as God will rejoice, so will all of heaven. This is what the Creator of the world is like. He loves us dearly.
It is one of the features of spiritual maturity to be able to look back on life and see, amid the many bad experiences, the hand of a loving and very particular Providence. God has pursued us with his love amid the cruelty and thoughtlessness of others and amid our own many failings too. He is like the good shepherd going after the stray, or like the woman searching every nook and cranny of her home till she finds the lost coin. As the years pass we must place ourselves more and more deeply in the care of our heavenly Father. Let us do this, determined withal to obey him in all the little and ordinary duties of life. Thus will we reach our true homeland.