Homily of Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin on the Feast of Blessed Solanus Casey
For those of us
Devoted to the person of Solanus
Animated by the spirituality of Solanus
Encouraged by the ministry of Solanus
This is a glorious feast at a decidedly inglorious time
A gracious ritual in the midst of much public incivility
And a festival that promotes charity, even communion
While our country as well as much of the world
Is battered with waves of prejudice
and riptides of polarization.
In other words, this is a feast that is remarkably timely
A feast that is notably prophetic
A feast that is profoundly needed
In these unsettling and tumultuous times.
If you are acquainted with the life of Solanus
And many of you are more familiar with his life than I,
You know that he lived not only
Through much personal turmoil and anxiety
But also through notable moments of national strife
He lived through the World War I
That resulted in the deaths of over 20 million
And then the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918
That eventually killed some 675,000 Americans
He lived through the stock market crash of 1929
Then the great depression
And then a second World War
That claimed some 75 million souls
Solanus wrote about some of these events
In his notebooks and letters
And almost always he brought a spiritual lens
To the traumas of his day.
For example, on one Sunday in 1917 he quotes Pope Leo XIII
Who laments, “Our lot has been cast in an age that is bitterly opposed to justice and
Solanus then goes on to reflect, “And besides all these exter¬nal dangers, there is a
war going on within our own hearts as determined and as uncompromising as the
world conflict now raging on the fields of Europe - a war between right and wrong -
between the virtues of the soul and passions of our corrupted nature.”
Visionary words for our own time.
But more than words, he is especially remembered for his actions
For his kindness and counsel
For his healing gifts for body and soul
And especially for his literal and spiritual door opening.
Over the past 9 days the image of door opening
Has frequently punctuated the novena leading up to this feast
Like the feast of St. Mary Magdalene (July 22nd)
Who opened the door of her heart to the Christ
And who in turn, opened to her the way of apostleship
And eternal life
Or the feast of St. Sharbel Makhluf (July 24)
Who opened the door of his ministry
to the oppressed and persecuted
And who opened our eyes in a special way
To the plight of our sisters and brothers from the East
Or the feast of Blessed Mary Teresa Kowalska
Martyred in a concentration camp during World War II
Who opened wide the door of herself
To different races, ethnicities, religions and cultures
Where the Christ is uniquely revealed.
And then of course, our Blessed Solanus
How many times he opened the monastery door
here in Detroit and other places of his ministry
and ushered people into unassuming grace
and the holiness of unexceptional daily living.
Unfortunately door opening doors is not only a prosaic,
It is also out of vogue.
Much more fashionable,
especially in the current political climate
is door slamming,
whether that is slamming the door
on refugees and immigrants
on the rights of African Americans and other minorities
or on civility, common decency, and human dignity.
Recently I listened to a fascinating memoire
Dr. Damon Tweedy’s Black man in a White Coat
The reflections of an African American Doctor
And his journey through medical school
Residency, and practice
From a working class family
With only public education behind him
Tweedy was accepted
into the prestigious medical school at Duke University
But although this important door was open
It had a tendency to keep slamming shut
He narrates, for example, being in a large lecture class
And during a break in the lecture
While students were milling about ...
The professor, who seldom if ever spoke to students,
Made a b-line for Tweedy and asked
“are you here to fix the lights?”
When Tweedy didn’t understand the inquiry
The professor pointed to one section of the lecture hall
Where the lights were noticeably low
And so he asked again, so you going to fix the lights
When Tweedy said “no”
The Professor then asked “then what are you doing
In my class”
“I’m a student in your class,” Tweedy responded
This prompted the irritated professor to turn without a word
And return to the front of the room
slamming the door on the dignity of a promising student
Judged worthy of only being part of a maintenance staff
Because of the color of his skin.
There are many reasons why folk are more inclined
To slam a literal or metaphorical door in the face
Of an individual, or even a whole community
Especially if they are of a difference race, sexual orientation,
Religious conviction or political persuasion.
Some, to be sure, do it out of concern
That that the other might do violence to them or their family
An anxiety too often exploited by politicians
Whose fear-mongering continues to polarize our society.
Many, however, have cultivated the door slamming instinct
Out of a sense of self-righteousness
A distinctive form of personal infallibility
Announcing that only their beliefs, only their positions
Be those cultural, political or religious
Nothing is to be gained from the other
And door slamming becomes
A declaration of utter righteousness.
How foreign a spirit, How distant a world
from that cultivated by our own door-opener
Blessed Barney, Holy Solanus.
But in this reflective moment
There is another aspect of portering
Another side of the door, so to speak,
That beckons consideration …
For the gospel text today,
Sections of which are inscribed on the glass doors
That lead into the Solanus Center
Are not about the door guardian
Not about the one with the power of the lock and key
Not about the one who deigns to open that gateway
But about the petitioner, the seeker, the inquirer
Whose only gesture is a knock
Whose only power is need
Whose only virtue is humility.
Questing is an ancient ministry
One which many Capuchins have and do practice.
It is begging … but not for oneself
But for the sake of a community, of others
On behalf of sisters and brothers
So that they might be fed, clothed and sheltered.
It is something that Capuchins and our many collaborators
Do with some regularity.
Begging, be it for food or funds,
Is humbling …
It is an admission of powerlessness
An act of reliance
A confession of incapacity.
It is also, however, a call to action and serious commitment:
When you ask for funds you had better use them well
And with notable transparency
When you ask for a scholarship
You need to keep up your grades
or be an outstanding asset on the gridiron
or basketball court
And when you ask a community to accept you
As a vowed religious
Or ask a beloved to spend a life together in love
You embark on an enduring pledge
Through good times and bad
Through sickness and health
To live lovingly and honorably
Through the whole of the vowed life.
So while we strive to open doors for others with generosity
We knock with caution,
We ask with care
We seek with vigilance and forethought
For we cannot predict what our life will be like
Once we walk through that door.
The English philosopher Aldous Huxley understood this when he wrote:
“The [one] who comes back through the Door … will never be quite the same as the
man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied,
humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the
relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery
which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend”
Closer to home, Barney Casey learned that lesson
Over and over again throughout his life.
The open door from the farm to the wider world
Changed him in ways he could never expect.
The open door from world to seminary
Humbled and distressed him in unforeseen ways.
And his entry into Capuchin life in this very place,
The open door at 1740 Mt. Elliott Street
Set him on a winding path of graced disappointments
Of glorious obstacles
Of holy humiliations
That, in turn, opened the door to his blessedness.
Solanus Casey was a door opener
But he was also one who knocked at many doors
And sought many things in the Lord
Always grateful ahead of time
For God’s unpredictable spirit
And the accidental sacredness it dislodged.
Paul tells us today, that the Lord is near
It is a kingdom door we asked be opened to us
Every time we pray as the Lord taught us.
“your kingdom come”
Though we do not know how walking through that door
Will change us
Will change the world
Or will bring about the Godly reign Jesus promised.
And so, in the Spirit of Barney the blessed,
Solanus the holy
We embrace the poet’s words as we pray:
We ask God for health that we might achieve
God makes us weak that we might obey.
We ask for riches that we might be happy
God gives us poverty that we might be wise.
We ask for strength that we might do great things
God gives us infirmity that we might do better things.
We ask for calm, that we might contemplate the holy
God gives us storms, that we ourselves might become holy.
We ask for peace, that we might minister uninterrupted
God gives us chaos that we might become peaceable.
We ask for all things that we might enjoy life
God gives us life eternal that we might enjoy all things.
We receive nothing that we ask for
yet much more than we ever hoped for
our prayers are answered
we are most blessed
through Christ our Lord.