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
        And unrest.

    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
        truth.”

        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,
        unspectacular practice
        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
        Have value.
    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
        Even abandon
    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.