Where are you going with your life? How can you align yourself with purposeful work and earn a living? This discernment novena is helpful. Blessed Solanus Casey searched to discover his role in life. His answer followed this novena.
Choices Can Put Us In Crisis
The world today offers many options for young adults, and often the choices can put us in crisis. Blessed Solanus Casey would be able to identify with that kind of crisis. As a young adult he left home looking for work to help sustain his large Irish immigrant family, working first in logging, then as a prison guard, and then as a street car conductor. He even fell in love, and lived through the crisis of being rejected by the parents of the young woman he loved.
In all of these moments, Bl. Solanus never lost the primary focus on the love of God in his life, and that love finally led him to explore the vocation that defined him: Religious Life and Priesthood. He was led to that vocation in a dramatic way, in response to a particularly violent scene he encountered one day in his work as a street car conductor: a young woman, fatally stabbed by a drunken sailor. The violence that Solanus encountered in that moment, like the violence that surrounds us in our own world, left him with the same choice as it leaves us: shake our head at it in disgust and ignore it, or allow it to move us deeply and question us as to what life is really all about. For “Barney Casey” the future “Blessed Solanus Casey” the starkness of that moment moved him to deep and prayerful reflection and self-examination, which led him to desire to bring deep “life” into the world – and the best way he felt he could do that would be by bringing the life of Christ into the world. It is THAT which led him to desire first Priesthood, and then Religious life.
It was not an easy path, and again he found moments of rejection. Young people who have tried and discovered difficulties in reaching their desired goals in life might find hope in the struggle and eventual success of Solanus.
First, despite his hard work and sincere efforts to be a Diocesan priest in a very German state and Catholic Seminary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he was told that his notes were too poor to be able to go on. But the professors, noting his sincere devotion (and perhaps signs of holiness) encouraged him to try the Capuchin Franciscans.
This was another “German” group there in Milwaukee, and the first impression of Solanus was that they were too austere for him. Nonetheless, he prayed. And his prayer to the Virgin Mother of God led him to feel a profound call to join the Capuchins. Responding to the call, he entered the Capuchin Novitiate in Detroit, Michigan on Christmas Eve of 1896.
But Capuchin life, and particularly his desire to be a Priest, would continue to present stumbling blocks and humiliations that might have led a weaker soul and spirit to discouragement and frustration. Again, in his studies, both his Latin and German deficiencies left him with notes that caused his professors to doubt he understood adequately the materials necessary to preach doctrine or understand morals and ethics enough to be able to confess sinners and counsel them according to the teaching of the Church. But it was once again Solanus’ sincerity and apparent holiness (or at least piety), which led his Capuchin Superiors to offer a solution: they would ordain him a priest, but only to say Mass. He did not have permission to preach at Mass nor to hear Confessions and absolve sins.
Solanus was not the only one of his class to suffer this obviously disappointing (if not humiliating) option. Several of his classmates received the same option. Curiously, while Solanus and these fellow classmates were all ordained Priests with these limitations, in later years the classmates of Solanus asked for and received the permissions they were denied at the time of their Ordinations, and were able to preach and confess. Only Solanus remained his entire life embracing humbly this providential and mysterious plan of God – which in effect, most probably led to the ministry through which God chose to expose the humility and faith of Solanus in a way that would inspire so many thousands, and lead them to enter into the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession in such a way that wonderful fruits were produced – all for God’s honor and glory. In the end, in the midst of all these trials and discouragements, the humble trust and faithfulness of Solanus led him to the holiness he is now known for.
But his was not a “holiness” that smothered his natural Irish wit and enjoyment of life. He was known to slug the large bottle of homemade wine over his shoulder and pour himself a glass during recreation with the other friars, with that Irish twinkle in his blue eyes, always willing to sing an Irish tune to lift the spirits of all those around him. Sometimes he would even accompany himself with the violin – though eventually he caught on that the brothers preferred that he just sing!
Solanus’ youthful spirit of adventure seems to have been more than met during his years as a Capuchin. Between his assignments on the east coast (in New York, on two occasions) and in the Midwest (both Detroit and Huntington, Indiana) he also crossed the country for family events in Minnesota and Washington State, managing to squeeze in side trips to northern Wisconsin and even California. There probably were not too many friars in his generation that managed to literally crisscross the country on trips during their lives as Capuchins! Solanus had an obedient and humble soul – but an adventurous one!
Moving a Detroit Barkeeper to Faith…Having a beer
His mischievous Irish spirit never left him as a Friar. Once, working in Detroit as the Porter, and on his way to look for food for the poor, he suggested to the man who was driving him in his car that they stop at a bar along the way! Solanus, to the dismay of his driver, walked into the bar, with his humble Franciscan habit, cord and sandles, sat on a stool at the bar and asked for a beer! The owner of the bar didn’t know quite what to do – so he served him a beer. By that time Solanus was getting to be quite known in Detroit, as much for his charity as for his holiness. The experience deeply touched the owner of the bar, and ended up moving him to a deeper level of faith. God’s grace is sometimes as unexpected as a Capuchin Friar in a habit walking into a bar and asking for a beer – and that day, that’s exactly how God’s grace was manifested.
We might be tempted to ask ourselves “why does the Church need saints?” “What relevance do saints have for the Church today?” It’s a fair question. Those who have known Blessed Solanus Casey might very well respond: “Because God continues to need instruments willing to bring His unexpected grace into our World.”