While trying to choose a book to order nearly a month ago, I kept going over and over the list of possibilities. One book, Thank God Ahead of Time: The Life and Spirituality of Solanus Casey continued to beckon my attention. Sadly, I had never heard of the man before and I sought my son's input. Though he is only in fifth grade at his Catholic grade school, he knew a great deal about Fr. Solanus Casey and was quite shocked that I did not. I placed the order and anxiously awaited its arrival in our mailbox.
It has been quite some time since I have been able to read a good book of any substance. In addition to finishing up the Mystagogy portion of our RCIA program, I am also helping to care for my elderly grandmother who is struggling with dementia. I have been trying to keep up with my Bible study group assignments but even that has had to be put aside for now. Determined to read the book, I carried it with me wherever I went, hoping that I could grab a scant few minutes of reading time. I am glad I did.
Though the book was entirely about Fr. Solanus Casey, the person I learned the most about was myself. Having spoken with Bible study groups and our RCIA candidates year after year about holiness, I have never been able to truly grasp the possibility of it for myself. It sounds lovely and very righteous to say that we must die to ourselves, yet I have scarcely been able to catch a whisper of the true meaning of such wonderful words. I have at times thought about how much easier it must be for those who are called to the religious life, since they can more fully commit their full lives to God without the daily responsibilities of family life. Picturing myself behind a wooden screen, closed off from the world and spending all of my days with Jesus has brought me much joy on occasion. That is how a person of this world may try to catch a glimpse of how one can become holy, yet we are not called to a mere glimpse.
Bernard (Barney) Casey, Jr. was born sixth of sixteen children and was raised in a very devout, modest home in the rural Midwest United States. Hearing the call to the ordained Priesthood, Barney attended seminary for a time. He did not earn good marks and gave up on the idea of being a diocesan priest – or perhaps the diocesan priesthood gave up on him. After reluctantly contacting a Capuchin ‘monastery’ in Michigan, he soon joined their order believing that the Blessed Mother sent him there. That the Capuchins spoke primarily German was another obstacle placed before Frater Solanus (upon entering the novitiate, he was named after St. Francis Solanus). Enrolled in the Capuchin seminary, Frater Solanus once again struggled with his studies. After years of hard work and grappling with German and Latin, it was decided that Frater Solanus would be ordained, but not with full rights of the priesthood. He would be forbidden to hear confessions for life because his superiors feared he did not have a good enough understanding of the Germanic tongue.
How would Fr. Solanus Casey deal with being assigned as Porter in their community and unable to hear confessions? He responded with total submission and thanksgiving. He was the perfect image of someone dying to himself and accepting completely whatever God or his superiors asked of him. Not only did he accept it; he thanked God for it. When his order had a triennial chapter meeting and it was decided that Fr. Solanus would be moved to another house within the order, he quietly packed his bags and moved the very same day.
Fr. Solanus became quickly known as 'the holy priest' by all in the locations where he served. People of all backgrounds - Jews, atheists, Protestants, Catholics - would line up outside of the rectory office to see him. His kindness and willingness to listen to anyone, any time they showed up at his door, sometimes even making him miss a meal -- did not go unnoticed. Word began to spread about healings taking place after people met with Fr. Solanus. People would go to him with various problems ranging from a relative who had strayed from the Church or someone with a grave illness, to a couple whose marriage was in trouble. One of his superiors told Fr. Solanus to begin documenting his visitors and the disposition of their troubles. What was created was a long list of miracles and prophesies fulfilled, which Fr. Solanus would have assured anyone that it was the work of God alone. Each person who sought out Fr. Solanus was told that they must do something - some good work - so that their prayer would be answered. For some, it would be to give alms. For many, they were to read a book The Mystical City of God - a book which made an enormous impact upon Fr. Solanus. Yet others were told to attend Mass more often or enroll their loved one in the Seraphic Mass Association, or SMA. This was all part of thanking God for prayers answered - before He even answered them.
There are many marvelous accounts shared from letters and interviews throughout the book which help the reader gain great insight into the many good deeds of Fr. Solanus Casey. In his later years, Fr. Solanus had become quite well known. He had a skin problem which, when it flared up, would leave nothing but raw tissue exposed on both legs and others portions of his body as well. He would be admitted to the hospital where they would try to hide his location to the public because visitors would appear at his bedside seeking his prayers and counsel. Occasionally, a person would sneak in and though in physical agony, he would quietly and lovingly minister to their needs. It is said by all accounts that he never once complained, and when asked about where his pain was, he would call out in reply "all over, thanks be to God!"
I do not recall another book which touched me at the end so deeply that I wept. I wept not because the holy Priest died in the end, but because of how he died. He fully embraced the cross without reservation and with great joy. I'll spare you the details so that you too may be as touched as I was while reading the book. Oh, how I long to set aside my own sinfulness and fully abide in Jesus! Since finishing this book only a few days ago, I have found myself quoting something that Fr. Solanus Casey said or did on a daily basis. 'Offering it up' has taken on an entirely new meaning for me. It is no longer about merely suffering silently, but accepting whatever comes to me with joy and a renewed sense of hope in the many blessings God sends to us. As Fr. Solanus would say, “Deo gratias!”
Venerable Solanus Casey, pray for us!
Thank God Ahead of Time: The Life and Spirituality of Solanus Casey was written by Michael H. Crosby, O.F.M. CAP, External Collaborator to the Relator for the cause of canonization of Capuchin Father Solanus Casey.
Read about the cause for canonization of Venerable Solanus Casey HERE.
This book and others about Venerable Solanus Casey may be purchased at Catholic Company.