A major event in the history of the Archdiocese of Detroit will occur in two weeks: Venerable Solanus Casey will be beatified, or given the title “Blessed”—the final step before possibly being declared a saint. Even though he grew up in Wisconsin, Detroiters have always considered him “ours” due to the numerous years he spent here, and the many amazing healings and other miracles that occurred through his prayers and intercession. Because of his loving and outgoing nature, Father Solanus was extremely popular at his assignments in New York, Indiana, and especially in Detroit. However, his path to holiness was not an easy one. As a young man, Barney Casey—the name he was given at birth—was very prayerful and spiritual. After several different jobs—including as a prison guard, during which he made friends with many of the convicts—he decided God was calling him to the priesthood. At the age of twenty- six he entered the local diocesan seminary in Milwaukee, but because of his academic failures, was dismissed. Barney made a novena for guidance, and heard a voice from Heaven telling him “Go to Detroit.” Doing so, he enrolled in the Capuchin seminary.
The Capuchins, who are a branch of the Franciscan Order, quickly realized Barney was a spiritual treasure, capable of achieving great holiness—but they were also concerned about his intellect: would he be smart enough to serve as a priest? Barney, who was given the name Solanus, was asked in 1901 to a sign a humiliating statement which read: “Since I do not know whether as a result of my meager talents and defective studies I am fit to assume the many-sided duties and serious responsibilities of the priesthood, I hereby declare that I do not want to become a priest if my legitimate superiors consider me unqualified.” I suspect most seminarians—myself included—would have considered this an unbearable insult, and would have refused or even rebelled. Solanus didn’t. He was hurt and confused by the request, but he made a heroic act of faith in God and humbly signed the document. If he hadn’t, he would not have later become a priest and probably would not have become holy. Three years later, in 1904, to his great joy, Solanus learned he would be ordained a priest—but then a further painful humiliation arose. His superiors decided he would be ordained a “priest simplex”—that is, a priest who, because he “didn’t know enough,” would only be allowed to say Mass, but not preach or hear confessions. Solanus was tempted to anger, depression, and self-pity—but at the age of thirty-four he accepted what would be a life-long humiliation, and prayed every day about it until he could actually thank God for humbling him in this manner.
Father Solanus was considered incapable of doing anything other than serving as a porter—that is, the member of the Capuchins assigned to answering the door of the monastery and dealing with the public. It was in this simple capacity that over the years he became truly holy (Patricia Treece, Nothing Short of A Miracle, pp. 38-39). In the same way, when we humble ourselves by accepting and embracing the life God has chosen for us, He is able to use us in a truly wonderful manner. Humility is an absolutely essential step on the path to holiness, and no one will enter Heaven without it.
Through the prophet Malachi (1:14-2:2, 8-10), the Lord warned the Temple priests in Jerusalem that if they did not repent of their arrogance and pride, He would humble them in a painful way. Unfortunately, they did not take this message to heart; that’s why later on Jesus—even though He acknowledged their religious authority—publicly criticized and rebuked them on numerous occasions. Our Lord (Mt 23:1-12) also warned His followers not to imitate the scribes and Pharisees by seeking public honors and special privileges; instead, He emphasized that true discipleship must involve compassion, humility, and service. And St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians (2:7-9, 13) that this was the approach he and his fellow missionaries used among them, stating that if they too remained humble, God’s grace would truly be at work within them.
Humility goes against our natural human inclinations. We want or even need to have others respect us, we enjoy being complimented, and when we do something good or worthwhile, we hope people will notice it and acknowledge and thank us. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these feelings and desires, but because of our sinful human nature, these experiences can easily go to our head and eventually lead to the deadly sin of pride. Pride is the sin which turned Lucifer, the greatest of all the angels, into the hideous and repulsive creature of Satan. Pride led Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, to harden his heart against Our Lord’s loving offer of friendship, and finally led to his act of betrayal, followed by his suicide and eternal damnation. Throughout history, pride has often resulted in wars, rebellion, injustice, hatred, broken homes, divided families, shattered dreams, bitter memories, ruined lives, and countless unknown human and spiritual tragedies. Unchecked and unrepented pride will ultimately destroy us by leading us to Hell. The only possible form of prevention or antidote is humility.
Being humble doesn’t mean putting ourselves down, but instead, giving God the credit for every good thing we do and every good thing we have. Being humble doesn’t mean denying our strengths and achievements, but instead, always being willing to notice and praise the abilities and accomplishments of others. Being humble doesn’t mean always suffering in silence or letting people push us around, but instead, doing all things, enduring all things, and offering up all things—whether good and bad—for the glory of God. Humility is simply the recognition that God knows best, that He has an infinite love for other people just as He does for us, and that the only way to be truly holy and truly happy is to surrender our lives into His hands.
Father Solanus Casey is a wonderful illustration of Our Lord’s promise that “whoever humbles himself will be exalted”—and if any of us struggle with temptations toward pride and self-importance, asking the intercession and assistance of this very simple and very holy Capuchin priest would be a truly wise and prudent thing to do. The more we practice humility, the more God’s grace will be powerfully present and active within us— and this is what we should desire more than anything else.
Oh, I love Solanus Casey, and am so happy he is to become a “Blessed”! May I recommend the documentary on Solanus, “Prophet, Priest, Porter”, which so wonderfully documents his life and all the edifying facts known about this singular individual. What is known about him is inspiring, and it is obvious that it is humility and his mystical abilities as well, that drew people to him. Even when the authorities moved him to give him a break from the constant visitors, they would come by the busload when they located him. They were drawn to Jesus, Whom they saw in this gentle man.
I believe EWTN carries that DVD, which is one I could watch again and again.