Friday, September 24, 2010

Thank God Ahead of Time: The Life and Spirituality of Solanus Casey

By Michael H. Crosby, 282 pages, St. Anthony Messenger Books.

The Venerable Solanus Casey's spirituality wed a love for people from all walks of life with a serious, traditional Catholic spirituality that placed God at the centre, often through veneration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This warmth and simplicity meant that this simplex priest (he couldn't hear confessions or preach at Mass) shared God's love with untold numbers in Detroit, Yonkers, and Manhatten until his death in 1957.

His early years mirrored the life of countless Americans. Born into a large and simple farming community in Wisconsin, he began to help support his family at the age of 15, and drifted through different jobs such as prison guard and street trolley driver until his early twenties, when he decided to make the world a better place by becoming a priest. This was no easy matter. He had to do 4 years of minor seminary, then the remaining years in a major seminary – and all in the German in which many seminaries in America's northeast operated in those days. His Latin was, unfortunately, as poor as his German, so Church authorities doubted his academic abilities.

Crosby does an excellent job of portraying the serious, mature spirituality of Casey even in his early twenties. Rather than obsessing about these difficulties, he tended to trust in God. He did have his cold sweats, as when he was deciding whether to join the Capuchins (he hated the beards), which he did.

With thanksgiving to God, he accepted the limiting ordination as a simplex priest, which meant that in his official assignments he had little to do aside from training and keeping the altar boys in line. So he acted as assistant porter to the monastery at his first ministry in New York. His simple, profound spirituality soon developed a following, and people began recognizing God's physical and psychological healing through the priest.

Crosby brings out much of the humor and countryfolk ways of Casey. He loved a good joke, ate hotdogs, played catcher without a mask, and enjoyed car-rides out to people's houses, where he would meet and pray with people too sick to come to him.

Thank God Ahead of Time also emphasizes the practical side of the Casey's spirituality: "Hearing their request, he never allowed people to remain passive. He always invited them to some way to grow in their relationship with God and others. After talking with people, he would build on some positive thing they said; then he would embellish that point with references to God's goodness and love for them. Then he would invite them to deepen their relationship with God or do some good work for others."

Casey's spirituality was not sentimental or abstract. He joined his Marian spirituality and love for God to concern for the poor. In letters and discussions he often voiced his concern for the poor. Towards the end of his life, in the 1950s, he increasingly opposed the materialism and atheism of society, as well as the nuclear arms race. Crosby sees his main contribution to American and Catholic spirituality by being "not only a mystic, but a mystic in action."

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