The Birth of Jesus Christ
25 December 2015
St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 8.00pm
My dear friends,
We gather again to celebrate the coming and the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth marked a new intimacy between God and man. God has become man. He is now flesh and blood. He is present to us in a new way. Still the finger of God, the signature of God is to be found in the most unusual of places.
Barney Casey was a nondescript kid from Milwaukee at the turn of the last century. A teenager who was the mainstay of his family, he worked as a lumberjack, a farmhand, a brick maker, a prison guard and finally a streetcar conductor. Then one day he witnessed a tragedy which was to set him on a new course of life.
On a cold rainy afternoon as he guided his streetcar around a corner in a rough part of town he saw a group of people gathered on the tracks. He stopped the car, pushed through the crowd to see a young drunken sailor standing over a woman he had assaulted and stabbed repeatedly. He couldn’t get the brutal incident out of his mind. He prayed for the woman and gradually he felt he must pray for the whole world.
So eventually he quit his job and applied to the seminary. But Barney was not that bright. So the seminary brass dismissed him and told him to go become a brother where the studies were not as rigorous. But Barney, frustrated but not defeated, applied and joined the Capuchin Order at St. Bonaventure in Detroit where he got his religious name of Solanus after St Francis Solanus: Solanns Casey. Still he really wasn’t that sharp and some seminary professors opposed his ordination in 1904. However the doubts about the intelligence and the abilities of this underachiever still lingered, so the seminary would ordain him only under one condition, that he would remain what is called a ‘simplex priest’ that is, he could celebrate Mass but that’s all. He could not hear confessions, preach or wear the Capuchin hood.
So for forty three years Fr. Solanus Casey never heard a confession or gave a retreat or preached a mission. He was assigned as a doorkeeper, answering the door and greeting visitors. He spent his first fifteen years answering the door in Yonkers and in Manhattan and then in 1921 was transferred to Our Lady of the Angels in Harlem. But in the desert of the ordinary the word of God bypassed the local bishop and the Chancellery Officials and the abbot and found a home in Barney because people were discovering something about this doorkeeper. It was that this simple doorkeeper having listened so intently to the Word of God, turned out to be a wonderful listener to them and an insightful counsellor. Word spread and soon many would come, bypass the Prior and the abbot and ask to speak to the doorkeeper, Fr. Solanus. But that was not all. People were being healed of all sort of ailments: pneumonia, heart disease and blindness.
Fr. Solanus worked twelve hours a day helping and counselling others. At night he could be found praying before the altar or asleep in the chapel. This streetcar driver turned simple priest, never trusted with anything important died in 1957 and his case is now up for canonisation. Who would have thought that in the car capital of the world the Word of God would find a landing pad in someone who answered the door and a light would shine forth. Put yourself in the hand of God and leave the rest to him. He chooses the channel for his presence.
By way of contrast, I heard in passing recently a few minutes towards the end of an interview with an Irish artist called Sean Scully. He is over seventy years now, a well-known artist who commutes between Barcelona and New York and does mostly abstract work. He described how his family lived in relative poverty and he was rejected by several art schools before making a name for himself. He described himself as spiritual but non Church which is very fashionable and respectable. He was married before and went through the trauma of a son dying. He now has a son Oisín who is 6yo. He says it has turned his life upside down. He is no longer the centre of his universe. He has become a giver for the first time and could not be happier. He wakes and gets up during the night when he hears calls for juice. He has become servant to a child and regrets not a whit of it. Allowing for artistic licence sounds to me like pretty pure and vintage Christian way. The presence of God is not restricted to the crib, the altar, the confessional nor is it controlled by the priest or bishop. The finger of God is everywhere and the hand of God is offered to all. May we be empowered by his presence.
+Liam S. MacDaid
25 December 2015