Meet "The Doorkeeper", Solanus Casey, The Man with No Ego

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson
Solanuscasey.jpg
Venerable Solanus Casey, “The Doorkeeper”

The 2016 election (more than a year away) has already worn me down. The pundits include the greatest thinkers of our time. I know this because virtually all of the TV and radio commentators, campaign officials, editorial writers, government officials, TV talk show hosts, comedians and, of course the candidates are always saying , “I THINK…this” or I THINK …that.” Those folks sure do a lot of thinking. And I know it must be important thinking because the ones doing all the thinking are doing it on TV, radio, in print  or somewhere in cyber-land. It MUST be important, right? Wrong!
They are all experts in everything you can think of and, filled with their own sense of grandiosity, vilify, name call, and besmirch those with an opposing viewpoint or philosophy.They even attack their opponent’s families. Then you hear the great Machiavellian disclaimer of, “Hey, that’s politics”. You know what, I have my own phrase for all of it, rude, obnoxious, self-gratified Egomania. I’m so over it.
I decided to begin a search for someone sans EGO. I was sure it would be almost next to impossible. But guess what, it was not.  We Catholics celebrate the great feast of All Saint’s Day on November 1. The saints are members of the Catholic Hall of Fame (I call it that). They are the best of the best, the crème de le crème, the most selfless of the unselfish. These are the people who loved God unconditionally and, in some cases, failed many times before they got it right. But they all invariably emptied themselves for others before they died, many times giving their lives in doing so.
Let me tell you about one of them who was a quiet, uncomplicated  man who never aspired to be anything more than a simple priest. His name was Bernard Francis Casey and his family and friends called him Barney. There are many guys and gals like Barney in our Catholic Hall of Fame and they, like Barney, were ‘ego-less’. This was not a birth defect. Their secret simply was knowing how to love God with all their mind, heart and soul. That led them to love others more than themselves. It was NEVER about them.
Barney was born in Oak Grove, Wisconsin back in 1870. He was the sixth of 16 kids of Irish immigrants. When Barney was a boy he contracted diptheria and it left him with a permanently raspy sounding voice. (Barney would never have qualified for American Idol). Barney felt the call to the priesthood but, at the age of 16, he hit a detour. He had to go to work to help the family and worked at jobs in Minnesota and Wisconsin as a lumberjack, a prison guard, a streetcar operator and a hospital orderly. 
Barney Casey always did whatever job he had to the best of his ability wanting to serve his God in all things. Five years later he was able to enter St. Francis High School seminary in Milwaukee. He spent five years there before being able to move on and join the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. Upon his acceptance he took the name of Solanus after St. Francis Solanus, a 17th century missionary.
Solanus Casey was finally ordained a priest at the age of 33. He had to study extremely hard to reach that goal and when he was finally ordained he was given the title “Sacerdos Simplex” which means “simple priest”. This meant he was not permitted to preach or to hear confessions. He never complained and took joy in just being a “simple priest”.
Father Solanus Casey’s lived in Detroit and his main job at the monastery was that of “doorkeeper”. Father Casey, wanting to the absolute best at whatever God chose for him, became the finest doorkeeper that ever lived. He did this for well over 20 years and also became known for his service to the sick and the advice and consultations he would have with visitors. People began attributing cures and other blessings to his interaction with them or others.
Father Solanus Casey, a man who opened and closed doors for people. A man who had no ego and was happy to serve God in the simplest of ways. A man who, because miracles have been attributed to his intercession, was declared “Venerable” by Pope John Paul II in 1995. This is the first step toward canonization as a saint. Father Solanus Casey died in 1957.
Father Casey is the first man born in the USA to be on the road to full sainthood. And all he did was humbly and happily open doors for people and talk to them if they wanted. A Catholic Hall of Famer for sure and quite the contrast to the gaggle of egotists that bombard us daily with their “I think” wisdom. Solanus (Barney) Casey has re-charged me. It might be nice if all of today’s bloviating pundits could hear or read his story.

                                      ©Larry Peterson 2015 All Rights Reserved

All Saint's Day: Never Forget that Our Christian Roots are Embedded in Judaism

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

by Larry Peterson

My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me how to be  Catholic. He is doing this by living in my mind via memories of his personal Christianity in action.  The Feast of All Saint’s Day flips a switch that turns on one of these memories. That is also when I began to embrace the fact that the vast majority of the first Catholics were born and raised Jewish .

I remember that Friday night long ago. We lived in the south Bronx in a five story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four room apartment and we never even considered that it was small and cramped. The neighborhood was the same for all families except for those living up on the upscale Grand Concourse. That’s where the “money” people lived in buildings with courtyards and sometimes the courtyards even had fish ponds in the middle.

It was still September and  summer had not yet left. Back then no-one had air-conditioning and everyone kept their windows open praying for a breeze. The screaming started a little past midnight. It filled the back alleyway and floated unmercifully upward and into the open windows. Our apartment was directly above the window from where the screams were coming and on this night they seemed exceptionally close and  blood-curdling. Pop got up and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”

We watched as Pop left our apartment and headed down the stairs. We followed and quietly sat on the upper landing stretching our necks so our heads would make a right-angle turn to see down and around the landing below. We watched our father, who without hesitation, walked over to the apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. This was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. Leo was the landlord and he owned the building. No one dared complain to the landlord about noise coming from his apartment even if it was about midnight screams that curled the hairs on your neck. But Pop was not going down to complain. He was going to see if he could help. He had this way about him and sometimes he was uncommonly instinctive.

The door opened and Leo poked his head out. Pop started talking to him and, incredibly, Leo just stood there listening. The man was short, maybe 5’2″, he had a droopy mustache that needed tending and his sagging shoulders said he was obviously worn out. He held a pipe off to the side of his head and his face seemed to be saying, “Please help me.” Pop continued talking for a minute or so and suddenly Leo Rabinowitz, the “feared” Jewish landlord, buried his head in my father’s chest and began crying unashamedly. Danny and I were stunned. Then Pop, his arm around Leo’s shoulder, disappeared into Leo’s apartment.

We both went back into our apartment and lay there conjecturing away at all the possibilities that may have caused this unexpected union between a landlord and tenant, a Jewish man and a Catholic man, between two people who were neighbors but were not really except for location and who had nothing in common. Within fifteen minutes Bobby, Johnny and Carolyn had joined Danny and myself in the conversation and by the time our  five imaginations extrapolated each other’s ideas, we “knew”  that Leo Rabinowitz was a communist spy and he had somehow killed our father and disposed of his dismembered body in the coal furnace down in the basement.

As we plotted our course of action Pop came back into our apartment. It had been a few hours, or at least it seemed that way. Pop just walked through our bedroom and headed to the back room moving ever so slowly. When he paused by his workbench he sat on the stool, lowered his head into his upraised fingers, took in a deep breath and sighed. Then, ever so quietly, he pulled his beads from his pocket and started praying the  rosary. None of us interrupted and I think we all just fell asleep.

We found out about those screams the next morning. Sophie was having nightmares all right, nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death with rifle butts by the Nazis, who also  insisted that the boy’s mom and dad watch as they killed their sons. To this day I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like. They were loving parents and were rendered helpless as godless people murdered their children, enjoying inflicting their heinous butchery on innocents. The ultimate torture distributed by the Nazis was allowing Leo and Sophie to watch. Sophie’s screams told that story night after night, year after year after year. How ghastly and cruel those memories had to be.

All Saint’s Day is celebrated on November 1. The gospel reading for the day is from Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes. When the priest reads them the switch will flip and I will go back to that Friday once again. It always happens. I hear #2,  “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”; then #5, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”; and #7, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Pop lived all three of those Beatitudes that Friday night long ago. He mourned with his Jewish neighbors, he was merciful to them and he brought a sense of peace into their lives. My gift was being able to remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbors and how they became friends. I also remember that because of that friendship Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz became friends with other folks in the building and in the neighborhood.

My final lesson in all of this was when Pop told me to get out my missal and read the Roman Canon. I did and began reading., silently. “Out loud”, he said. I paused for a moment and looked at him. He said, “Just do it.”

I did until I got to the part that read, “whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary—,and blessed Joseph, her spouse—“, etc. “Okay, stop,” he said. “Tell me about all those people.”

“What about them?” I don’t understand.”

“Never ever forget that most all of them were Jewish, including Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our roots are deeply embedded in Judaism. We Catholic/Christians and Jews are joined at the spiritual hip “in perpetuity. Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz are our brother and sister too. Never forget that.”

I never forgot.


We Catholics Have an Undeniably Jewish DNA

by Larry Peterson

When I was growing up in the Bronx we lived on the third floor  in a five story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four room apartment. In the apartment below lived  Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz.  Quite often, in the middle of the night,  blood-curdling screams filled the back alley  and our apartment and the hallways outside. The screams were coming from the Rabinowitz’s. It was Sophie. She was having recurring nightmares. But Leo was the landlord and no one dared complain about the eery  howls that constantly reached the ears of so many. There was one man,  however,  who could not leave this alone. That man was my father.
I remember that Friday night long ago very well. The screaming started about midnight. It was September and the windows  were still open because it was hot and the screaming seemed exceptionally chilling. Dad got up and my brother whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”  We got up and followed him and, without hesitating, Dad walked up to Leo’s  apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. We watched from the stairs as the door slowly opened. Leo poked his head out and just like that my father was embracing this little Jewish man who had buried his head in Dad’s chest  crying unashamedly. My brother and I, crouched down and peeking from the landing above,  were stunned.  Then Dad disappeared into that apartment with Leo Rabinowitz and did not leave for several hours. Sophie was having nightmares all right, recurring nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death by the Nazis as they made her and Leo watch. Try as I may, I cannot  imagine what those moments in their lives were like. They were loving parents and were helpless, unable to save their very own children as godless people clubbed them to death. The Nazis tortured the parents  further by allowing them to live.
My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me about being Catholic today. How? The gospel reading for All Saints Day is from Matthew 5:1-12. The Beatitudes. When the priest read #7, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”,  I remembered that Friday night long ago. I remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbor and how they became friends. I also remember that because of that friendship Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz became friends with the other folks in the building. My father was the ‘peacemaker’ who initiated the peacemaking process. He did ‘GOOD’.
We Catholics have just celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day. During the reading of the Roman Canon at Mass, (First Eucharistic Prayer) the following words are read prior to the words of consecration: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, —–and all your saints.”  Were not all of them Jewish? Yeah..I think they were. There is no denying this fact. They are all canonized saints and their Judaism was always part of who they were.
Finally, let me mention our Holy Father, Pope Francis.  The Pope is very good friends with one of the primary Jewish leaders in Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka.  In October of 2012, he presented to Rabbi Skorka an honorary doctorate degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. It was the first time such an honor had been bestowed on any Jewish man in all of Latin America. Upon presenting the award to Rabbi Skorka, the Pope (then Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio) said, “You cannot imagine how long I have waited for this moment.”

All Saint's Day & Why We "Weird" Catholics"pray" to Saints.

As a blue-collar, catholic guy I just felt I should give you my take about the day after Halloween, a day that is known to us catholics as The  Feast of All Saints or All Saint’s Day. There is a lot of misconception about this “saint” business so let me try to clear this up in my own way. No research here, I am just digging down inside myself trying to remember what I learned from Sister Mary Ursula and all the other good sisters way back when and how I have managed to extrapolate that information over a 50 plus year period.

First of all, let’s get something straight–Catholics DO NOT worship or adore saints. God alone is worshiped and adored. Period, Amen. So who are these people we call saints and why do we “pray” to them? Well, for starters, remember that praying is just like talking. When we pray to the saints we are talking to them. When we pray to God we are talking to God. However, there is a HUGE difference. When you talk to God it is direct, one on one, straight up. You cannot go any higher. God is the top Man. The “buck stops with Him”. Many Christians feel that there can be no intercessor between “God and man (when I use the word man I also mean woman, okay) except God Himself. Well, that is fine and perfectly okay. All of us catholics always talk directly to God too. So, what about these people called saints? (I know, I know, we catholics sure can be weird.)

Here is how yours truly looks at this saint situation. I have to compare it to baseball or football. Over the years many thousands of men (and even some women) have played baseball and football. Heck, when I was a kid we were playing stick-ball in  the streets of the Bronx when we were  seven years old. I guess I could safely say that millions of people have played the game over the years. The years go by and we begin to grow up and most of us fall by the wayside as far as being great football or baseball players. But there are those select few that continue to play and actually become professionals. And from that group the cream comes to the top, the “best of the best” the greatest of them all, the ones that break records and become heroes to young and old alike. These people we pedestalize and place them in a place called the “Hall of Fame”. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Jimmy Brown and Terry Bradshaw and Joe Namath and the list goes on. Immortalized forever because they were the best of the best. Well, there you have it. The Saints are the “Catholic Hall Of Fame”. They are the best of the best, the ones that loved their faith so much many died for it. There are the ones who spent their entire lives living in poverty and working with the sick and the poor never wanting anything for themselves and always having a smile on their face because they never lost sight of the prize. They showed us how the game of life should be played.

Here’s the deal. We know that these folks died and went to heaven. They are with God. This is a faith thing so don’t get logical about it. Imagine if you had a big brother or a big sister and you needed something from your dad but you were sure he would say “no” so you decide to ask your big brother to put in a good word for you. And he does and dad agrees. And there it is. We ask the saints to put in a good word for us because they are with God and they “have His ear” so to speak. No, I cannot prove it. Once again, it is a faith thing. But I do believe it, without reservation.

 If you want to explore this talking to the saints thing a bit further go on line or stop by your local catholic parish and check it out. You know, we all have pictures of our family members in our homes or wallets and we have statues of great people in history. Why? We honor them. Same with the saints. And for all those who did not make it into the Hall of Fame we talk to them too. You see, we are all one, big family known as the “communion of saints”. That’s right, you don’t even have to be dead to be a saint.  It is a beautiful thing.