What’s just?

revenge.jpgThis is the text of my homily for Feb. 24, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.  I don’t usually post my homily online, but since weather kept so many people from joining us for Mass and since I kind of like it, I’m posting it.  Always remember, how I preach it doesn’t always coincide with the text. – TL

Alan Dershowitz is someone some of you may know. He is a professor of Constitutional law at Harvard Law School and a fairly regular presence on Fox News Channel and CNN. The fact that you see him regularly on CNN and Fox News Channel might suggest, correctly, that he is sometimes controversial. True, but he’s not too far afield. Usually.

Several years ago Dershowitz wrote a novel that was quite intriguing, a morality play really. The main character is Max Menuchen, a fictional professor of Bible at Harvard Divinity School. The story begins as Max is a young boy growing up in Lithuania. It’s an April evening in 1942 and Max and his family are sitting down to celebrate the Passover Sedar meal. Max’s grandfather, Mordechai, tells Max’s younger sister to open the door to greet Elijah. As is the custom of Sedar meals, there is an empty spot set at the table for Elijah, or whoever might appear at the door to share the meal.

The sister, excited by this honor of possibly welcoming Elijah, opens the door and finds, not Elijah, but rather the frightening, expansive presence of Marcelus Prandus, a captain in a Lithuanian military force collaborating with Hitler’s regime. Prandus and his troops order the entire Menuchen family into a truck and they are taken to a remote field, they and several other townspeople are give shovels and are ordered to dig a sizeable hole. Then, Prandus, beginning with the smallest child begins shooting every person in the group, their bodies shoved into the hole. Throughout the violent ordeal, Mordechai, the grandfather is shouting, Nekama! – “take revenge!”

Somehow, remarkably, Max survives, crawls out of the grave, makes his way to safety, and finally to the United States. Now, more than 50 years later, Max discovers that Prandus, the militia leader, is living just 20 miles away, dying of cancer. Now, Max, who has never so much as been stopped for speeding, is confronted with an extraordinary dilemma between what he knows to be just by the norms of society and what he feels in his gut to be right by other, undefined laws.

We might have some idea as to how this story turns out. We have heard similar stories before. Situations, real and fictional, in which people endure unconscionable horror, pain, loss, terror, violence. And, yet, somehow, from somewhere, those who’ve endured the trauma are able to reconcile, to confront their attacker, to forgive.

That’s the direction we’d probably expect of Max’s story: Max confronting Prandus; a dramatic, emotional, in-your-face showdown in which Prandus is brought to his knees in repentance for his horrible offense; Max remarkably able to overcome the words of his grandfather that have echoed through his mind for all those years. They reconcile and embrace.

That’s the way we would expect the story to go because that’s what David does in the first reading. (1 Samuel 26.2-23) He’s found his nemesis King Saul sleeping right in front of him. One thrust of the spear and it would be finished. But David relents. He cannot do himself what is for God to do.

That’s the way we would expect the story to go because we’ve just heard Jesus talk about loving enemies and offering the other cheek and forgiving. Giving more of our stuff to people who’ve already stolen from us. Extending mercy based on some bizarre assurance that we might be shown mercy. (Luke 6.27-38)

We would hope in light of the context in which we find ourselves that Max could have overcome the decades-old drive for revenge. But he doesn’t! He pursues a vicious plot of murderous revenge.

And as much as we might like for the story to have gone in a different, better direction, when we think about what Max saw that night, what has haunted him every moment of every day, those words of his grandfather as sharp now as sever – Nekama! – “take revenge!” – we have to acknowledge that in each of us there is probably a small, isolated place in our hearts that allows us to sympathize with Max, that allows us to think that, obviously, yes, revenge is reasonable, maybe even necessary.

There’s a small place in our hearts that thinks David was crazy not to take care of his rival right then and there when he had the chance.

There’s a small place in our hearts that thinks all this stuff Jesus says is a bunch of pious gobbledygook. Jesus saying things that are completely unreasonable, impossible, ridiculous. We know the world doesn’t work that way.

But, if we’re here, regardless of what might haunt a vast, dark corner of our hearts, we have to trust that what Jesus said wasn’t that unreasonable, not unrealistic. It’s unrealistic only in that we as his disciples haven’t done more to make it real. We haven’t attempted better to think as God thinks and not as human beings thing. We conclude that what Jesus says about doing unto others doesn’t work because we haven’t worked to make it work.

Alan Dershowitz’ novel is titled Just Revenge. It reminds me of a more recent book, a memoir by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer in the south who works to exonerate people wrongly accused and convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the South, many of them African-Americans. He is one of my living heroes. Bryan Stevenson’s book is titled Just Mercy.

What I’d suggest, what I hope we could conclude, based upon the stories we’ve heard today of Max and David and the lessons of Jesus is this: Revenge is never just. Mercy, on the other hand, is always just.  TL

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Maybe not a saint, but still tip-top

Resized952018102195224741956145As I was preparing to write a column for our parish bulletin about the less familiar of our recently canonized saints, I received some sad news.  One of the finest of my college journalism professors had died.  News reporting and editing was what I studied in college and it was my profession before my life took a slightly different turn.

The news of his death came, not in a radio or TV newscast, the means of communication to which he’d committed almost every waking moment of his professional life — the pursuit of being first and being right —- but rather via social media, where veracity and integrity are seemingly of little or no account.  I smiled at the irony.

Henry Lippold was his name.  Those who knew him best and loved him most, or even just a little, called him HL.  And if you were fortunate enough, he called you TL or JB or KB, or any of the other clever or endearing monikers his mind concocted and never forgot.  As a parent names a child, it was as if HL named his students, and in many ways and to varying degrees, Henry’s role was somewhat parental.  He instilled values and priorities, discipline and enthusiasm as a parent might, or at least a really good coach.

I don’t know how old Henry was when he died.  I don’t know how many years he taught, or how long he was married to Judy, although I’ve known her for almost as long as I’ve known him.  I’m not sure how many children they had or whether they had any grandchildren.  A good reporter, as HL taught so many of us to be, could easily collect such details, and those details did matter to Henry.  And yet statistics can’t convey the appreciation so many of those good reporters – or at least onetime reporters – have for this man.

Returning to the initial subject of this column, Henry was not a saint, at least not in the stereotypical ways of piety and sacrifice.  That’s not to say he didn’t convey saintly virtues.  He was generous to a fault with his students; the light in his classroom seemed to always be burning – late into the night, early in the morning.  He was faithful to the institution where our paths crossed, UW-Eau Claire, but more so to the students who passed through its halls.  His success, if professors can measure success, was realized in the careers of his students.  When an alum got a job – at a TV station in Phoenix or a small AM radio station in Rhinelander – HL was pleased, and proud.  Henry worked his contacts trying to locate jobs and open doors for former students. He called it “Blugolds helping Blugolds,” referencing the mascot of our school.

Henry conveyed to his students virtues of honesty and diligence and accuracy and hard work.  He was gregarious and optimistic, demanding and resourceful.  His greatest delight was recognizing creativity and mastery in his students.  “Tip-top,” he’d say with exuberant fervor.  “Tip-top!”

He was a newsman.  He reveled in asking questions, snooping around, sitting through a long county board meeting knowing there’d be a morsel of news. The picture accompanying this column is a favorite of mine because it shows me, the guy in the glasses, covering a story with Henry, the guy with the nibbled tie (it was a delightful quirk of his).  What we’re covering isn’t important; what makes the photo memorable is that I was covering a story with him.  The student on equal footing with the teacher?  Hardly.  But what a kick to try.

When I’d made the decision to leave my newspaper job and pursue studies for the priesthood, I stopped in Henry’s campus newsroom to tell him.  He was startled and probably confused — leave a good newspaper job!  As always, he was encouraging.  “You’ll still be reporting the news, TL,” he said.  His reference to what we call “good news” caught me off-guard.  “Tip-top, tip-top!”  TL

 

In this week’s episode …

The-Young-Pope_Gianni-Fiorito-HBO.Courtesy-900x580Last spring one of the cable channels ran a series called “The Young Pope.” The basic premise was a young, American cardinal is elected pope and proceeds to go to battle with entrenched forces – tradition and people – in the Vatican. Each week’s episode was more bizarre than the week before, but the manipulation, infighting and intrigue was fiction. It was easy to watch, roll your eyes, turn off the TV and go to bed.

Now I feel as if every day brings a new episode of ““The Young Pope,” only it’s not the creation of a Hollywood screenwriter. It’s all too real, but maybe not entirely true. Unlike television fiction, this is far too sad and maddening, and – let’s be frank – quite embarrassing.

Between Masses last Sunday I checked messages on my phone — I need to stop doing that — and found a news update reporting allegations that Pope Francis had known about and concealed abuse committed by Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., who was demoted from the status of cardinal last month. The archbishop making the accusations demanded that Pope Francis resign.

Of course this made headlines. One of the pope’’s own archbishops, someone who had served as the highest-ranking Vatican official in the United States earlier in this decade, was demanding something quite unprecedented. And, coming as it did, in the midst of spiritual and emotional consternation following the report of a Pennsylvania grand jury detailing hundreds of incidents of sexual abuse by priests over more than 70 years, the archbishop’s letter only added to the strife. As well as the confusion.

Curiously, and probably not so curiously, some factions in the Church jumped at the chance to endorse the accusations and the demand for the Holy Father’s resignation. One Texas bishop ordered priests in his diocese to read a letter at Masses last Sunday in which he echoed the archbishop’s call for Pope Francis to step aside. Just life that! Seemingly no need or desire for at least a moment’s reflection, or sorting through the complicated details.

Thankfully, most bishops, including our own, have not joined in a public tug-of-war on this matter. There are too many unanswered questions, as well as plenty of complications in the back-story of the archbishop who threw out this bombshell and has since disappeared. More intrigue. Pope Francis has said he will not honor the accusation and demand with a response.

So, what are we to make of all this? First of all, I’d suggest this is far more about Vatican score-settling than it is about children being abused. That is unseemly to be sure, we expect more collegiality and Christian virtue among those working at the highest levels of the Church, but whatever involves people also becomes political, and whenever there are efforts to unsettle long-entrenched attitudes and customs, there is going to be resistance. Pope Francis has, for the better I think, upset the apple-cart of clerical complacency and control, much to the chagrin of entrenched forces in the Vatican and in powerful Church positions around the world, including the United States. He has demanded, in his gentle, firm manner, that the Church and its ministers become more centered in the Gospel and not power or prestige. He’s experiencing the repercussions, and we are unfortunately left to witness it.

Second, let’s not allow this side-show, which is what I hope it is, to distract us further from what we need to be about. In my homily last week – as well as blog post – I expressed the fear that a harmful side effect of the abuse crisis is that it distracts us further from the important work of the Gospel, from confronting injustice and honoring life, from caring for the hurting, the hungry, the homeless and all who need our attention in response to what Jesus has taught and what the Church must always be.

Finally, this is an opportunity to reclaim the Vatican II admonition that the Church is the People of God, of which those political players in the hierarchy are merely a part. We are the Church! This is a time to deepen our commitment to how we celebrate and live the Gospel of Jesus in our parish, in our families and in our lives. It’s more true than ever, that we – the people of St. Anne, and all parishes – need to live, really live, the Gospel with love and courage! TL

Last Sunday’s Homily

cff89526-0208-4d3f-8feb-36bf52b8768c-AFP_AFP_1812FAHaving been away when the explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy abuse was released, and realizing how distressing and traumatizing this is for so many people, I came to the realization that I needed to address the matter in my homily last Sunday. The gospel seemed to offer a means by which to broach the subject. And yet I find it very difficult to know what to say. One friend observed on Facebook that every priest should stand before his assembly and apologize for what’s happened. I don’t think it’s my place to apologize. In the end, the best I could do was convey that I’m in the same boat as many others. That might be one takeaway from this homily.

Then Jesus said to the Twelve: So, do you also want to leave?
Considering the news of recent weeks, it’s a question I really don’t want to ask, because I fear what – for some of us at least, maybe for myself – the answer will be. Might we want to leave?

After all, how much human imperfection in the Church are we willing to endure? How much more horrible cruelty and evil machinations on the part of our priests and bishops can there be to uncover? How many stories of abuse can we hear, how many excuses can we tolerate, how many apologies can we accept? Can we continue to think that this doesn’t affect me, that is isn’t about me or my parish or my pastor – wanting to believe we’re not somehow affected or damaged or maybe even, some of of us, somehow, even complicit.
How much does all of this distract us from the essential work of the gospel? How much does it diminish the authority and integrity of our Church in confronting injustice and honoring the dignity of life – getting in the way of what we need to do, what the world needs for us to do?
Why must I feel the need to preach AGAIN! about how the Church has been tarnished? Tarnished again by the damage its ministers have inflicted. Acknowledging again how WE feel tarnished, sullied by the sin and wickedness of others?
Why don’t I just talk about something else, anything else? Something pleasant, refreshing, reflective, maybe just a little bit challenging to send us into a new week?
Why does Jesus have to be so blunt in asking that question?

Maybe he asks that hard question because where we find ourselves calls for blunt questions, hard reflection, but also extraordinary compassion – amid the sadness, anger, frustration, and pain.
Maybe Jesus asks the hard question because it gets to the cold, hard reality that – again and again – we confront disappointment and frustration, infidelity, violations of trust, sadness and hurt. It happens sometimes in our families, in various friendships and relationships. The reality of human imperfection becomes all too apparent.
We are confronted with the dilemma, the struggle of staying or going; of striving to reconcile or understand or accept; of trying to accept the harsh reality that sometimes people aren’t just human or imperfect, but they are even viciously cruel and harmful; that even people we presume to trust fail miserably in being who we want and need for them to be.
We are left to struggle with how compassionate we should be, how compassionate we can be. We are left to struggle with where we direct our anger, our sadness. Or has it all become too much for so long that it doesn’t even make us angry anymore, there’s no sadness or emotion left?
We are left to realize once again the complexity of mercy – for victims, many of them children, who suffered in silence, whose cries to family and others in authority were frightfully ignored or excused. The complexity of mercy for priests who so callously pretended not to know or to see; for bishops who did it themselves or allowed the terror of abuse to proceed. The complexity of mercy – if it is even possible – for those who violated and abused. The complexity of mercy that is significant in considering the question Jesus asks, so fundamental to most of the grievous hurts and harsh dilemmas that confront us in life. Will I go or will I stay? How do I endure without becoming hardened, without compromising what’s fundamental to who I am – who I must be – as a disciple?

I say all this not hypothetically. I am angry. I am hurt and I am sad.
It’s beyond imagining what so many children and young people, as well as older victims – what they suffered, the things that guys dressed like me did to them. I can’t comprehend how others allowed it to continue for so long. While I say that, I am confident the Church in our country has taken important steps to prevent what’s happened in the past from occurring now or in the future.
Regardless of that, I am haunted by the awareness that we must do more. There is something rooted in how we function as a larger Church that needs to be transformed, but I cannot begin to really imagine what that is.
With that haunting awareness, I fear what all of this might to do to us as a parish, as individuals, as a Church. What of our trust, our faithfulness, our compassion, our mercy, our potential for hope?
I fear we might not have the confidence or certainty of Peter, and yet I cling to the possibility that we will. That amid all the darkness and pain, all the complicity and collusion, all the doubt and sadness – that, confronted with the hard question, Do you also want to leave?, that we will answer as he did.
And so, without seeming trite and predictable, we pray for victims. In mercy we might also pray for persecutors and conspirators. We pray for ourselves, for a light to guide us from this darkness; the inspiration to confront and uproot all that prevents us from being the force of justice and love that our world desperately needs for us to be; the confidence, the trust, the courage, the hope to answer Jesus’ blunt question as Peter did: Yes, we’ll stay, Lord. We can’t leave. We won’t leave, as much as it seems we should. To whom would we go? You are our source of life and love.  TL

BREAKING NEWS: Transition

breaking newsThis past weekend I shared the news that I will be leaving Holy Spirit Parish for St. Anne Parish in Wausau in early July.  This news might have been as surprising to our parishioners as it was to me.

Obviously, I’ve been aware of the move since Bishop Callahan called in mid-April to talk with me about a potential transfer of assignments.  Regardless, leaving our parish hadn’t seemed like a likely, or even reasonable, possibility.

After all, we are nearing the beginning of only the fourth year of our new parish, the unification process is still something that’s under way, not completed.  More immediately, we have just completed the campaign for our Building Upon a Firm Foundation project and begun initiating more focused preparations for the initial phases of that project and the sale of the Newman Center.

It would not seem, as I mentioned to the Bishop, that this is the right time.  But, I responded to my own remark so that he wouldn’t have to: “Well, Tom, when is there a right time?”

The Parish Center project is understandably a significant concern that’s been expressed since I made the announcement, and even prior to that during the campaign.  “What happens if/when Fr. Tom leaves Holy Spirit?” was a frequent question.  A few parishioners raised that point with me when I met with them seeking their financial support.  My answer then and now is the same:  The project must continue!  We’ve done too much work and there is too much support within the parish to do otherwise.  We need to make necessary improvements to the church and we desperately need the opportunities offered by our proposed center.

Thankfully, Fr. Steve Brice,  Holy Spirit’s new pastor, has considerable experience with similar projects.  He was pastor of St. Anne Parish in Wausau, during a time of a building project far more substantial than our’s.  Gratefully, he’s not only willing to accept this assignment, but I know he’s also enthusiastic about the tremendous benefits that Building Upon a Firm Foundation will bring the parish.

In terms of the evolving life of our relatively new parish, this might be just the right time for a new pastor to come on the scene.  He will bring new perspective, new ideas and a new pastoral sense to what has already been accomplished, and what might be pursued.  And how.

Parish unification, as I’ve come to discover, is a balancing act as we create something new while honoring valuable components of our past.  Sometimes my attempts at balancing have been more successful and at other times, I acknowledge and regret, somewhat painful.  A new pastor arrives as a clean slate — he to the parish and the parish to him.  There’s benefit in that.

Which is not to minimize the challenge of transition.  Regardless of how advantageous the arrival of a new pastor might be, the adage “change is difficult” certainly holds true.  The significance of patience, of understanding, of acceptance in welcoming a new pastor cannot be understated.  Nor the sadness of parting, on my part, as I leave our parish and Stevens Point, which is something I have not even begun to comprehend.  I have been in Stevens Point longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life — 21 years — and, while I am not the longest serving pastor in the diocese at the moment, I am close.  Approaching my final weekend on July 1, I’ll observe more as to the joys and heartaches of these years, much like life itself, but for now I’d urge that we embrace the goodness and potential that awaits us all: a relatively new parish with a generous and skilled pastor, and a grateful pastor anticipating new ministry in a new place.  Good things to ponder as we celebrate spring!  TL

 

Then Wednesday happened

20170111_111127This is a draft of the homily I preached today, the First Sunday of Lent.

This gospel passage (Mark 1.12-15) consists of only four sentences, but it tells two stories: Jesus’ temptation in the desert and the beginning of his public ministry. The first two sentences, the concise telling of the temptation, present a very black-and-white perspective, two extremes: the Spirit and Satan, wild beasts and angels. It’s very clear which is which, which is good and which is evil, seeming to suggest it’s always that way. If only it were. Or, is it?

I had intended to talk this weekend about my experience of visiting the desert last January as I began my sabbatical. I visited the desert near the Arizona-Mexico border with some religious sisters and the bishop of Tucson who are especially attentive to migrants, people from Central America and Mexico who cross that border tempted by hope, opportunity, security, family and friends already here. More specifically I was going to explain some temptations people confront as they cross the desert: illusions and misconceptions, mirages, false-hopes, bad advice; forces, temptations that sometimes lead them to walk in circles or in the wrong direction, to succumb to hunger, dehydration, desperation and even death.

That’s what I was going to talk about, but then Wednesday happened. And I began to experience my own temptation, maybe being guided through my own desert of uncertainty and fear.

Wednesday was the day 17 students and teachers were gunned down at their high school in Parkland, Fla. I wasn’t tempted by this tragedy immediately. To be honest, I was preoccupied with Ash Wednesday and things happening here, but even when I first the reports I was kind of blase; I’d heard that new report before. There’s a shooting at a school, a concert, a school, a church, a school, a nightclub, a school. The number of school shootings this year is being debated in some circles; the fact that such a thing is even being discussed is simply bizarre.

We all know the scenario: There’s a shooting, children or others are killed, there’s shock and the assurance of prayer and concern, flags are lowered, there’s outrage. Then, after a few days, our attention is drawn to the next big thing, the next bright, shiny object, and we move on. Until the next time it happens. As it did on Wednesday. Except, have you noticed, the window of shock and concern seems to be closing faster and faster with each new tragedy.

So I’ve been struggling with what or who is tempting me, the Spirit or another force, which leads to my temptation of uncertainty. I’m uncertain as to whether I should say something about this ongoing series of national tragedies or to just follow the usual script for the Sundays after these incidents: praying for the victims and those who grieve, praying for people afflicted with mental illness, praying that we might be guided beyond such ordeals.

Connected to the temptation to say something and not being sure of what to say is a temptation of fear. I’m torn within these temptations because I know that what I might say may not be heard as it’s intended, may not be received well, may be regarded as political and divisive by some, or inconsequential and trite by others; regarded as not my place, not in this place; too controversial, too irresponsible, too costly, too naive. Too much. Or, not enough.

And in the midst of this temptation, how can we not be haunted by the story of today’s first reading (Genesis 9.8-15)? Amid the splendor of creation, the wickedness of humanity leads to devastation and chaos. From the chaos of the flood, comes, remarkably, the assurance of a covenant, a covenant of God with you and me and every human being and every living creature. What do we make of that covenant amid the specter of this most recent act of human wickedness?

I say that I struggle with whether I’m being tempted by the Spirit or a contrary force, and yet I have to believe the Spirit is a far more dynamic force. While I’m still not sure of what to say, there is hope, maybe even confidence, that as people who share the covenant, who wander together in the desert, who strive to overcome temptation, that we will not be too hasty or too predictable or too harsh; that we will hold all of this up to the light of the gospel, that it matters that we center ourselves on Jesus, that we do take repentance seriously, that believing in the good news does matter. TL

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Blessed with talents

BEATIFICATION FATHER SOLANUS CASEY
Barney Casey wasn’t given much in terms of talents, to use the imagery of last Sunday’s gospel parable. He certainly wasn’t given five, and probably not two. It would be reasonable to suggest he was given less than one talent.

But unlike the poor oaf in the gospel, Barney invested that measly less-than-one talent rather well. You could say he utilized his less-than-one talent blessedly well.

Barney was born in late fall of 1870 on a farm near Prescott, Wis., in the Diocese of La Crosse. He was baptized a few days before Christmas at the parish church, overlooking the Mississippi River. Barney grew up in what he called a “one-story mansion,” with one room divided to accommodate his parents and 15 siblings. Barney’s family was Irish, and he inherited traits of storytelling, fiddle-playing and a devout Catholic faith. However, the kids only went to Mass every other week; they alternated Sundays because their wasn’t room for everyone all at once in the horse-drawn wagon. Those who didn’t go to Mass prayed the rosary at home.

When he was 17, Barney went to work as a lumberjack, then a prison guard, a hospital orderly, and a streetcar conductor in upstate Superior. His life changed one day in 1891 when his streetcar came upon a woman being attacked by a man with a knife. That abrupt, direct encounter with violence and anger led him to realize the need for a sharper focus in his life, maybe to go in a different, more clear direction. Ultimately, Barney was convinced that he should be a priest.

He entered the seminary in Milwaukee, but Barney was Irish and all the classes were taught in German or Latin. This would be a hindrance a few decades later for another farm boy, Stan Roether of Oklahoma, who struggled mightily with the language demands of seminary, but went on to ordination, missionary work and ultimately martyrdom among the people war-torn Guatemala. We’ll soon discover a significant, common element to the stories of Barney and Stan.

Barney was sent home from the seminary, but he discovered the Capuchins, a Franciscan religious order, who welcomed him. He was given the name Solanus, and while he’ll still struggled with language and his studies, he was ordained – barely. Fr. Solanus was not allowed to preach or hear confessions. That did not prove to be much of a hindrance, he preached and conveyed God’s mercy in other ways.

Fr. Solanus’ most significant contribution would come in Detroit at the Capuchin monastery. He was given the job of porter, the lowliest, some would think the most meaningless, of all jobs – answering the doorbell, accepting packages, turning away people who didn’t have any business bothering the friars.

It was the door, however, that became the touchpoint of his life. It was to the monastery door that people flocked, lining up around the block, early in the morning and late into the night – to talk with him, to request his prayer for healing, for guidance, for peace. As the Great Depression deepened, people came for food and Solanus began giving away the food intended for the friars; that is until an organized soup kitchen was established. It’s still there, two of them a few block apart, serving 1,800 meals a day. Father Solanus used to say, “I have two loves: the sick and the poor.”

Father Marty Pable, one of many Capuchins who fondly remember Fr. Solanus, recalled, “There was nothing spectacular about him. He had no charisma at all! He didn’t preach. He just had that gentleness, that love, that compassion.”

So, clearly I was wrong, at the outset when I said Barney had no talents. But Fr. Marty also was mistaken when he claimed Solanus was not spectacular. You could easily claim he had the most spectacular of talents: gentleness, love, compassion. Not to mention patience, attentiveness, persistence. He had spectacular talents that he invested wisely – no burying in the field on his part.

And his investment of his talents has been recognized by the Church: Well done, good and faithful servant! Fr. Solanus was beatified Nov. 18 in Detroit, at Ford Field. He was declared to be among the blessed; he may one day be canonized as a saint. He’s the second American citizen to be beatified within as many months. Blessed Stan Roether of Oklahoma and Guatemala was the first.

As Blessed Solanus proves, it’s not about how many talents we have, or how seemingly spectacular or lackluster they might be. But that we honor them, deepen them, share them, invest them in our lives. Our stories will be far different than that of Blessed Solanus, but the words at the conclusion of our stories could be the same: Well done, good and faithful servant!

Blessed Solanus Casey, pray for us!  TL