The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . The Way to True Unity
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. EPHESIANS 5:1–2
So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. JOHN 7:43–44
One of the most remarkable American Catholics of the last century was a humble Capuchin friar whose name in religion was Father Solanus Casey. Solanus served as a friar in Detroit, in New York, and in his final years in the town of Huntington, Indiana. Born of Irish parents, Solanus did not fare well in the seminary, where he was taught by German-speaking priests in Latin, so while he was ordained a priest, he was never allowed to preach a doctrinal homily or to hear confessions. Yet God gave Solanus the gift of healing, and people sought him out from all over. When he died in 1957, those who knew him regarded him as a saint. He now is recognized as a Venerable, the last step before being beatified by the Church.
Solanus was the community’s porter, the doorkeeper. Today we would call him a receptionist, someone who would greet visitors who came to the friary seeking prayers or material comfort. Solanus did his job so well that people lined up to have a few moments of his counsel. People of all faiths would come to him requesting prayers and healings. What Solanus would ask of these seekers was rather unique. He told them to “thank God ahead of time”—in other words, to step out in faith, before any miracle had happened; to act before God as though it already had happened. The way that he normally asked people to express this thanks to God was for them to sign up to have Masses said by the Capuchin mission society, whether they were Catholic or not. Mass is the perfect “thanksgiving,” so it made sense to Solanus that if one were to thank God ahead of time, having Mass said was the perfect way to do this. People continue to seek Solanus’s intercession to this day, and they continue to “thank God ahead of time,” with remarkable results.
What Solanus taught is what Jesus practiced. In John’s Gospel, before Jesus is arrested and crucified he thanks God, ahead of time. He trusts the Father entirely and he teaches his disciples to do the same. While the people are divided over Jesus and seek to arrest him, no one is able to lay a hand upon him until he gives himself over to them. He freely gives himself to the Father as the Father gives the Son to the world and as the Spirit will be given by the Father and the Son to those who believe and put their trust in God. The Spirit will unite what sin has divided. John’s Gospel tells us that “they wanted to arrest him,” but instead they were captivated by him. They were as divided in their purpose as we are when we sin—part of us wants to believe, part of us doesn’t. Division is one of the results of the original sin of Adam and Eve—and the cross of Christ is the ultimate sign of division, but ironically in that very cross, Christ will make us one.
Do we see this unity anywhere on earth today? In some ways we are more one now than we were fifty years ago, but in many other ways we are more divided. It is to be expected that the world is this way, because the world will remain fallen until Christ comes again, but it is a great scandal that division exists within the body of Christ—the Church. We cannot here worry about what someone else can do to undo this damage to the body of Christ, this further tearing apart of his flesh—we can only examine what we are doing to repair the damage ourselves.
That They Be One
Father Solanus Casey was a pious priest who lived in the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council, yet one of the remarkable aspects of his life was how he welcomed people of all faiths to his doorstep. He did not change his belief for anyone; he didn’t need to because his faith gave him a command to love everyone and he strove with all his might and God’s help to do so. The gifts that God gave to him freely, he shared freely with all of God’s creation. St. Paul understood well the unraveling of original sin that Our Lord’s death brought about, God’s Spirit reuniting what had been torn apart by sin. He took the good news beyond the Jewish nation and religion that were his own, to the very ends of the earth. Sadly today the Church is wracked with division, in much the same way as the people were when Christ walked among them: They wanted to arrest him rather than be saved by him. Do we not suffer from the same ailment? Do we want to control Our Lord or be controlled by him? St. Paul tells us to “walk in love,” to offer ourselves up as a sacrifice to God. This means dying to all of those things that we like to focus on that keep us apart and focusing rather on the fact that God is the Father of all of us; we all belong to the same family. It means looking at the division that exists and thanking God ahead of time for bringing about the unity of the kingdom, even when we do not see it. Jesus’ journey to the cross was a walk of love, of giving thanks to God and bringing healing to those who reached out to him. This should be our daily path also.
The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.