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The Reactionary Utopian
January 17, 2008

Father Casey and Me
by Joe Sobran

Of late, literally struggling to survive (your prayers are most welcome), I have sought the consolations of the rosary, my family and friends, and a few books. Among these are Bernard Ruffin’s excellent 1991 biography of St. Padre Pio, Padre Pio: The True Story, and a smaller book from 1968 about another great saint, Father Solanus Casey, The Porter of St. Bonaventure’s, by James Patrick Derum.

Father Casey, like Padre Pio, was a Capuchin friar who has been credited with countless healing miracles. He was born and raised in Wisconsin, near the Minnesota border at a narrow part of the Mississippi River, in a large Irish Catholic family, and some friends of mine from that area, also devout Irish Catholics named Casey as it happens, believe they are related to him.

Father Casey died in 1957 (Pio died in 1968) after spending most of his adult life in a monastery in my native Detroit. My aunt Pauline Sobran, God bless her sweet soul, became devoted to his memory late in her life. Renowned for his sweet temper, he was what in those days was called a simplex priest, of restricted faculties. That is, he was permitted to say Mass but not to hear confessions. He was largely confined to menial tasks that most priests would find humiliating, though he never complained.

Most of Father Casey’s free time, as a result, was given to counseling troubled people, who flocked to him and basked in the remarkable warmth and sweet humor of his personality. Many an alcoholic, after a single interview with him, became intensely devout and never took another sip of liquor. Others recovered from such serious physical ailments as cancer, polio, diabetes, cataracts, concussions, and goiters, to name a few, not to mention all sorts of anxieties and worries, the devil’s devices for destroying our inner peace.

I can relate a remarkable incident of my own about this holy man. Some years ago, around 1987, perhaps, I clipped an article about him from the weekly Catholic press. Then I lost it. With great frustration I searched for it for hours in vain; it was something I would never have knowingly thrown away, so I was baffled by its disappearance. But I finally gave up looking for it. Somehow I had managed to lose this item, worthless to anyone but me.

I had nearly forgotten about it when I got home from Mass one dark Sunday evening in November. A strong, chilly wind was blowing as I got out of my car. I picked up a page of a newspaper the wind had whipped across the yard at my feet. It was the missing article about Father Casey!

Which of course proved nothing. I didn’t need a logician to tell me it could have been mere chance that somehow carried it back to me, like a fish in some old tale that turns out to have swallowed a precious ring. If you want to reject the supernatural explanation, you can always posit coincidence or conspiracy. An explanation may be perfectly logical without being reasonable. Think of all the clever people who deny the resurrection of Jesus and uphold materialist theories of evolution.

As usual, I digress. But I knew why that article had turned up as surely as if Father Casey, his blue Irish eyes twinkling, had personally handed it to me. And I think this is the way we usually experience a miracle in our own lives: as a kind of small, loving joke, “just between ourselves,” that nobody else would get, as intimate as a kiss.

This may be how God prefers to speak to us, not with spectacular public signs whose meaning nobody can miss or deny, but with an ambiguity that demands our faith. After all, Jesus himself, even after stunning the multitudes with his healing powers, often complained that their faith was so weak that they would not believe him without seeing marvels, as if he were just a magic act.

He wanted them to accept him for his words, not his wonders. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” he said, “but my words shall not pass away.” And of course those simple words are what we do remember most, the quiet but mighty words that, spoken, not written by him, have made this a different world for all time.

In the same way, Father Casey didn’t want praise as a worker of wonders. To God went all the credit for any cures that occurred after his prayers.

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