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
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
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
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
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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