Love is contagious

Monday, October 08, 2018 - Updated: 2:04 pm

Would you be surprised to know that there are only two American-born men who have been formally beatified? They were beatified within weeks of each other last year by Pope Francis.

One is Blessed Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest from Wisconsin venerated for his ministry of counseling and healing.

When I served as bishop of Green Bay, from time to time some senior citizens would tell me that they knew Father Casey or that they had met him. They spoke in tender ways of how Solanus Casey impressed them as being “saintly” long before the process toward his canonization was begun.

“Barney” Casey was born in a three-room log cabin in Wisconsin. Barney was accepted into a Capuchin seminary in 1896, even though he was judged as having limited academic ability. He was given the name “Solanus.”

Father Solanus was ordained at age 33 as a “simplex” priest, which meant that he could not hear confessions or preach at Mass. He was assigned as “porter,” as a greeter in the Capuchin friary where he lived. In that role as a “welcomer,” his reputation as a holy man spread quickly. Many people came to know the power of his prayers and waited in long lines to connect with him. Reports of healings and conversions became an everyday occurrence at the friary until his death in 1957.

“The shepherd cannot run”

The other is Blessed Stanley Rother, beatified a few weeks before Blessed Solanus in 2017.

Father Rother was born in 1935 in Okarche, Oklahoma. As an Oklahoma farm boy, in high school he began to seriously consider the priesthood and entered the seminary.

He had academic troubles and essentially flunked out. He appealed to his bishop, who decided to give him a second shot at another seminary. He finished this time and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1963.

He then decided on a missionary vocation. He served in the diocese’s Guatemala mission for 14 years. Surrounded by extreme poverty, Father Rother ministered to his parishioners in their homes, eating with them, visiting the sick, aiding with medical problems and helping them farm.

While he served in Guatemala, a civil war raged between the militarist government forces and the guerillas. The church was caught in the middle, serving and protecting the people.

Eventually, Father Rother was targeted. For his safety, he returned to Oklahoma. But he was determined to give his life completely to his people and stated that “the shepherd cannot run.” He went back.

Within days of returning to Guatemala, three men entered the rectory and shot him in the head.

Father Rother was recognized as a martyr for the faith by Pope Francis and was beatified in 2017 on the road to becoming a saint.

Souls on fire

“Mission” is what Solanus Casey and Stanley Rother were all about. “Mission” is who we are and what we are to do as contemporary disciples of Jesus. It’s one of the central true joys of faith. It is making the Good News alive. It is what it means to be The Church Alive!

World Mission Sunday is Oct. 21. We will join with our sisters and brothers throughout the world to take up collections in our parishes as we do each year to support missions in the Americas and worldwide.

I don’t have to ask you to be generous. This is the Church of Pittsburgh. You are always generous. Rather, this is more a joyful reminder to come to Mass prepared to contribute!

Our generosity will go:

• To the Americas, where catechists bring the Good News to families in remote and isolated areas;

• To Europe, where new churches are being built to serve the faithful who have resisted years of persecution and the new secularism that tries to silence the impact of faith and mission;

• To Asia, where millions of children receive an education from religious sisters in church-run elementary schools;

• To the Pacific islands, where young men are studying for the priesthood so they can bring the Lord to all in need;

• To Africa, where those who are sick receive loving care at 6,400 Catholic hospitals and small clinics.

In his message for World Mission Sunday this year, Pope Francis stressed that at the heart of the church’s mission is love that is infectious. Love is “contagious.” It is the power of God’s love that sets our souls on fire.

It is mission that attracts people to the faith, that brings people to learn, love and live Jesus anywhere and everywhere in the world.

When we support the missions, the Holy Father tells us, we are not just giving what we have. We are giving who we are. Each one of us, he wrote, must reflect on the fact that “I am mission on this Earth,” which is why we are here in this world.

That is our mission. Be a living part of it on Mission Sunday.

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