Pastor’s Perspective – March 10, 2019

Solanus Casey Relic at St. Regis Parish

Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest who spent many years in ministry in Detroit at St. Bonaventure was beatified on November 18, 2017 at a wonderful celebration at Ford Field. Many of you were present or watched on TV. Now that he has been officially beatified the local Church (Archdiocese of Detroit) can publicly promote devotion to him, celebrate his feast day, and allow the faithful to venerate his relics.

This coming week we will receive one of those relics. We have been allowed to open up times for public and private veneration. It is not often that a diocese has someone beatified or canonized and can do this. Because Solanus Casey was known for his steadfast faith, care for the poor, welcome to the stranger in need, ability to discern what was needed for people’s lives, and was used as an instrument of God’s healing numerous times during his life, it is my hope that St. Regis Parish will enter into this week open to all the graces God can bestow on us. It is not simply a matter of honoring Solanus Casey. It means a willingness to open our lives to God’s healing, to have hearts that embrace the poor and the stranger in need, and to be intercessors for others.

Why relics? Why veneration? The Catholic practice of venerating relics of saints—placing them inside altar tops, putting them in lunas and displaying them in public, inviting people to touch, kiss or kneel in front of them—is really quite odd, is it not? It is not as though God will hear our prayers better or be more open to our prayers if we do so with a relic present. So, it is not about God or persuading God. The relic is not some type of magical talisman that can send out power, whether we have faith or not. Rather, it is about us and how God has created us and what that means for how God’s grace (the reality of God’s personal presence entering into history) “works.”

We have been created as embodied spirits. We are not angelic spirits. We live and move and have our bodily being in common with the material universe. And we are not dualists. That means we do not denigrate material reality, including bodies, as something to get rid of. In fact, our teaching on bodily resurrection is an indication that, even in death, our hope is not to be freed from bodily reality, but to have all created reality, including our bodiliness, brought into communion with the fullness of God’s love. But we are not simply bodies. We are not materialists who insist that there really is no such reality as a human soul. We have more than a material ability to enter into spiritual union with God and others. That is how God made humanity. It is profound. It is beautiful. It is humbling (both because it means our bodies will decay and die and because it means that God has a personal desire to share God’s life with us).

The veneration of relics falls into this Catholic understanding of the sacramental nature of reality. In and through the material, the real presence of God—God’s grace—can be experienced. In fact, in the Catholic understanding, God has precisely made humanity in such a way that only in and through the material reality do we experience God. Because of this understanding of our faith, the Church came to define certain sacramental moments as essential to its being, if it intends to carry on the mission and ministry of Jesus through history. These sacraments—initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist), vocational (Marriage and Holy Orders), and healing (Anointing of Sick, Penance)—shape the Church’s communal identity, but do not exhaust all the ways that God’s presence comes to concrete form in the Church. Reading the Scriptures with faith, laying on hands and praying with people, consecrating one’s life to a monastic or religious community, opening oneself to the Spirit of God as one goes on pilgrimage, blessing oneself or others, using blessed candles or holy water in prayer, and on and on. All of these the Church calls “sacramentals” and encourages their use if done with humble faith. They are not essential sacraments and so do not have to be used or have to happen. They certainly have the ability to bring people an experience of the tangible reality of God’s presence.

Veneration of relics falls into this category. By declaring Solanus “Blessed” the Church is acknowledging that he can be safely considered as part of the communion of saints in heaven—in full communion with God for eternity. Blessed Solanus does not stop praying for the stranger or the poor or the person in need of healing because he is dead. In our Catholic understanding he still is praying and that prayer is now available to the entire Church, not just to the limited number he met with while he was on earth. Venerating the relic helps to give us a tangible connection to that ongoing intercession. Do we have to use such sacramentals? No, of course not, but we are embodied beings. There is a power for good, for healing, for renewal and transformation that, at least in the history of our Church, seems to be more easily and fully embraced, in and through such tangible sacramentals.

Do not underestimate what your prayer joined to Blessed Solanus’ prayer can bring for yourself, or for others, especially the poor, the stranger, and the person in need of healing. These times of veneration can help us focus our prayer and connect our whole being to that prayer. Come and be part of this week. Have specific prayer requests in mind. Name them in faith and, as Solanus was fond of saying, “Thank God ahead of time.” It can make a difference in us and for those whom we pray.

Lent at St. Regis: Sunday Gospel, Tuesday Holy Hour and Confession, Re-claiming Fridays

All of these Solanus Casey events are part of the parish’s efforts at opening up the season of Lent to a time of personal and communal renewal. In particular, I want to remind all of us to “unleash the Sunday Gospel” every week. We will be doing so at every parish gathering during Lent. Use the journal distributed last week (copies for both children and adults are available in the gathering area or parish office). Let the slow, meditative reading and reflection on the upcoming Sunday gospel stir up thoughts and images, words and phrases which can connect to your life. Go online under our “News” tab on the parish website and share what phrase, word or image you connected with and why. By participating in this manner we can support one another in our Lenten journey.

Secondly, we have taken the last hour of Adoration in the chapel on each Tuesday evening of Lent—7:30 to 8:30 pm—and turned it into a communal holy hour ending with Benediction. It is a great way to spend a few minutes in prayer of adoration. Also, on Tuesday evenings before the holy hour from 6:30 to 7:30 pm I and at times other priests will be available in the church to hear confessions. Take advantage of these Tuesday times to make your Lent all that much more meaningful.

Thirdly, we are once again “Re-Claiming Fridays” of Lent by having some sort of prayer or devotion every Friday during the Lenten season. This week, Friday from 6:30 to 7:30 pm will be a service of healing, connected to veneration of Blessed Solanus and the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Come, ready to be healed and/or ready to pray for others’ healing.

The Catholic Church and Abuse of Minors: The Current Picture

I began a series of articles in last week’s bulletin. My goal is to offer my own take on the current reality of the Church’s handling of clergy abuse. One of my concerns is that some news reports seem to conflate how it was done some years ago and how it is done now. It is horrendous that up until 2002 the Church was not aggressive enough in removing abusers from ministry, covering up that abuse in many cases, and even moving people to a new setting without telling people about the past abuse. It is important to know that this is not the case now or for the last sixteen plus years, at least in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Here is what happens in the Archdiocese of Detroit if someone accuses a priest, deacon, bishop or lay Church minister of abuse of a minor, whether it is a recent claim or goes back decades.

The Church encourages anyone who has been abused or has knowledge of abuse to report it as soon as possible. This is true no matter when the abuse took place, even if the person being accused of abuse is no longer in ministry or is deceased. The Attorney General of Michigan has set up a hotline (1.844.324.3374 ) to receive all such calls. The Archdiocese of Detroit has its own hotline (1.866.343.8055) and can be notified as well. If the person calling has not notified civil authorities, the Archdiocese will. No one will be discouraged from notifying authorities.

The diocese has no say over or influence on any civil investigation. In fact, church records will most likely be subpoenaed as part of the investigation, and the diocese cooperates fully with anything that will help the investigation. On the diocese’s side of things, there will be an investigation as well, not by the bishop, but by a board appointed by him and given the freedom to make their own judgment. The standard of judgment used by the diocese is not whether the accusation can be proved (that is the job of civil authorities), but whether the accusation has credibility to it. Any accusation made public means the end of the public ministry of that priest or other minister, and so it is not just enough to accuse someone. On the other hand, the standard used has to be supportive of the claim of the one who believes they have suffered abuse. So, on the diocesan side of things, there is a discussion with the person who was victimized and, if the accusation is found credible (the person seems to be sincere in what they are saying and details of the allegation have a possibility to have occurred), then the diocese removes the person from public ministry and the position in which they currently serve. The accused will be named, listed on the diocesan website, and the public invited to go to authorities with any other information they might have on the person. In short, that person’s ministry is effectively finished, even if the allegation does not lead to a criminal trial or civil lawsuit.

The diocese will continue to pay the accused their salary and benefits that are their due, but the diocese does not provide them help with a lawyer or any defense. They must do that on their own. For the one who has lodged the abuse complaint, the diocese will offer help with counseling and other reasonable help that can be agreed upon between the person and the diocese. The goal through it all—now, though unfortunately not necessarily prior to 2002—is for justice to be achieved as much as possible; those victimized by church workers to be believed and given resources for their healing; zero tolerance for any abuser to remain in public ministry; and transparency about the whole process. Next time, some thoughts on where I think the Church could still do better.

Fr. Buersmeyer