Good Shepherd Sunday
HOMILY FOR FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
7 MAY 2017
First Communion/Good Shepherd
News broke this week from Rome, that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has approved some decrees and miracles for the advancement of causes of several candidates for sainthood. Among them was one American, Venerable Solanus Casey, a member of Capuchin Franciscans from Detroit. Now, he along with our own Fr. Stan Rother, will be the second American citizen to be beatified, this fall.
Fr. Solanus was born in 1870, to Irish immigrants, the sixth of 16 children. He was not a good student but found his way toward religious life, where in 1897, he joined the Capuchin Franciscans in Milwaukee. But even there, he was not thought to be very bright, and struggled academically, so he was eventually ordained as what in 1904 was known as a "simplex priest," meaning someone who was only ordained to say Mass, but not do more complex sacramental work, nor preach complex theological sermons. He was made the "porter" or doorkeeper at the local monastery in Detroit, where, he was the welcomer to thousand over the next several decades, and became the wise counsel of all those who came to see him and the friars. There are thousands of miracles attributed to his ministry during his lifetime. When he died in 1957, more than 8,000 people came to the church to attend his funeral Mass.
His noble simplicity and humility of heart made him a good shepherd to those who came to see him and seek his counsel.
The miracle attributed to his intercession, which was needed for his beatification, is attested to a miraculous cure of a woman with a terrible skin disease who, just happened to visit his tomb in Detroit, but had heard of his sanctity.
So, now the race will be on to see who can become the first American born saint -- whether it will be him or Fr. Rother? But there are other Americans whose causes are also under consideration. So, we will have to see how the Lord works. Who would have thought we could get to this point with two American born priests being beatified in the same year? There are still the causes of Venerable Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, and Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, as well as the cause of Wichita priest Venerable Emil Kapaun, who is the most decorated American military chaplain in U.S. history.
However on this Good Shepherd Sunday, I also want to make you aware of another Good Shepherd, whose cause has been advanced by the pontiff. The Servant of God, Francis Xavier Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan has been given the title of Venerable, having determined that he lived an heroic Christian life.
Cardinal Nguyen was the Archbishop of Saigon Viet Nam when it fell in 1975, before the communists took over the country. As the city and country fell, he was taken prisoner by the communists and kept in prison, mostly in solitary confinement for over 13 years. Finally, with the help of the Vatican and at the request of St. John Paul the Great, he was finally released and exiled to Rome in 1991, where he was made a Cardinal, and made the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The communists had a terrible problem with the imprisonment of the archbishop however, because during his imprisonment, due to his kindness, his gentleness, his merciful love to his guards, he kept converting them to Christianity. He never preached to them, in fact he rarely ever mentioned the Gospel or Christ. He simply loved them into conversion.
Because he loved them and converted them by his kindness, they would do favors for him. He convinced his captors that he needed wine for medicinal purposes. So they would bring him a small eye dropper bottle every week with wine in it.
He would keep crumbs of stale bread in his pockets. So that every day, from memory, he would stand in the corner of his cell; with a drop of wine in one hand and a crumb of stale bread in the other hand -- his hands becoming a paten and a chalice; and he would celebrate Mass. Now remember, this is from 1975 until 1991. And because he was under communist influence, he never knew that the Second Vatican Council had occurred. So, he celebrated the Mass of the Council of Trent --from memory.
Likewise, he would convince his guards to take small slips of paper out of the prison and send them to the Christians in Saigon. These slips of paper, were words of encouragement to the Church the Archbishop had left without a shepherd due to his imprisonment. After his freedom, these little messages were complied together and printed into a book called, "The Road to Hope."
They are very powerful to read. Let me share with you one such word from now Venerable Francis Xavier Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan.
Speaking about the struggles in life against the the world, he said, "your weapons in this struggle are meditation, self denial, the sacraments, the rosary and recollection. Your allies are The Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the angels, your patron saint and your spiritual director. Unless you gradually drop your weapons or betray your allies, your victory is assured."