Here is an inspirational Advent reflection by one of my friar brothers. Enjoy, and for more of Brother Zack’s writings please check out his blog!
Unlike the traditional American Christmas prelude which stretches from the first sight of candy corn until the beginning of TBS’s “24 hours of A Christmas Story,” the Catholic Church’s lead-up to the Feast of the Nativity is short but sweet. Advent, lasting between four and five weeks depending on the calendar, is a time set apart for fasting, conversion, and growth in charity. Unfortunately for Catholics, giving up ice cream and Facebook is sort of a Lent thing, which leaves most of us searching for new ways to become a better person in December (in all seriousness, sacrificing our morning coffee probably makes us much worse people, anyway). Luckily, the Church has left us with about 10,000 role-models to whom we can turn for some much-needed inspiration; we call them Saints.
In light of the recent announcement of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s canonization, I’ve been inspired to contemplate more deeply the heroic nature of the holy men and women who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Every Catholic has a favorite saint, each seemingly more courageous and noble than the last. Perhaps it’s Joan of Arc, who led the French army in the Hundred Years’ War and was martyred at the stake. Or maybe it’s Oscar Romero, whose role in the Salvadoran Civil War facilitated a social and spiritual revolution. And what about Maximillian Kolbe? He willingly submitted himself to starvation in an Auschwitz prison cell so that the life of another could be saved. But as for me, I have yet to find a more appropriate Advent-time inspiration than the life of Venerable Solanus Casey, the American-born Capuchin Friar from Wisconsin. He was a porter; he answered his friary’s doorbell.
Not thought by his superiors to be intellectually prepared for normal priestly duties, Fr. Solanus was ordained in in 1904 as a sacerdos simplex: a priest without the faculties to preach homilies or to practice the sacrament of Reconciliation. Undeterred by his predicament, he happily spent the majority of his life in a small office just inside the main entrance of St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, Michigan. There, he welcomed many a visitor with his wispy voice, quick wit, and unabashedly subpar violin playing. Perpetually joyful, Solanus Casey gained a reputation for never withholding a listening ear from those in need. Upon news of his death in July of 1957, over 20,000 men and women came to pay their respects to a man they believed to be a saint—a man who lived a life completely for God and for others. He wasn’t a missionary or a martyr. He wasn’t an outspoken leader or the face of revolution. He simply waited patiently to welcome visitors, and treated each as Christ. That, alone, is heroic.
When I was a novice friar, one of the jobs written on our weekly house-responsibility chart was that of porter. Excited to be able to further imitate my favorite man of God, I was mildly disappointed to discover that the job entailed only that the house doors be locked after prayers at night and unlocked before prayers in the morning. Of course, it wouldn’t have made much sense for a novice to spend all day at the front door awaiting visitors: our friary was located in rural Western Pennsylvania, and received only a guest or two each week. That being said, I can’t help but think that the call of the porter is one we—both consecrated religious and lay faithful— have all but neglected, its required humility and reservedness casualties of a fast-paced and cut-throat world. But isn’t the call of the porter fundamental to our imitation of Christ? To wait, to listen, to tend to the needs of those who come to us: are these not tenants of Christian life? Even in a society (and Church) that places so much importance upon action and production, how can such a vocation ever be outgrown?
During Advent, I believe that we are all invited to assume the role of the porter: to wait in patient expectation for the coming of our Lord and to receive Him with joy when he arrives. We may not be prepared when He rings the doorbell, nor might we know what to say to Him when he’s through the threshold, but it is our privilege as Christians to accept God at any time and in any form, in whatever capacity we are able. Just as Mary could have never known how she would one day offer a world-changing yes to God, we can never truly understand the potentially life-changing power of our yes to the Lord as He manifests Himself in others. This Advent, let us be attentive to Christ as he comes to us in the needy, just as Fr. Solanus Casey welcomed the poor of Detroit into his office with an open heart and a radical love. Maybe God will come to us as a forgotten friend seeking forgiveness, as a sibling struggling with an addiction, or as a coworker who doesn’t seem to “fit in” with the rest of the group. Most likely, however, He will be found as Solanus Casey so often found Him: in the normalcy of daily life. In listening to the joys, sorrows, and struggles of his brothers and sisters, Fr. Solanus attended joyfully to Christ each day. No personal agendas. No particular mission. Just love and understanding.
So in this last intentional week of penance before Christmas, give YouTube a rest if you must, and reject that Instagram-worthy dessert if your will-power allows; but above all else, remember the call of the porter. Remember that his vocation is one common to us all: to stand at the doorway and welcome God when he arrives, no matter our form or His. All that is asked of us is that we do so joyfully.