(Advent Reflection) The Call of the Porter

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!

By Brother Zachary Burns, T.O.R.


Venerable Solanus Casey

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.Father_solanus_casey 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.

ABout the author

Brother zacHARY Burns, T.O.R., is a Franciscan friar in formation with The Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus of the FRANCISCAN FRIARS OF THE THIRD ORDER REGULAR, Pursuing the Priesthood. He Blog’s at BRO. ZACK’S BLOG.

13 thoughts on “(Advent Reflection) The Call of the Porter

  1. Dear Brother Zachary, Thank you for your thoughts on Advent andFather Solanus Casey; he has been an intercessor and friend of my family and friends for many years and teaches all of us the example of humility which leads to all other virtue; may he continue to be a guide as you journey to become a priest; may God bless you forever; The Forr Family

  2. Dear Brother Zachary,
    What a wonderful advent story. I live in Wisconsin and am familiar with the holy life of Father Solanus. He is one of my go-to saints when I need a friend. After reading your short bio (of Father Solanus) I understand more fully how he is the patron of hospitality (in my eyes).
    My husband and I are retired. In April of this year we were faced with losing our home. We asked Father Solanus to find us a home in Wisconsin. What a joy. He found a wonderful apartment for us. We are among many Christiaan friends here. We found (after moving in) that this building was formerly a convent for retired professed sisters. We know that this is a place of safety in any storm. Thank you Father Solanus for your intercession.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS, Brother Zach and thank you for your advent story.

  3. Born and raised in Detroit not too far from St. Bonaventure’s, my Mother took me to Fr. Solanus to receive his blessing before going into the Navy in World War II. I always felt it was Fr. Solanus’s Blessing that prevented losing both of my hands in a Planer. Also when my brother, Dc. Eugene Di Cresce’s Wife , JoAnn, was a baby in her mother’s womb, the doctor told her she would die if she did not have an abortion. She went to Fr. Solanus. He told her not to have the Baby aborted because she would give birth to a healthy little girl. And so she did. Years later when my brother asked for some advice, I told him to go to St. Bonaventure and join the Third Order of St. Francis. He did and met Joann. They fell in love and were happily married. They had the most beautiful holy Family life together and inspired many, many people by their great faith and love.

  4. Father Solanus is so very special. You have brought back Christmas memories to me where I read that when his violin playing was rejected by his confreres during Advent, he would humbly retire to the chapel and continue to play to the Infant Jesus in the chapel. I pray for his canonization. He was so full of love for Jesus, Mary and his fellow men. Another who would have been rejected would have been angry but Fr. Solanus always knew where his playing would be appreciated. May Father Solanus always pray for us and intercede for us. God Bless+

  5. Brother Zachary Burns. Thank you for your reflection on Fr. Solanus Casey. I became aware of Fr. Solanus story through a Fr. Leo McAuliffe Capuchin Friar, Carlow, Ireland a few years ago and who is working for the beatification of Fr. Solanus. Fr, Solanus’s parents were from Co. Armagh which is not far from where I live.


  6. Thank you for a wonderful article on Fr. Solanus Casey. I came across his life story a while ago and since then I have prayed for his beatification. His humility is something I aspire with God’s help.

  7. I have a special love for Fr. Solanus. I pray to him for my family, esp. Rico, and he takes all my prayers to God. This I know for sure. Louise

  8. I love to hear about the saints because they inspire me to act in a holy way when my human tendency is to be self centered. This article is so enlightening and efficacious especially in this Christmas season when we have visitors and relatives come to stay and we need to be kind and thoughtful hosts even though we may not always feel like it. I will remind myself of our wonderful and patient Father Sol an is who never turned any visitor away but rather was loving and generous with his time. Thank you for sharing this beautiful article.

  9. Thank you Brother Zachary for this article about Fr. Solanus Casey. Since 2005, I’ve been asking his intercession for the healing of my daughter who has Scoliosis. A friend of ours who was from Detroit gave me the book about Fr. Solanus – The Porter of Saint Bonaventure’s by James Patrick Derum. I read it ..read it again and I know he is a very holy man. ..his deep spirituality and his love of God. Before his death, he was already loved by people in US and Canada as spiritual counselor and his intercession to seemingly inexplicable spiritual reformations and physical cures. When he died on July 31, 1957, his good works continue. Someday, Fr. Solanus will be beatified and canonized in God’s time.

  10. I love Fr Solanus Casey and support the Seraphic Mass Association in Pittsburgh PA. I love that they offer Gregorian Masses for the deceased. I am sure that Fr Solanus has helped many through this effort he founded

  11. Thank you all for the kind words! Fr. Solanus has been an integral part of my vocational journey, and I know that it is only through his intercession and the movement of the Holy Spirit that I am able to share this reflection. What a blessing to read these comments and see that he has been present in so the lives of so many! God bless you all, and a joy-filled Christmas, too!

    -Br. Zachary TOR

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