Fr. Solanus’ unique breakfast penance shows his childlike faith

Fr. Solanus Casey shares a snack with a woman during a picnic in Huntington, Ind., in 1955. The friar’s well-known breakfast penance — mixing his orange juice, coffee and cereal together in one bowl — was a simple but genuine way to show his gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice.
Courtesy of the Solanus Casey Center

This weekend, Fr. Solanus Casey will be beatified, a great grace for the entire Church, but in a particular way for the Archdiocese of Detroit. As I was recently reflecting on the life of Fr. Solanus, I remembered one of the extraordinary penances he used to perform for love of God and of souls: in the mornings, Fr. Solanus would put everything — cereal, orange juice, and coffee — into one bowl for his breakfast.  Such a unique penance could cause us today to scratch our heads in confusion, if not even disapproval.

Yet I was reminded of this penitential sacrifice of Fr. Solanus recently after my fifth-grade students heard a talk about the sacrifices that St. Jacinta and St. Francisco of Fatima had made. Later in the day, one of my students chose, voluntarily and discreetly, to sacrifice a special treat for the salvation of souls. And, I learned the next day, he also led his teammates in making a sacrifice during their basketball practice that afternoon.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel, OP

There are probably people who think we should not talk to children about making sacrifices, that to encourage sacrifices would be akin to failing to let them just be kids. But my own eyes were opened that day to realize how untrue this approach is. I saw my students blossom with a desire to do things for love of God and for love of those He loves. And isn’t that love of God and of neighbor what we are all called to, at every stage of our lives?

I witnessed a zeal for holiness in my students that was very edifying. If this is what the saints did, if loving God in this way is a part of becoming holy, they wanted it. It reminded me of a similar zeal that I had for love of the Lord at their age; after reading about St. Catherine of Siena, I also tried to imitate the sacrificial spirit of the saints.

But as an adult religious Sister, when I first heard the story of Fr. Solanus Casey, I was disgusted with the thought of his breakfast sacrifices. Nothing in me even felt drawn to respond to the story by imitating the spirit of sacrifice for love of Our Lord that motivated his penance.

With their purity of heart and intention, to which we are all called, children are able to see the value in giving every little thing for love of the Lord and for the souls He loves. Perhaps when we think of sheltering children from the thought of sacrifices, we adults are seeking to justify to ourselves our own unwillingness to live as radically as the children and the saints live for the Lord. But, “… unless you acquire the heart of a child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3b).

The childlike spirit of generosity to the Lord, in response to His infinite love, was the joy of Fr. Solanus and of all the saints. May we each learn to be generously loving as children, ready to give our all to our God who has “first loved us” (1 John 4:19b), and thus share in their joy.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.