In place of football players, God’s team congregated in the visitors’ locker room at Ford Field.
Dressed in gold vestments and white miters, more than 30 bishops prepared for the opening procession of the beatification Mass of Blessed Solanus Casey.
Outside, 60,000 faithful waited jubilantly, talking and sharing stories, some wearing the trademark red spectacles of Blessed Solanus, a Detroit friar who lived from 1870 to 1957 whose legacy of humble faith and tireless service remains stronger than ever today.
Like a captain about to lead his team to take the field, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron stood silently, taking in the moment.
“I hope there aren’t many empty seats,” the archbishop said, briefly worrying that the cold and rain would keep some people away from the historic Mass.
He didn’t worry long.
As the procession rounded into view of the crowd from the stadium’s giant tunnel, the choir burst into the opening verse, “This is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia!,” and it became abundantly clear nothing in the world could dampen Detroit’s spirits this day.
Of all the victories (ahem) at Ford Field, none could ever come close to this one.
Blessed Solanus remains an inspiration to the city of Detroit even 60 years after his death, and there’s a good reason for that. Every person who met him — though most with living memory are elderly now — or read his biography, or prayed at his tomb, has come away with the unshakeable feeling that this holy Capuchin is something special for the Church.
It’s more than just the favors — though that’s certainly part of it. It’s the way Blessed Solanus reminds us that holiness isn’t something “up there” and out of reach. Even if we never met him, we can picture him there, standing at the doors of St. Bonaventure Monastery, inviting us in. We can see him at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, scooping a ladle of soup into a bowl for the hungry. We can almost hear his whispery voice telling us in our darkest hour, “Don’t worry, God will provide. Everything will be fine.”
More than 60,000 gathered at Ford Field not for a show, but for a celebration of a holy man we all know in some way.
Blessed Solanus does what all saints should do: he inspires in us the feeling that we, too, can be holy. We don’t have to found religious orders or travel the world on mission, or preach moving homilies or have a bazillion degrees. We can simply do what the Lord asks, when He asks it.
We might argue that we can’t perform miracles. But Blessed Solanus would make the same argument. He wasn’t a wonder-worker, he frequently said. He was a poor sinner who simply thanked God for what only God could do.
What Blessed Solanus did, we can all do. We can go to Mass. We can pray fervently before the Blessed Sacrament. We can give generously of our time to others, and give alms. We can read the lives of the saints, and Scripture, and encourage others in their faith.
Most of all, we can believe and preach that Jesus Christ has won the victory for us, and “thank him ahead of time for whatever he chooses to send us.”
The greatest lesson of Blessed Solanus Casey is that being a saint requires effort, but it isn’t hard. If the first Detroit blessed has taught us anything, it’s that he doesn’t have to be the last.
It’s why so many of us can relate when the archbishop, upon asking Cardinal Amato to read Pope Francis’ decree declaring Fr. Solanus “blessed” as the entire Church looked on, choked up. This editor will admit to a few tears of joy himself.
Mike Stechschulte is managing editor of The Michigan Catholic newspaper.