On Monday of this past week, we received news of the death of Monsignor John Caswell, a priest of our diocese who has served in various parts of our diocese from the time of his Ordination in 1962 until many years after his retirement from active ministry in 2006. Cas
– as he was most fondly known – had a keen eye for finding innovative ways of being present to people, which also gave him opportunities to preach the gospel. He skated with a group of priests from Northern Ontario who were known collectively as the Flying Fathers, and entertained thousands by playing hockey games against local teams in many of the cities and towns dotted throughout this part of the province.
At first glance, someone may think: what does playing hockey have to do with preaching the gospel? The genius of this approach was that it allowed a group of priests to enter into the minds and hearts of so many people, not by speaking words but rather by demonstrating through recreation, antics and good sportsmanship that it is possible to be prophets – to speak the word of God - to all generations; we just have to find the right way to do it.
Later on in his priesthood, he was instrumental in bringing the weekly liturgy to the sick and shut-ins. In this case, and in many other endeavours, there was skepticism at first. When the Mass for Shut-ins began, it was a relatively new form of media and so many people were unsure about whether it would work. This is often the case when new approaches are introduced: the natural tendency is to react with skepticism, much like those who were astonished
by the words they heard Jesus speaking in the synagogue (Mk 6:2). Thankfully Cas continued his efforts for many years and made it possible for many people – most of whom he probably never met - to be fed by the word of God.
I had the privilege of living with Monsignor Caswell at Christ the King in the latter years of his active ministry. Even then, his creativity was only outmatched by his wit and wisdom. God had indeed sent him to the children of Israel
(Ez 2:3) and he always accepted the challenge.
Saint Paul speaks today of the fact that in order to keep him from being too proud
about the good news that he had received, a thorn was given him in the flesh
(2 Cor 12:7). Many years before I knew him, Father Caswell had been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. As a result of the operation that granted him an extension of his years among us, his dietary restrictions had to be followed with great rigor, but he never allowed this to stop him from sharing the joy of the gospel with those he met.
This is the secret to evangelization. All of Christ’s disciples have received the precious gift of a personal relationship with Jesus, and all of us are capable of sharing the joy that this gift brings with those we meet, whether the message we speak is welcomed by others or not. Let us give thanks today for the gift of this holy priest, for his courage and willingness to find new ways to share the gospel with others, and let us ask him to inspire us by his intercession so that we in turn can do the same.