On October 17 last, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the very popular Brother André Bessette. The joy in Rome, Montreal, and in all of the houses of the Holy Cross Congregation was intense. All those longing for the conversion of America should share that joy, for this Canadian mystic was an evangelist, both in his native French Canada, and in the northeastern parts of these United States.
MONTREAL, Canada (Catholic Online) - On October 17 last, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the very popular Brother André Bessette. The joy in Rome, Montreal, and in all of the houses of the Holy Cross Congregation was intense.
The new saint is the only canonized member of that venerable Congregation founded by Blessed Canon Basil Antoine Marie Moreau.
All those longing for the conversion of America should share that joy, for this Canadian mystic was an evangelist, both in his native French Canada, and in the northeastern parts of these United States, where he lived for a time early on, and would later return on fund-raising expeditions when the Oratory of St. Joseph was being built.
There is also a certain timeliness to the canonization. In honor of the old eight-day observance of the Epiphany (the day he died, and hence, his feast day), I will offer a perfect octave of reasons for this claim to timeliness.
1. Miracles. Like Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Frère André is a modern miracle worker, who shows a cynical, and empiricist age that the true religion still manifests itself by the wondrous divine interventions we call miracles. Not that any wonder-working saint's essential sanctity consists in the miraculous, but to read the life of "Saint Joseph's little dog" (as he styled himself) is to read a litany of miraculous deeds. As Moses showed that the God of Israel was the true and living God, Frère André showed that the God of the Catholics, and the religion of the Catholics, are uniquely true. And he did this with meekness, humility, and a great joy that lent a certain seal of authenticity to his prodigies.
2. Love of the Cross. We live in an effeminate age. By this, I do not refer principally to the moral turpitude of homosexuality, although the acceptance of this vice is rather signal of the problems of the day. No, I refer to the general softness and hedonism of our era; that is, to the implicit but nonetheless real conviction in our decrepit culture that pleasure is the only real good and pain is the only real evil. Human suffering makes sense and becomes profitable only in the light of grace and under the shadow of the Cross. Frère André belonged to a religious institute dedicated to the saving Rood: the Congregation of the Holy Cross, founded, as already mentioned, by Blessed Basile Antoine Marie Moreau, whose own life was marked by superhuman sufferings borne with heroic patience.
While it is generally known that Saint Joseph is the patron of this Congregation, relatively few are aware that their principal devotion is to the Passion of Our Lord. Their motto: Crux Spes Unica (the Cross, [our] only hope), indicates this. Our holy man exemplified the "crucified" spirituality of his great religious family: lifelong physical infirmities, inability to eat anything but a type of mush made from flower, frequent stomach infirmities, deprivation of sleep, scandalous false accusations, persecution from his own religious superior. These are just a few of the crosses he carried with admirable courage and forgetfulness of self.
3. French Canada needs him. An Anglophone American speaking of French Canada's sad spiritual condition may not be well received in those parts, but it is nonetheless true that after the 1960's "Quiet Revolution" (Révolution tranquille), Quebec and its environs jettisoned their former Catholicity with a precipitous rapidity. Nobody knows this sad truth better than faithful Catholics from these regions. The sainting of a very public figure - whose miracles were, after all, performed among the grandparents of our contemporaries - might kindle the still glowing embers of French Canada's Faith to a brighter flame.
4. Love of the Gospel. Brother André died in the year 1937, long before various modern attempts to revive the study of Holy Scripture. Yet, he memorized the Sermon on the Mount (every Holy Cross novice had to), and, later, the account of the Passion recorded in each of the four Gospels. These were no mere memory exercises; he meditated on the Scriptures. Now, while it is a terrible injustice to say that the Church in those days did not appreciate the Bible, it is also true that spiritual reading for religious in those days was primarily from devotional books that offered a highly mechanized approach to the spiritual life.
The ancient and medieval forms of religious life, on the other hand, laid great emphasis on reading the Holy Scriptures, especially in the form of "lectio divina," which has been much promoted by the Pope who just canonized Saint André. Frère André belonged to a teaching congregation founded in the nineteenth century, but showing a clear continuity with traditional spirituality, as can be seen in his going to the primary sources of the spiritual life: the Gospels.
5. He was "just a lay brother." Many years ago, a lay brother penned a humorous article called, "So, You're a Brother, Father?" seeking to explain to the perplexed just what breed of men lay brothers are. It's sad but true: many practicing Catholics just don't get religious life. And for them, the most useless appendage in the anatomy of religion is the lay brother. The idea of living the counsels of evangelical perfection by vow, without the more "useful" addition of Holy Orders, seems to some the waste of a life.
The priesthood and the religious life are radically distinct vocations, even though they can coexist in the same man. Saint Benedict was not a priest. Neither were the vast majority of his early disciples, nor most of the desert fathers, Irish monks, or early disciples of Saint Francis, who himself was compelled to receive Holy Orders, but went no further than the diaconate. To canonize a man popularly known as "Frère" or "Brother" will add a much needed luster to this noble vocation.
6. Defender of the Social Order. The humble little porter opposed the various anti-Christian "-isms" that made the twentieth century the most sanguinary in man's history. Good Catholic common sense made him despise Communism, which seriously menaced Canada in his day. He made his feelings known in the most innocent of ways. When his arm suffered from paralysis, he told friends, "My arm is acting like a communist." On his deathbed, he prayed for Catholic Spain, then in the convulsions of war, as General Franco strove to defeat both communists and anarchists.
Let us not forget that in French America, just as in Mediterranean Europe and Latin America, liberalism, socialism, and Freemasonry show themselves in much more explicitly anti-Catholic dress than in the Anglo world. "The old fool on the mountain" (as his detractors called him), with his miracles and his calls to conversion and prayer, was a standing rebuke to their snide ideologies. While the little porter does not rank among the well known defenders of the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ, his whole long life was a very public affirmation of the primacy of God's rights. Christ the King is most honored by such little ones in His Realm.
7. Strongly Roman, Papal. When he was on his deathbed, Frère André was encouraged to ask St. Joseph to spare him because he was "needed." To this, he responded, "There is one who is far more necessary than Brother André in this world: that is the Pope. If the Holy Father passed away, it would be a disaster; he still has much to accomplish." Brother André did not survive this illness, but Pope Pius XI, who lay sick and dying at the same time, recovered. It is known that the porter prayed for Pius, and we may believe the Pope's two more years of life were an answer to those prayers.
That such a simple, provincial, supremely-not-cosmopolitan man should concern himself with the well being of the ailing Italian - Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, who lived 4,000 miles away in Rome - is an eloquent testimony to the universality of the Church, and the doctrine that the Roman Pontiff "is father and teacher of all Christians," possessing "full power to rule, feed, and govern the universal Church" (Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, III). In our own day, a confused notion of collegiality has well established itself in theological circles, trickling down to the masses as frank disregard for the Supreme Pontiff. Saint André's edifying example of intense devotion to the Holy Father is much needed.
Included, by the way, among the deeds accomplished by Pius XI in the time "purchased" for him by Frère André were some acts that seem especially apt. For one, on March 19, 1937 - the Feast of Saint Joseph - Pius published Divini Redemptoris, an encyclical letter condemning Communism. As if in gratitude for his own recovery and with great confidence in Mary's spouse, towards the end of the encyclical Pius wrote: "We place the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism under the standard of Saint Joseph, her mighty Protector."
8. Devotion to the Holy Family. Brother André's Congregation was part of a larger religious family founded by Canon Moreau, consisting of three parts, each one of which corresponded to a member of the Holy Family. The Holy Cross Fathers, whose members were conformed to Christ's priesthood by virtue of Holy Orders, corresponded to the Holy Infant. Mary was represented by the sisters, called the Marianites of Holy Cross. The Holy Cross Brothers stood in the place of St. Joseph in this family. They were, in fact, originally a congregation of lay brothers founded by Father Jacques François Dujarie and called "The Brothers of St. Joseph."
Father Dujarie entrusted his foundation to Canon Moreau, who merged them into his already existing religious family. All the members of all these three congregations were imbued with devotion to the Holy Family. In these days when family life is so terribly assailed on so many fronts, devotion to the mystery and the persons of the Holy Family is of great value. And the fact that Brother André acquired his solid piety in childhood is an incentive to Catholic parents to imitate the Bessette's own "holy family."
Dear Saint André, pray for the conversion of Canada and the United States to the Catholic Faith! And may the example of your virtues inspire the faithful to live a more intense spiritual life, and to embrace the life-giving Holy Cross.
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