Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Remembering Brother André

Host Mary Rose Bacani discovers the heart-warming stories of pilgrims who travel to Saint Joseph's Oratory from all over the world in search of peace, holiness and healing. She also visits the Cantins, a family from Southwestern Ontario that has one of the most impressive archives of Br. André in North America. Other featured segments include ordained and lay collaborators at Holy Cross-run institutes as well as touching interviews with men and women who share how Br. André continues to touch the hearts of all today.

Brother André Bessette on EWTN

Monday, February 27, 2012

I am sending you a saint

Saint André Bessette: Montreal’s Miracle Worker
by Brother André Marie
October 25, 2004
In the city of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada, on a rise of earth known as Mount Royal, there stands a religious edifice of staggering proportions. It is three hundred and sixty-one feet high, taller than either Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York or the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. . . .

It is the Oratory of Saint Joseph, a worthy tribute to him who is the head of the Holy Family and the Patron of the Universal Church.

If one were to ask any Canadian for the name of the person who built this magnificent House of God, he would be told, “Brother André.” Yet, this little lay brother’s name does not appear on any of the official records of the building of the Oratory. He was only a porter — a doorman — at a college owned and operated by his religious congregation. He was a little man, both in size and, if one were to judge by appearance, in importance. He was not a priest; therefore he could neither offer Mass nor preach. Because of poor education, he did not know how to read or write until he reached the age of twenty-five.

How is it, then, that this little brother is known and venerated all over the world as the little saint who built the Oratory of Saint Joseph in Montreal?

The Early Years

On August 9, 1845, Alfred Bessette was born to Isaac and Clothilde Bessette, the eighth in what would become a family of twelve children. The Bessettes were a poor French Canadian family who lived in the farming village of St. Gregoire, thirty miles from Montreal. . . . Alfred was born a very sick baby; so sick, in fact, that his father baptized him shortly after birth, fearing he would not survive. This lack of physical health and strength stayed with him throughout his entire life, yet he lived to the incredible age of ninety-one.

Recalling what he could of those early years, Brother André later told of how happy they were for him, of how great was his love for his parents, especially his mother, who had special affection for her frail child. But that happiness was soon tempered by tragedy. When he was six years old, his father was killed in a lumbering accident near the town of Farnham. Four years later, his mother, trying to raise twelve children single-handedly, contracted tuberculosis and was forced to put the children up for adoption. Keeping with her only the feeblest one, Alfred, she went to live with her sister, Mrs. Timothée Nadeau, in St. Cesaire. Two years later, in 1857, she died. Brother André later recalled, with great love and affection, her last days. . . .

Alfred was but twelve years old when his mother died. He was now an orphan, separated from his brothers and sisters. But the next ten years of his life would see the accelerated formation of a saint.

After the death of his mother, he remained with the Nadeau family. Timothée put him to work on the family farm, but, try as he may, little Alfred could not cope with strenuous farm labor. He simply did not have the physical stamina required to perform the chores asked of him. Then his uncle sent him to a cobbler to learn the shoemaking trade, but this didn’t work either. The poor lad was so clumsy that he was constantly pricking his fingers with the sharp cobbler’s awl. This scenario was repeated over and over again: He would take a job and work at it as hard as he could, but always his poor health made it impossible for him to continue. . . .

Father André Provençal

It was during this time that he came into contact with the priest who proved to be the worthy spiritual tutor of a saint, Father André Provençal, the Curé of Saint Césaire. It was Father Provençal who instructed little Alfred for his first Holy Communion. It was Father Provençal who inspired devotion to Saint Joseph. And it was also this holy parish priest who put Brother André on that road which, for him, would end in perfection — the road to a religious vocation. . . .

Across the street from Father Provençal’s parish Church was a new building that had been built during the time Alfred was away from Saint Césaire. The building was a school where some eighty pupils were taught by six brothers, members of a fledgling religious congregation known as the Congregation of the Holy Cross. . . .

Congregation of the Holy Cross - Acceptance and Profession

Alfred’s meeting with these brothers was an event of singular importance. He was impressed by them; their black habit with Roman collar, cincture and medal of Saint Joseph, their manly bearing and devotion all attracted him. Nevertheless, he was nervous. These men were educated; they ran a school — just the six of them — with eighty children. Alfred was still an illiterate. But Father Provençal soon relieved him of that worry, assuring his young friend there was a need in the order for janitors and manual laborers. . . . Then, in 1870, he made up his mind that, if they would have him, he would join the Congregation. They accepted him into the novitiate in Côte-des-Neiges, and he took the habit of the order. The novice master, Father Gastineau, gave him a great welcome. Perhaps he was expecting much of the new arrival, because before Brother André got to the novitiate, the novice master received a letter from Father Provençal which said, “I am sending a saint to your Congregation.” . . .

Our Lady’s Porter and Miracles

His first assignment was as porter of the College of Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur in Côte-des-Neiges, the same college where he spent much of his novitiate. This was the position he held for nearly forty years. . . .

God, knowing that men do not think often enough of their final end, nor of Him, nor of the truths of religion, gives human nature external signs of His presence and the truth of His religion. . . . As is plain from Church History and the lives of the saints, the divine foundation of the Church was proved by miracles in every age. . . .

As for Brother André, the public nature and frequency of the miracles he worked make them impossible to dispute. He cured many of the students at the college, so many that he developed a reputation as a great miracle worker.

One day, as the pious porter was scrubbing the floor in the parlor of the college, a lady came to see him, having heard of his reputation. She was so afflicted with rheumatism that she could only walk with the assistance of two men supporting her by holding each arm. Her request to Brother André was simple enough: “I am suffering from rheumatism. I want you to heal me.” Not looking up from the floor he was still busily scrubbing, Brother André said to the men assisting her, “Let her walk.” The woman walked out unassisted. . . .

Father Henri-Paul Bergeron, a Holy Cross Priest who knew Frère André, gives an account in his book, The Wonder Man of Mount Royal, of an event that recalls some of those recorded in the Gospels:
“One day as he was going along Bienville Street in Montreal, a sick woman was brought to him. Immediately all of the sick of the neighborhood, children, men and women, were brought out until the whole street was filled with the sick and the infirm. Brother André attended to all with kindness, and his chauffeur. . . making his way through the crowd, remarked:

‘How wonderful; it is like a scene from the life of Our Lord: everyone rushed forth to beg for favors and cures.’

‘Perhaps so’ replied the Brother, ‘but God is surely making use of a very vile instrument.’”
On another occasion, when the porter was in the infirmary, he saw a student sick in bed. He told the boy, who had been ordered to rest by the school doctor, to get up. “You’re not sick, you lazy bones! Go and play with the others.” This the boy did, in perfect health and good cheer. The story of the incident soon spread around the college. Teachers, the doctor, students and parents alike marveled at the miracles wrought by the confident prayer of the young brother.

We say that the miracles were wrought by the prayers of the brother. Perhaps, if he were here, he would rebuke us for saying this. He never claimed that he worked a single miracle. In his humility he gave all the credit to Saint Joseph, in whose power Brother André had infinite confidence. In fact, any attempt to credit him with miracles brought a stern reprimand from the normally kind religious. One day a visitor said to him, “You are better than Saint Joseph. We pray to him and nothing happens, but when we come to see you we are cured.” The brother was so incensed at the slander of the Holy Patriarch that he screamed, “Get out of here. It is Saint Joseph who cured you, not I. Get out! Throw him out!” The incident shook the frail constitution of the holy man so much that he spent three days sick in bed. . . .

The Oratory of Saint Joseph

In the midst of all of the excitement, the brother’s heart became fixed on one holy ambition: the erection in Montreal of a shrine to Saint Joseph. . . . The shrine was in the thoughts and prayers of the porter for quite some time before he dared ask permission to build such a thing. He let only a handful of privileged friends know of his holy aspiration. Every once in a while he would let out a stray remark impressing on the hearer the need for a chapel to Saint Joseph. Some of these occasions came with certain signs of the divine origin of the brother’s dream. One of his confreres told him of a strange phenomenon in his cell: It seemed that every time this religious put his statue of Saint Joseph facing his bed, he came back to find the statue turned around, facing the Mount Royal. Laughing, Frère André told his confrere, “It is not strange at all; it simply means that Saint Joseph wants to be honored on the mountain.”

Certainly Brother André wanted Saint Joseph honored on the mountain. In 1890, he took a young student with him on one of his regular Thursday meditation walks. Taking the student up to the mountainside across the street from the school, he told him, “I have hidden a medal of Saint Joseph here. We will pray that he will arrange the purchase of this land for us.” For six years he persevered in prayer for that intention, and in 1896, his prayers were rewarded. The Holy Cross Congregation purchased the land, fearing that such a prime piece of real estate would attract a club or resort which would be an unwholesome distraction so near the students. After the land was purchased, Brother André put a statue of Saint Joseph in a little cave on his chosen site. Placing a bowl in front of the statue, he planned on collecting alms from Saint Joseph’s petitioners, alms which would be used to build a chapel.

To put it simply, what started out as a fifteen-by eighteen foot chapel in 1904 became a minor basilica in 1955, and was completed — interior and all — in 1966. In his lifetime, the shrine became big enough to warrant having a full-time guardian, a job to which Brother André was appointed in 1909. For the present, however, we would rather discuss the life of the holy builder than the building itself.

From the moment that he conceived the idea to the day he died, the Oratory of Saint Joseph was a sacred task which Blessed André pursued with burning zeal. Everything that he could do in the confines of religious obedience to make the shrine a reality, he did immediately. . . .

Zeal for Souls

Many of the people who sought cures from Frère André were good Catholics; but others were heretics and unbelievers of all kinds. One of the witnesses at his cause for beatification said, “As to heretics, schismatics and also unbelievers, Brother André treated them with more kindness and sympathy than the Catholics. He wanted to gain the confidence of such people. When the right time came he talked to them of the goodness of God and of religion. . . He profited by the visits of Protestants and unbelievers to slide in a good word to them, an evangelical word.”

It was by this kind of work that the guardian of the Oratory wrought thousands of conversions, many among lapsed and lukewarm Catholics, but also among Protestants, Freemasons and Jews. Brother André looked upon the humility of the non-Catholic, in coming to a Catholic brother for a cure, as the beginning of faith. In this he was imitating Our Lord Himself. . . . About this, the Blessed said, “Those who are cured quickly often are people who have no faith or little faith. On the other hand, those who have solid faith are not cured so quickly, for the good God prefers to allow them to suffer that they will be sanctified even more.” . . .

Read the entire article here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Coming Soon - Brother André

On March 1, 2012, Cinema Catechism will be pleased to present Brother André, with discussion on the theme of the Beatitudes.

On January 6, 1937, the death of this humble doorkeeper for a boys' college drew over a million people to Montreal for his funeral. For 40 years, Brother André Bessette of the Congregation of Holy Cross welcomed people at the door and became known as a miraculous healer. Brother André was a man of prayer, of hospitality, and of compassion; a man who drew people in so to experience a God who is love. On October 17, 2010, Brother André became the first male Canadian-born saint and the first saint for the Congregation of Holy Cross. He is living proof that "it is with the smallest brushes that the divine artist paints the most beautiful pictures."

Ignatius Press Movie Review
This is a beautiful feature film on the newly canonized St. André of Montreal, the humble doorkeeper brother, written by Jean Claude LeBrecque that re-creates the story of St. André Bessette's life as he speaks with his niece who is discerning her vocation. It tells of Brother André's struggles and the perseverance it took to remain faithful to God's call and fulfill His will. Stars Marc Legault and Sylvie Ferlatte.

Although tens of thousands asked for his prayers during his lifetime, and over one million people came for his funeral, many if not most people in the United States know nothing about Brother André. Here is some information on him from EWTN --
This Holy Cross Brother, known as "Frère André," has been credited with thousands of cures. He was the founder of St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, Canada, perhaps the world's principal shrine in honor of St. Joseph. When he died at the age of 91, it was estimated that close to a million people came to the Oratory to pay their last respects. He was beatified in 1982.

André was the eighth child in a family of 12 and at baptism he was given the name Alfred. Orphaned at the age of 12, he tried his hand at various trades but was not successful in any of them. He could barely read and write and was sickly most of his life. At the age of 15 he became a Brother of Holy Cross but was rejected at the end of the novitiate. At the insistence of the bishop of Montreal, however, Brother André was allowed to make religious profession. For forty years he worked as porter at the College of Notre Dame, until he was needed full time at the shrine of St. Joseph. People from all over Canada came to him for cures or for spiritual direction. The Oratory that he built in honor of St. Joseph was solemnly dedicated in 1955 and raised to the rank of a minor basilica.

The Opening Prayer of the Mass for his feast day describes two characteristics of the spirituality of Brother André: his deep devotion to St. Joseph and his "commitment to the poor and afflicted." For many years he gathered funds to replace the primitive chapel with a suitable church, even cutting the hair of the students at five cents each. His concern for those who needed spiritual healing and support led him to spend 8 to 10 hours a day receiving clients. He became so well known that secretaries had to be assigned to answer the 80,000 letters he received annually.

If one were to seek the outstanding virtue of Brother André one would have to say that it was his humility. He once said: "I am ignorant. If there were anyone more ignorant, the good God would choose him in my place." And when the power of healing was attributed to him, he responded: "It is St. Joseph who cures. I am only his little dog."

The significance of the life and works of Brother André for today's Christian is the fact that this humble Brother, who could scarcely read or write, was chosen by God as an instrument for good. As we read in the Preface for Martyrs, God reveals his power shining through our human weakness.
Lord our God, friend of the lowly, you gave your servant, Brother André, a great devotion to St. Joseph and a special commitment to the poor and afflicted. Through his intercession help us to follow his example of prayer and love and so come to share with him in your glory.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fatima and the Government's Contraception Mandate

Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of the humble shepherd children of Fatima, Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta. Given the various many attacks on the Church and the Catholic Faith by government, most recently the assault on religious liberty and conscience by the Obama Administration, we need to remember what Our Lady told us at Fatima -- although the faithful will suffer, and the Church will be persecuted, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.

The Mission of Fatima Continues

On October 13, 1917, a reported 70,000 people were present for the "Miracle of the Sun" outside the small town of Fatima, Portugal, where a radiant Lady in white had appeared to three humble shepherd children. The Lady had spoken of the war then raging in Europe (World War I) and had warned of an even greater war to follow (World War II), and she asked that people pray for the conversion of Russia to prevent its errors (e.g. Communism) from being spread throughout the world. A third "secret" involved the suffering and shooting of a "bishop in white," who has since been interpreted as being the pope.

The world wars are over, the Soviet Union is no more, and Eastern Europe is free. Pope John Paul II was in fact shot on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition, and he suffered greatly before his death. Now that so much of the prophetic message of Our Lady has come to fruition, does that mean that Fatima is now relegated to the past? Are those events and the message of Our Lady of Fatima now merely a historical curiosity? Or perhaps we ought to ask: What really is The Message of Fatima?
We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete. Here there takes on new life the plan of God which asks humanity from the beginning: "Where is your brother Abel . . . Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!" (Gen 4:9). Mankind has succeeded in unleashing a cycle of death and terror, but failed in bringing it to an end... In sacred Scripture we often find that God seeks righteous men and women in order to save the city of man and he does the same here, in Fatima, when Our Lady asks: "Do you want to offer yourselves to God, to endure all the sufferings which he will send you, in an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?" (Memoirs of Sister Lúcia, I, 162).

At a time when the human family was ready to sacrifice all that was most sacred on the altar of the petty and selfish interests of nations, races, ideologies, groups and individuals, our Blessed Mother came from heaven, offering to implant in the hearts of all those who trust in her the Love of God burning in her own heart. At that time it was only to three children, yet the example of their lives spread and multiplied, especially as a result of the travels of the Pilgrim Virgin, in countless groups throughout the world dedicated to the cause of fraternal solidarity. May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the apparitions hasten the fulfilment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Fatima, May 13, 2010

What is The Message of Fatima? What is the ultimate message given to us, the ultimate meaning?

There is great hardship and suffering in the world. Yet, we do not despair because Jesus came to save us from death and destruction. We have hope. Not the "hope" of wishes and grasping at straws, but of trustworthy confidence and assured expectation of salvation. (Spe Salvi) But Jesus asks for our help in the work of salvation, which comes through the Cross. We are called to, among other things, pray for others, make a gift of self in love to others, and to help Him carry the Cross, taking upon ourselves what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ and suffering with Him. (Col 1:24).

The ultimate message of Fatima is this: Humanity will necessarily suffer great hardship in this world, but God has not abandoned us. The Lady in white, clothed as with the sun, asks us to help her Son in the work of salvation, including prayer, penance, and redemptive suffering, not merely for ourselves, but for the salvation of others, for their conversion away from sin to embracing holiness. The faithful will suffer and even be hated and persecuted, but all this is beatitude (Mt. 5:3-10). In the end, notwithstanding all of the great evils that are thrust upon us, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.
The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world — because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time.

The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise. (Theological Commentary on Fatima, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)
Evil will not have the last say, the good will prevail. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain." (Rev. 21:1-8)

Ultimately, The Message of Fatima is hope.


Here is a really interesting documentary from Italy on Fatima --


See also -
--Timeline of the Events of Fatima
--Theological Commentary on Fatima by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
--Church Teaching on Marian Apparitions and Other Private Revelations
--Beatification of Francisco and Jacinta and the Message of Fatima
--The Truth of Sin and Suffering, and Our Helping Jesus in the Work of Salvation
--Other Source Material on Fatima


Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Beatitude of Spiritual Poverty and Teaching the Faith to the Young

As Pope Benedict notes in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, the Beatitudes are paradoxes, a transformation of worldly values, which bring hope and joy amidst affliction and hardship. The Beatitudes are words of both promise and spiritual direction, indicating the way of conversion and reform of life – teaching how to love God and one another and thereby be a light of truth to the world.

The first of the Beatitudes says -- "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

What does this mean?

The “poor in spirit” are not those who are spiritually deficient, but are those who humbly are in need of God, who are detached from worldly things and rely on Him, unlike those who have no want or need for God. These latter people are "rich in spirit," thinking that they already have everything they need spiritually, such that they have no need for, or want of God. The "rich in spirit" think they know it all, whereas the "poor in spirit" admit to themselves that they do not know everything, and that they are in need of God very much.

This is a concept that even children should be able to grasp. Most children know other children who are pushy know-it-alls who don't think that they need to or should listen to mom and dad or to their teachers. And they know that these other arrogant kids are fools. On the other hand, those kids who admit to themselves that they are still just kids, that they don't have all the answers, and that they are very much in need of mom and dad, as well as their teachers and other grown-ups, it is they who are blessed.

They are blessed because, in their humility, they are willing and able to listen to their parents and teachers, and be taken care of by them, and prosper, which are a kind of symbolic "kingdom of heaven." Conversely, the kid who knows everything and runs away from home because he thinks he doesn't need his parents, ends up being cursed, not blessed.

What is true regarding kids and their parents on earth is true regarding kids and their Parent in heaven. If they are blessed by their admitting that they are dependent upon mom and dad, how much more will they be blessed in admitting that they are dependent upon God.

However, teaching the faith to young people can be a challenge if only because the faith is about salvation -- be saved from something bad -- and many youths often have never been in a position to know hardship, much less to think about things like death.

It is one thing to go up to an adult who has know misery and say, "I have 'good news' for you, Jesus will deliver you from your misery." It is quite another thing to try to explain that to a child or teenager who has never known want, but has been fed, clothed, sheltered, and loved their entire lives.

So, teaching the faith to them can be a challenge, including the Beatitudes. But in addition to analogizing the blessings of spiritual poverty to the blessings one has from his dependence upon his parents, we should remember that, as stated above, the Beatitudes are paradoxes, a transformation of worldly values, which bring hope and joy amidst affliction and hardship.

Perhaps some young people have personally known hardship, if they have not, then perhaps they have at least witnessed the hardship of others. For example, perhaps they are aware of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, so you can have them empathize with the victims and imagine being in their place.

Reflecting on the Beatitudes in such situations can be occasions of hope, as well as a teachable moment. The Beatitudes about being "poor in spirit," mournful, and merciful would all seem to apply here. And the lesson is this --

Do not despair in times of hardship and suffering. Rather, have hope by putting your trust in God (be poor of spirit).

When everything is gone, when your home is destroyed and you have nothing left, put your trust in God, who will never abandon you. If you do that, if you put your spiritual reliance on Him, then He will save you, He will give you an entire kingdom to replace your destroyed home. Maybe not in this life, but if you humbly recognize that you need Him above all things, and you depend upon Him spiritually, God will bring you to a place where there is no more want, no more tears.

Youth should know that, if ever they encounter hardship themselves, they have no need to worry, no need to cry, if they humbly love and trust in God. If they are poor in spirit, they kingdom of heaven is theirs.