Not so long ago, I put up some Facebook posts and had something in the bulletin, asking if people wanted to write for the blog, specifically, about the saints during November. All are welcome! Parishioner Katie Dobies took me up on it. Katie and I have a shared love for St. Andre Bessette. This was written after she visited his shrine in Montreal. Thank you Katie!
I traveled to Montreal for work and visited Saint Joseph’s Oratory while I was there. Little did I know I would be meeting not one, but two extraordinary saints there who would become my friends.
The Basilica was far enough away from my downtown hotel that I could not walk, so I was quite nervous about how I would get there using public transportation by myself, in another country, no less. I planned my route by subway, however when I told the ticket agent where I was going, she said that the bus would be quicker. I welcomed the last minute change in plans because I trusted that God would get me there. I already felt that I was on a pilgrimage and much of a pilgrimage is in the journey itself.
I felt excited and childlike, full of anticipation, while on the bus, knowing that I was on a journey, while most people around me were going to work or running errands, going about their everydayness. I could have skipped joyfully when I finally got off the bus and walked towards the gates of Saint Joseph’s Oratory. Ok, I may have actually been skipping. I like skipping.
I thought of Elizabeth when the baby leaped in her womb when Mary visited, because I felt my heart leaping from my chest when I looked up the hill to see the grand basilica for the first time! There were 280 stairs leading up to it, workers planting flowers all around, statues of Saint Joseph and angels below, green grass, blue sky. I knew immediately this was a special place. The size of the dome itself is the third largest in the world, almost as large as Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome!
A few months before this visit, I heard a homily on Saint Joseph because it was his feast day, March 19. Saint Joseph, “The worker”, an ordinary laborer most of us can relate to, the type who was also chosen by God to be Jesus’ father on earth. One could imagine his hands were rough from work, probably a little scarred up from being a carpenter. As hard as he worked, I bet he always had time to finish up one last thing before calling it a day. Just as God chose the poor, humble Virgin Mary to be Jesus mother, he asked Joseph The Carpenter to be the husband of Mary and to raise Jesus with her as a family. And I love his humanness in that he initially was planning to quietly reject Mary when he found out she was with child. I can totally understand that. It has only happened once in history that the Holy Spirit impregnated a virgin, so he probably wasn’t too open to the idea that this baby was from God. It took an angel in a dream to convince him that it was the divine will that he take the pregnant Mary as his wife. Joseph was obedient and faithful in following his Father’s instructions. He even had to move his family several times in order to protect Jesus…hence Saint Joseph is also known as “Protector” as inscripted under his statue at the base of the mount of Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.
I was thrilled just being on the grounds of the Oratory. It was time to go inside. I was welcomed, handed a map and sent up an escalator. What caught my attention on the map was that the heart of Brother Andre Bessette was on display there. I have never seen a human heart, let alone “the heart of a saint”. That must be pretty significant if it is on display so I would be sure to see that in my short visit.
As I wandered through the different floors of the Oratory, I started to notice the presence of Brother Andre. His statues were scattered about, a short, smiley, approachable old man, who seemed very likeable. I arrived at his heart, darkly lit and encased. Special hand written prayer requests surrounded the display case, tucked here and there by pilgrims hoping for a miracle through the intercession of Brother Andre.
This must be a very holy spot I am standing in, in front of the heart of Brother Andre, I thought. Across the way were replicas of scenes from his life and his personal items. The wax figures of him in these scenes were so realistic and I felt that I was starting to get to know him just through the glass.
This prayer was posted under his heart:
Prayer to obtain a special favour through the intercession of Saint Brother Andre
Saint Brother Andre, we celebrate your presence among us. Your loving friendship with Jesus, Mary and Joseph makes you another son in the eyes of the Father.
Compassion carries your words straight to God’s heart, and your prayers are answered with comfort and healing.
Through you, from our lips to God’s ear, our supplications are heard…
We ask to be made a part of God’s work in the spirit of prayer, compassion and humility.
Saint Brother Andre, pray for us. Amen
His friendship with Jesus, Mary and Joseph? Friendship? I want a friendship with them, I thought. Can I have that, too? How do I have a friendship with them? Immediately I wanted to be close to Brother Andre so I could learn how. I had just learned something significant about him. I learned later that his mother was very devoted to Saint Joseph and that is how, from childhood, he grew to be very close with Saint Joseph.
Had I forgotten to think of Jesus and his family as my friends? Had I neglected for so long to realize that Jesus’ mother and father want a relationship with me as well? And when it comes down to it, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are all rooting for God, rooting for us to dwell with Him, He who created us, and who follows through with His promises! The Father sent his only Son to bring us to Him. Let us approach Jesus and his earthly parents. It is through them that we get to Our Father.
Brother Andre said, “I will pray with you.” He said that to many friends on earth when they came to him in hopes of a miracle. Many healings occurred through Brother Andre’s intercession while on earth. In fact, there is a collection of canes and crutches in the Oratory that were left behind by those who were healed after making the journey to visit Brother Andre, “The Miracle Man”, as they refer to him in Canada. Sometimes they were healed immediately and they were so excited that they did not walk away, but ran, maybe even skipped away, forgetting to even give thanks!
Never did Brother Andre take credit for any miracle healings, but always gave credit to “Good Saint Joseph”. He would not perform a miracle unless he saw true faith in the person. Often times, he told people to come back after they did a prayer novena to Saint Joseph, because he saw that they did not have enough faith.
Brother Andre’s favorite devotion was the Stations of the Cross, which he invited others to do with him on the original grounds of the Oratory every Friday. He loved praying with others, and helping others believe that their prayers are heard. This is something I can attest to. Since “knowing” Brother Andre, my faith has increased. It is my miracle. He has told us that when we pray the Our Father, Gods places his ears right next to our lips. I have never believed that as much as I do since that first visit to the shrine, that every single prayer I pray is heard by God.
God has told of us His loyalty. It is we who do not have enough faith….often times not even the size of a mustard seed, if you will. And the irony is that God has to give us faith. I believe that the Saints help us with this Catch 22, at least in Saint Andre’s case. He is a social saint. His purpose in life and death seems to be to lead people to an increase of faith in prayer to God, and to turn to Saint Joseph, because Saint Joseph is our friend. He is on our side and he is on God’s side. I am sure that Brother Andre is good friends with Saint Joseph in heaven now! I definitely consider both of them my heavenly friends.
On my second visit to the Oratory I experienced something I did not experience the first time. I felt Brother Andre’s presence through others. I would see “him” turn a corner, or look up and see him, just as if he was still walking around greeting his visitors. Feeling his presence made me think of how powerful he must have felt Saint Joseph’s presence.
This faith building oratory of prayer and healing is a perfect example of how God works through us to call us to Him. Brother Andre only requested years ago to have a simple statue of Saint Joseph on top of the bare mount across the street from Notre Dame school, where he worked greeting visitors, to give people a special place to pray. Now today there stands a massive basilica dedicated to Saint Joseph that several million people visit every year! It was a matter of supply and demand. Several smaller structures were built to accomodate the visitors though none big enough to accommodate the ongoing influx of the believers. I laugh to myself because I wonder if Brother Andre realized in his humility, that his “yes” to God was the reason for the need for the sizable building. It stands to welcome the many to pray all because they heard about Brother Andre, The Miracle Man”, and Brother Andre led them to Saint Joseph, who both lead us to God. Before he died, he requested that his heart be inside the oratory in order to continue to bring people to him.
I think about how only months ago I had never even heard the name Brother Andre. It seems like I have known him longer. I am so grateful for my first visit to the basilica because it changed me. When I see his image now, it reminds me of turning to my friend, “Good Saint Joseph”. It reminds me that when I pray, God hears me. It reminds me that God can do amazing things for the souls through just one person, even me. I pray that I say “Yes” when God asks of me. I thank God for giving us the saints, so that we can see examples of exemplary “Yesses”. It is reassuring that each saint has their own story of how they served God and how they continue to bring souls to Him. There is no one way to become a saint or be saint-like. God made us each uniquely, speaks to us individually, and calls us differently. Amen.