Holy Oil

Brother Andre Series: Number Four

I cleaned out the cabinets in our parish sacristy last month. I sorted through all the lost-and-found items that had accumulated in a drawer over the past few weeks. I returned several extra glass vases to the florist across the street. I discovered one item at the back of a large cabinet that stopped me in my tracks. At the bottom of an old box, I uncovered a small glass bottle of oil. The unopened bottled had an image of Saint Joseph molded into the glass. A small folded brochure from Saint Joseph’s Oratory protected the antique glass container. I unfolded the yellowing paper and I saw a handwritten date at the top of the page. The date read, “1939,” just two years after Brother Andre’s death.

Brother Andre was assigned as porter for Notre Dame College in Montreal after he professed vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross. People started coming to him because they saw in him an earthy holiness and a desire to be among people who needed help and refuge from their pain. He prayed honestly and intentionally with people, asking them to pray to Saint Joseph as a model of fidelity and hope.

Brother Andre also anointed people’s bodily pain with vegetable oil from a lamp near a statue of Saint Joseph in the chapel. Brother Andre told people to wipe the oil on their wounds as a sign of faith. Andre insisted that Jesus’ disciples used simple things to express their faith in moments of healing, such as mud and water, oil and laying hands in prayer on people in need. Brother Andre’s great devotion to Saint Joseph connected the oil in the lamp to the poverty and suffering of people longing for healing and miracles.

At the Downtown Chapel, we all recognize the need to be present to people seeking healing. People need to be touched in a healthy, prayerful way in the midst of diseases that are not only physical but emotional and social as well. These diseases do not just go away in a measured time nor are they fixed or cured with ease. These matters of suffering remain lifelong struggles of sheer survival.
Every Wednesday at the noon Mass, we celebrate the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick near our icon of Christ the Healer. At the 5:00 p.m. Mass on Wednesdays we also celebrate the healing sacrament in particular for people suffering from addictions. On the first weekend of the month at both Masses we also celebrate the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick for people living in poverty, mental and physical illness and various addictions. We pray with the oil blessed on by the Archbishop and the people of God during the Chrism Mass.

I understand Brother Andre’s need for such a tangible item as oil to connect with people’s suffering and the healing of Christ Jesus. We anoint weekly because we know there is little else we can do. We anoint in faith because we do not have solid answers for people living in systems of poverty and generations of mental illness and ongoing addictions to heroin, alcohol, cocaine, sex and food. We anoint people because only God can heal people. Christ is our only hope.

A couple of weeks after discovering the oil in the sacristy, a friend offered me a gift from his recent visit to Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. I opened the wrapping and accepted a large plastic bottle of Saint Joseph’s oil. Brother Andre has been part of the healing here all along even though I did not know the antique bottle of oil was in our sacristy. Now our prayers for healing will be even more intentional through the intercession of Saint Joseph and the memory of Brother Andre in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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