Brother Andre Series: Number Ten

A twenty-something man limped to our front desk one morning to sign up for his routine of coffee, snacks and his monthly allotment of supplies. He gingerly approached the open window breathing heavily, his eyes and face blackened with bruises, his ripped clothing stained with blood and dirt. He requested just the basics of underwear and hygiene products, along with a new shirt and jeans. Our staff member jumped to her feet and asked him what happened. The street-warrior admitted that while sleeping in a doorway he had been beaten by a stoned teenager. He begged the on-duty staff member not to call the police or the ambulance because he had no money for any type of health care.

A middle-aged woman walked shyly into our parish lobby. Her years of severe depression weighed visibly on her rounded shoulders and tired body. She has been unable to find employment lately because of the lingering shadows of low self-esteem. She tries over and over again to feel better about her adult life, occasionally smiling and joining us for Sunday worship. Living in the present moment remains difficult because her childhood emotional and sexual abuse still causes threats of suicide and deep moments of feeling unworthy of life itself.

These raw stories are replicated daily at the Downtown Chapel. People’s lives are so complicated by abusive parents, lingering mental illness and people using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of survival. Some years ago we invited a psychiatrist to help educate our staff on these many issues. He spent several hours deeply listening to us express the concerns of our ministry. He simply reminded us of our true role in people’s lives, to offer hope within community, to offer faith in the midst of suffering.

Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to remind us that we cannot fix someone’s abusive past or change their desire to sell their body. However, we can offer people a place of profound faith, of true and honest welcome, of genuine forgiveness and acceptance. We can welcome people when every other agency or center has turned them away. In other words, we can offer people hope.

Brother Andre surfaced hope in people’s lives. Thousands of people lined up to speak with Brother Andre because there was no other place for them to go with their bodily ailments and their weariness. Brother Andre welcomed everyone regardless of their pain. He touched their illnesses with prayer and sent them on their way with new hope. Even when people were not physically healed, they felt a deep sense of God’s tender mercy and love for them.

Brother Andre realized hope comes from embracing the Cross of Christ. “The more you suffer as you follow the Stations of the Cross, the closer you come to Jesus Crucified.” He never wanted to live without trials in his life. “In our prayers, we should not ask to be spared hardship; we should beg for the strength to bear it.” Brother Andre’s example still lives among us. He helps us realize the hope of Christ Jesus at the Downtown Chapel in every person who comes to us in need of love. We live boldly the motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross, “ The Cross is our only hope.”

The canonization of Brother Andre Bessette, CSC will take place on Sunday October 17, 2010 at the Vatican in Rome. Please join us for our Mass celebrating Brother Andre on Sunday October 17, at 10:00am at the Downtown Chapel.

Brother Andre, be our guide!

(Photo: Steve Scardina, St. Joseph Oratory, Montreal)

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