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Saint André Bessette is the first person to be canonized in the Congregation of Holy Cross. His memorial is celebrated on January 6 in the United States. In many other countries, the memorial is often celebrated on January 7 because the Epiphany is celebrated normally on January 6. No matter the day of the memorial of Saint André, he speaks to us with love and faith in our three communities during this Christmas time and especially during the many issues of pandemic.
At Sacred Heart Church, we are honored to have a first-class relic of Saint André Bessette housed within our new altar. We received this relic in 2019 from Saint Joseph Oratory in Montreal. I am so grateful that André’s presence is here in our altar to help us understand the Real Presence of Christ Jesus. André’s gift is to help us sort through our ills, our sorrows, our isolation, and our weariness even in this year of pandemic.
Alfred (André) Bessette, born near Quebec, Ontario, Canada on August 9, 1845, grew up in poverty and faith. Orphaned by age 12, prayer guided him to Saint Joseph. Through this devotion, he desired to enter the Congregation of Holy Cross. Brother André was assigned as Porter to Notre Dame College, Montreal. As doorkeeper, his healing reputation spread, reaching 600 people a day. He spent sleepless nights praying for the sick.
I admit, it never occurred to me until this past year that André lived through the pandemic of 1918. He would have been at the height of his ministry of healing. I imagine that André dealt with people who were alone and isolated from the pandemic of his time. His healing ministry takes on an entirely new aspect for me knowing that he had gone through such a reality.
His ministry grew from the pandemic, and World War I and beyond into what is now Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. He died on January 6, 1937 before its completion. He remains a paradox within our religious community since he was illiterate, joining our community known for education. He was frail bodied and strong in faith. He was orphaned and yet welcomed the sick as family. Brother André lived simply, a model of faith for people in despair. He was a sickly child and yet lived to be 91 years old.
I have a great love and devotion to Saint André. He is such an example for me that God reveals love amid the weak and needy. The strength that enabled him to listen and care for the sick and pray all night came from Jesus. André understood that there was nothing more important than the needs of the sick and suffering.
I believe we are learning a deeper and more sustaining notion of ministry among the ill given our experiences with COVID-19. We are exhausted from isolation and worry. Our healthcare workers are at the breaking point. I believe this pandemic will open us up to a new way of life and a new sense of compassion for our world. We have this common reality of vulnerability and loss. I pray we can ask Saint André to help us find the Light of Christ in the darkness that surrounds us. Hope is real for us who have faith in difficult times.
I rely on Saint André in many ways. I also see his work among those who reach out in our community to the sick and elderly. André helps us in our Food Pantry, as simple as it is right now. We must rely on André to help us as a parish to support the needs of vulnerable people even though we cannot have meetings or large in-person services at this time. I ask André to intercede for us when violence covers our streets and anger rages in our hearts.
Jesus’ heart becomes our heart. We also learn from Saint André Bessette who was canonized on Sunday, October 17, 2010. Saint André extended his heart and life to the weary. I invite you this week to seek out the life of Saint André Bessette. I invite you to surrender your pain and doubt to him in prayer. Invite him into your bodily and emotional pain. Invite him to intercede for us who face the ravages of the pandemic. Allow Saint André to welcome you in the frustrations or tragedies of your life. Allow Saint André to reveal to you the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the place of love and comfort for us all.
Welcome me at the threshold,
When I am lost.
Offer me tenderness and solace,
When I am tired.
Remind me I belong
When I am orphaned.
Guide me to Saint Joseph
When I am far from home.
Bring forgiveness to my heart
When I feel most unworthy.
Reveal Jesus’ healing touch
When I hurt and am alone.
Touch my pain,
When I wait to be healed.
Saint André Bessette pray for us!