The Unsheltered Heart: An At-Home Advent Retreat

The Unsheltered HeartNew for Advent 2011 (Cycle B), this at-home, self-directed retreat follows the same widely praised format used in the initial volume published in 2010. Inspired by the author’s ministry with Portland, Oregon’s most marginalized people and based on the Sunday gospel readings (included), this Advent booklet is unique in its profound challenge to find Christ in the disarming presence of the poor.

In the tradition of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Mother Teresa, Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C., writes from the depths of his own conversion experiences. Living and working among some of the poorest and most marginalized people of Portland, Oregon, Raab struggles with the meaning of the Incarnation in today’s fractured world and with his own calling to promote the Gospel message of justice. His narrative style unsettles, challenges, and enlightens, yet in the end offers the hope of Christ dwelling among us.

This retreat is based on the Sunday gospel readings for Advent 2011 (Cycle B) and the life-anchoring lessons Raab has gleaned from them. The Unsheltered Heart provides a simple four-step process for each day of Advent that includes the gospel reading, personal reflections, commentaries, prayers, writing prompts, and spaces to journal for each day. A guide for small-group use is available for free download.

Order your copy of Father Ron’s latest book today.

Street Prayer for the Murdered

Today we will once again process from our small chapel into the streets after Mass. We will again pray just two blocks from the sacred sanctuary to end the violence on our urban streets. John was murdered last Saturday evening on the corner of Davis and Sixth. I have not kept adequate records over the years, but I think John’s murder is the ninth time we have prayed as a community that violence be washed from the sidewalks and hatred be swept into the gutters for good.

We will pray in the heat of summer near midday for the people locked in violence and addictions in the dark of night. These holiday weekends bring even more terror than usual. People from the suburbs come to our neighborhood with time and money. People on social security and disability just received their monthly checks this weekend. Loss of jobs, hopelessness has compelled many to give up on sobriety. These are the issues for our continuing procession to the streets after our procession to the altar for communion.

Today also marks the seventh anniversary of my mother’s death. My mother, Rosemary would have been 90 years old this week on July 8. I am reminded today as well about an event that happened at the gravesite on the day of her burial.

After the closing prayers at her grave, a woman in a bright red dress ran up to me. She held my hand close to her breast. She told me she was a seer. She whispered to me that she felt my mother’s passing and that I did not need to know her name. She then proceeded to tell me that my mother wanted me to persevere in my priesthood. The older, kind woman still holding my hand also told me that my mother loved the white flowers we all had for her, but that she preferred pink. She then left without another word.

As I gazed down to the casket on the bright July morning, I saw the mound of white flowers from all the arrangements from relatives and friends. My only thought was that my mother’s favorite color was pink.

I cannot give up on my priesthood amid the violence, addictions and hatred on our streets even though I have no solid answers for any of the issues we face. My mother’s request is not just for me. Her request is for all of us not to give up on the faith that calls us from the safety of the sanctuary into the tragic events that claim our neighborhood. I will process with our community from the dimly lit chapel today mindful of my mother’s request to keep praying for all who suffer and for all who have died.

Rosemary, pray for us.

John, pray for us.

Review – The Unsheltered Heart: An At-Home Advent Retreat

by Linda Showman,
U.S. Catholic – November 29, 2010

At first glance, the title of this book is not the most enticing approach to a retreat: Does one not enter into a retreat with the purpose of finding calm and peace? Don’t we expect the results of reflection to be direction, comfort, protection, even answers from God? Shelter from heartbreak is the very thing we seek when approaching God.

Father Ronald Raab, C.S.C., works from the premise that the slings and arrows, the sufferings of life shut down the heart, cover it, close it to fend off further wounds. This all-too-human response, however, also closes it to love—love of God, love of neighbor. He suggests that through the difficult process of exposing the heart, we can recover our ability to receive the love of Jesus and others, and to give love in return.

This retreat is meant to move during Advent toward the celebration of complete Love revealed in the Incarnation, so that we might hope to obtain authentic direction, comfort, protection, and answers from God by assuming this intentional place of vulnerability.

Raab presents a workable structure. He sources the retreat in scripture and exhorts the practitioner to read and reflect upon the Cycle A gospel readings of Advent for a given Sunday. He assists the process with significant imperatives as steps for each day: “Welcome the Stranger Called Silence, Discover Your Story Within the Word, Connect to the Waiting World, Respond to the Cry of the Prophets, and Pray.

He offers assistance through his own thoughts, providing examples for honest self-reflection in light of the gospel. Raab contributes interpretations of the prophets, while offering prompts with specific directions for thought and action. Practically, the format is very clear, with space for writing for each day in response to his guidance. His instructions lend themselves to faithful daily practice and the “pamphlet” sizing makes the entire retreat self-contained and easily managed.

Linda Showman is the Associate Director of Pastoral Formation, Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon.

Webinar – The Unsheltered Heart

The Unsheltered Heart: Exploring the Spiritual Riches of Advent with Fr. Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C.

Advent is a new beginning for all people. It is a time to awaken within us a deep desire Christ’s presence and to awaken our hearts to God’s faithfulness. Join Fr. Raab for an hour of guided reflection on how to prepare your own heart to be unsheltered, open, vulnerable, and free

In partnership with the National Association for Lay Ministry, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, JustFaith Ministries, and the National Association for Catechetical Leadership, Ave Maria Press presents a series of free, live webinars on professional development for Catholic ministers. Take a break from the professional track this month with Fr. Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C., of the Downtown Chapel in Portland, Oregon, to refresh your own spirituality in preparation for the Advent season!

This webinar originally aired live on Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 3:00pm EDT. To learn more about the Ave Maria Press Professional Development Webinar series please visit our website at

The holy doorkeeper

by Most Rev. John Vlazny,
Archbishop of Portland,
Catholic Sentinel – October 13, 2010

On Sunday, Oct. 17, at the Vatican Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI will canonize six saints. The announcement of these canonizations took place last February in the Vatican. One of them is André Bessette, a religious of the Congregation of Holy Cross, who was born and who died in Canada. The others are Blessed Stanislaw Soltys, a 15th century priest from Poland, St. Candida Maria of Jesus, a Spanish foundress of the Congregation of Daughters of Jesus, 1845 -1912, Blessed Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Australian founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, 1842 – 1909, and two Italian women, Julia Salzano, founder of the Congregation of the Catechetical Sisters of the Sacred Heart, 1846 -1929, and, Camilla Battista Da Varano, founder of the Monastery of St. Clare in Camerino, 1458 – 1524.

The canonization of André Bessette is a special moment in the history of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Brother André will be the first saint of this community which serves here in the archdiocese at the University of Portland, Holy Cross Church, Holy Redeemer Church and St. Vincent de Paul Church (Downtown Chapel). The founder of Holy Cross, Father Basil Moreau, was beatified in 2007. Brother André is highly acclaimed among the French-Canadian people and has been credited with thousands of reported miraculous healings. He was beatified back in 1982 and Pope Benedict approved his cause for sainthood on Feb. 19 of this year.

Brother André was orphaned by the time he was 12 years old. He lived with an aunt and uncle after the death of his parents and was not a healthy child. He wandered from job to job and had little education. We know that he worked in a variety of occupations, a tinsmith, a blacksmith, a baker, a shoemaker and even a wagon driver. He was a very spiritual young man. He prayed and embraced many penitential practices. He lived in the United States for a short time but returned to Canada when the Canadian Confederation was formed in 1867.
His pastor recommended Brother André to the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He said to the superior, “I’m sending you a saint.” He was eventually accepted, in spite of his poor health, and was given the task of porter (doorman) at Notre Dame College in Quebec. For 40 years he performed this task as well as many other menial services. Brother Andre had a special devotion to St. Joseph. He loved to visit the sick and recommended they pray to St. Joseph. He became intent upon having a chapel built in honor of the foster father of Jesus. Eventually, in 1924, the construction of a basilica named St. Joseph’s Oratory was begun, thanks to Brother Andre’s persistence. Brother André died in 1937 at age 91 and his body now lies in a tomb underneath the St. Joseph Oratory’s main chapel.

The members of the Holy Cross community are understandably greatly enthused about the canonization of one of their confreres. A delegation from the University of Portland will be present in Rome when Pope Benedict declares him a saint of the church. The Holy Cross community is typically associated with the ministry of Catholic education. In that sense Brother André was not typical. He has been described as “largely illiterate,” but it was his gracious spirit of hospitality, his kindness, practical advice and spiritual guidance that made him highly renowned. St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal where Brother André is entombed, attracts some two million pilgrims every year. When the news of his canonization was announced last February, Father David Tyson, CSC, provincial superior of the Indiana Province, stated, “It seems wonderfully apt and instructive that the first Holy Cross saint was a man who insisted, sometimes testily, that ‘to serve is sweeter than to be served.’”

Catholics are not as well acquainted with brothers as they are with priests and sisters. Brothers are consecrated religious who make vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, like the religious sisters with whom many of us are acquainted, but they do not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. The Holy Cross Congregation explains the vocation of a religious brother this way, “The vocation of a religious brother is complete in and of itself, professed in and lived through his vows and his dedication to prayer, community and service.” The founder of the Congregation, Blessed Basil Moreau, dedicated the religious brothers to the patronage of St. Joseph. Hence, Brother André’s devotion to St. Joseph is not surprising. Brothers, like their female counterparts in religious life, commit themselves to growth in holiness. In the Holy Cross community, many of them are indeed educators, like many of the priests, but others serve in different ways, as did Brother André.

A visit to the Oratory of St. Joseph is an undertaking worth the consideration of every Catholic in North America. In fact, the Oratory of St. Joseph is North America’s most prominent pilgrimage site. More than one million people attended Brother André’s funeral back in 1937. Thousands of crutches belonging to people cured through his intercession hang on the walls of the oratory.

Father Ronald Raab, CSC, a priest at Portland’s Downtown Chapel, wrote an article about Brother André entitled “Saint Doorkeeper” in the September/October 2010 issue of Celebrate magazine. It is available on the CSC website and I encourage you to read it. Brother André’s work among the poor serves as an inspiration for the clergy, religious and laity who serve the poor at our Downtown Chapel. An image of Brother André can be found among the stained glass windows in our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Portland. Father Raab thinks he looks a bit too healthy and robust in stained glass when compared with the reality of his appearance during his life. But to those who serve the poor in downtown Portland, as Father Raab observes, this “holy doorkeeper still lives among God’s poor.”

Brother André’s feast is celebrated each year on Jan. 6. That was the date of his death at 91 years of age. His humility was evident in his reaction to the acclaim he received in life because of the power of healing attributed to him As he once stated, “It is St. Joseph who cures. I am only his little dog.” This man who could scarcely read or write was a gift from God for the poor. It is my sincere prayer that we here in the church of Portland will be a similar gift for the needy among us as well. St. André Bessette, pray for us.

Archbishop John Vlazny writes columns that appear at during weeks when an issue is not printed.

Healing doorkeeper, Holy Cross brother, to become a saint

by Ed Langlois,
Catholic Sentinel – October 13, 2010

In Montreal, he doggedly established a spectacular shrine to St. Joseph and eschewed praise as, one by one, an estimated 10,000 sick people experienced healing at his touch. A million mourners attended his funeral in 1937, despite frigid temperatures and sleet.

In Portland, a free Friday night café for those down on their luck is named for him and he is depicted in a stained glass window in Portland’s cathedral.

André Bessette, a sickly and humble Holy Cross brother, will be recognized as a saint Sunday at St. Peter Basilica in Rome. A hospitable man who could barely read, he’ll be the first person canonized from the Congregation of Holy Cross, known for its prowess in education, including the University of Notre Dame and the University of Portland.

Pope John Paul said of him: “In each age the Holy Spirit raises up such humble witnesses of the Gospel, who turn things topsy-turvy.”

Brother André will be the first male saint from Canada.

“What an amazing model he offers our modern world about the importance of relying on God rather than our own powers,” says Holy Cross Father William Beauchamp, president of the University of Portland.

Born Alfred Bessette Aug. 9, 1845, near Montreal, he was one of 12 children. His father died when he was 9 and his mother died when he was 12. He suffered from a chronic stomach ailment that kept him out of school and often without work. When he could, the diminutive young man toiled at U.S. textile mills and on farms.

When he entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870 after initial rejection, his childhood parish priest sent a letter to the novice master saying, “I am sending a saint to your congregation.”

For 40 years, Brother André served as hardworking doorman and barber at Notre Dame College, the community’s secondary school in Montreal. There, he developed and spread devotion to St. Joseph.

His biographers recount tales of crippled rheumatics healed and fever-stricken schoolboys made suddenly well, often aided by “St. Joseph’s oil,” which Brother André rubbed on wounds and sick limbs after burning it before a statue of the saint.

Thousands upon thousands of regular people in need came to him and he welcomed them all. School officials built him a chapel across the road to deflect some of the hubbub.

Meanwhile, Brother André wore his clothes until they were threadbare and when donors gave him money, he always turned it over to superiors.

“He didn’t want to be brilliant or have a great job,” says Holy Cross Father George Bernard, a retired theology professor and former vice president at the University of Portland. “He wanted to be a servant of all the servants. He is an amazing example of what Christ wants us to be.”

Father David Tyson, superior of the Indiana Province of Holy Cross priests and former UP president, says Brother André did everything and anything that was needed, from cleaning the floors to fixing shoes, from doing students’ laundry to cutting hair.

“What an example of prayer in action, of active service to others as the most eloquent and powerful prayer of all,” Father Tyson says.

“Bother André has always been a great example of humility for me, especially in accepting his illnesses and struggles to respond to the needs of so many,” says Holy Cross Father John Donato, associate vice president for student life at UP. “I hope as the first saint in the Congregation of Holy Cross he will inspire us all to a simpler life, humbler and full of trust that God does provide for us in amazing ways.”

The Oratory of St. Joseph, which Brother André founded in 1904 on the slopes of Mount Royal, continues to be visited by millions of pilgrims each year. He is buried there, his tomb marked in Latin: “Pauper Servus et Humilis” — “poor and humble servant.”

“In recognizing the holiness of Brother André, the church is also affirming, among other things, his ministry of hope and hospitality which I consider basic virtues of Holy Cross,” says Father Robert Antonelli, the University of Portland archivist and a spiritual mentor to many young members of the congregation.

Brother André could be kindly but also testy, especially when someone tried to shower him in praise for the healings. He always gave God and St. Joseph the credit and referred to himself as a mere handyman, or the “wire” that transmits the good works.

Old photos show piles of crutches left in the oratory, which began small but grew into one of the largest houses of worship in the world.

Cures are still attributed to Brother André’s intercession. Several from the past decade were studied by doctors and affirmed during the process of naming him a saint.

Holy Cross Brother Charles McBride, who works in communications at the brothers’ Notre Dame headquarters, hopes Brother André’s story will speak to young men worldwide. The congregation has already seen brisk growth in west Africa, Bangladesh and India. Brother Charles does not predict an uptick of Canadian and U.S. vocations, but he’s a man of hope.

For the wider church, at a time when family life is on shaky ground, Brother André’s devotion to St. Joseph could be timely.

“He is the right man for the right time,” Brother Charles says.

Brother André is important to many lay Catholics who collaborate with the Congregation of Holy Cross.

“It’s yet again an example where an ordinary person who really opens himself to the will of God is then able to do things that most of us recognize as being beyond what ordinary people should be able to do,” says Paul Myers, director of the health center at the University of Portland.

The Downtown Chapel, a Portland parish led by Holy Cross priests, models its service after Brother André, opening the doors daily to the needs of neighbors, most of whom are homeless and poor.

“I continue to be amazed at the stamina that Brother André had in his ministry, spending entire days listening and praying with people who were desperate for hope and healing,” says Andrew Noethe, pastoral associate at the parish. “Brother André was placed at the doorway of inconsolable suffering, and offered the only thing that he could — his uncompromisable faith.”

Also to be canonized on Oct. 17 in Rome are:

• Sister Mary MacKillop, 1842-1909, to become Australia’s first saint and founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
• Father Stanislaw Soltys Kazimierczyk, a Polish-born member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran, who lived 1433-1489. He was famous as a preacher and confessor.
• Sister Juana Josefa Cipitria Barriola of Spain. She died in 1912 and was the founder of the Daughters of Jesus.
• Sister Giulia Salzano, the Italian founder of the Catechetical Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; she died in 1929.
• Sister Camilla Battista Varano, an Italian Poor Clare who lived 1458-1524.


I stand at our parish altar feeling overwhelmed on most days. I have to catch my breath when I see the faces of people who really need God. People in poverty reveal to me that grace is not bound by a communion rail or church door. People in dire need open my heart to trust Christ’s real presence among people’s real suffering. People gather for Mass because of the violence in their lives. We all encounter at the altar table a profound need for something greater than ourselves.

I realize with all my heart that sacraments compel us back to the streets from the altar to work for justice. We feed people who line up in our hospitality center because we have waited in line to be fed in the communion line in our chapel. Volunteers wash feet because our feet have been held by God and washed in the liturgy. We take to the streets the grace we receive in the Eucharist. Sacraments are not bound by our infidelity, our hopelessness or our inability to receive the love God has for us. Sacraments teach us how to love in the world. I now crave the Eucharist in ways that continue to change and form both my heart and my ministry.



Line Dancing – December 2009, Ministry & Liturgy Magazine

A Beautiful Supper – April 2009, Ministry & Liturgy Magazine

Someone Else’s Clothing – April 2010, Ministry & Liturgy Magazine

Icon invites those on the margins to healing

by Ed Langlois,
Catholic Sentinel – September 3, 2009

Aiming to enhance hospitality to the poor, a downtown Portland Catholic parish has beautified its building and added an icon that speaks to those on the margins.

“From the poverty and brokenness of many who worship here all of us become healers for the community,” Archbishop John Vlazny told worshipers who filled the small St. Vincent de Paul Downtown Chapel for a dedication Mass last month. “The community may be torn apart with drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness, but it becomes a healing community because of the mercy of Jesus Christ.”

After Mass, scores of worshipers walked with the 3-by-4-foot icon of Christ the Healer around the bustling block, praying for the neighborhood. Homeless people sitting on benches or pushing shopping carts looked on in wonder.

At the end of the procession, some strong arms hung the icon above the church’s tabernacle and the congregation broke into spontaneous applause.

“It was an important moment in the life of the parish,” says Holy Cross Father Bob Loughery, the pastor. “This is something we stand for and believe in: the healing presence of Christ in our neighborhood. We are agents of that.”

Father Jon Buffington, a chaplain at Providence Portland Medical Center, wrote the icon of Christ the Healer. Such images are “written,” not “painted,” to show their link with scripture and their divine influence.

Christ stands at the center under a canopy representing the Church, with Mary Magdalene to his left and a beggar to his right. Small stick-figure demons just cast out of Mary spin into the wilderness and she has the beginnings of a halo. The beggar, who has a backpack like many homeless people here, reaches toward Christ’s outstretched hand.

Many homeless and mentally ill people are identifying with the images, feeling invited to a relationship with Christ.

Carleen Corbett, 65, has found herself sitting and praying often before the icon. Now a volunteer who helps homeless people with food, clothing and even art and music, she has wrestled with mental illness.

“Christ the Healer has a lot of meaning for me,” she says. “It seems people are drawn to it. We have lots and lots of people who come here with tremendous problems and brokenness. If you’ve gone though it you have an awareness of what other people are experiencing.”

Each Wednesday evening, a 5 p.m. Mass is dedicated to healing from addictions and mental illness.

The parish counts about 120 steady members, but a data base of friends and supporters amounts to about 900.

The chapel’s leaders asked for some local landmarks in the new icon. Father Buffington included the Burnside Bridge and the Willamette River, which he calls symbols of the holy city and the waters of baptism. They are also places frequented by the homeless community.

“It puts Christ right in the forefront of our mission,” Andy Noethe, the pastoral associate, says of the icon. “It creates a bridge between faith and service, Christ the Healer as a focal point of worship and service.”

Many volunteers who serve here once knew hard times themselves. The step after healing is outreach, many will explain.

The chapel’s worship space is still uncluttered, with a monastic feel. But the plain white walls have been replaced by color and lighting creates an intimate and quiet space for encountering the holy. The carpet has been taken up in place of a simple concrete floor.

It’s all a striking contrast with what is just outside the door, Burnside Street with its feverish pace and complexity.

In addition to indoor upgrades, the exterior of the former hotel is getting work to make it more identifiable as a church and ministry of hospitality. Soon, a series of plaques will show images of hands performing service. Those images are being paid for by a city development grant.

The chapel’s Web site address appears in steel letters high above the sidewalk, as does a cross.

Still to come is a plaque with a passage from the Gospel of Matthew: “As often as you did it for one of my least brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”

Richard Brown, the Portland architect who oversaw the improvements, says he hopes the work “has a warming and embracing effect, a welcoming effect.”

The building improvements make the chapel more noticeable in the community, says Sophia Tzeng, a 35-year-old mother of three, business consultant, writer and parishioner.

Tzeng is impressed by the deep quality of the service to the poor here. It’s not done in a hurried way, but in a beautiful and respectful manner, she says. Those are the same qualities she sees in the upgrades and the icon.

“There is an uplifting feeling,” Tzeng says. “In this church, there is spirit of service and an action of service that become one.”