*Hello Community. This is my first blog post with a re-worked piece about my love of the saints and reflections on my own faith. Figured I'd start with something light. lol. Kidding. I jump right in. That's what being an artist is all about! Thanks for reading. You can listen to the audio version on my website stockphotoqueen.com. Enjoy! kd
Why Is this Canadian Saint In Montreal So Famous?
I became aware of this Canadian saint after a layover in Montreal during my flight attendant days. On my first visit, I asked a friend what I should check out in Montreal and, understanding that I am Catholic, they recommended a visit to Saint Joseph’s Oratory on Mount Royal. Sounded good to me! Little did I realize that day I would be encountering not one, but two, well-known saints who I would come to call ‘friends’.
Getting to the basilica is easy if you have a car, but it was far too far away from my hotel to walk. I was a bit nervous about how to get there by myself, in an unfamiliar city that spoke a foreign language. My French classes in high school helped me a little to plan transportation from my hotel room. The subway system seemed promising.
When I arrived at the subway station, the ticket agent recommended taking the bus instead. It would be quicker. I was a little scared to change my mode of travel, but I trusted God would get me there. In that moment it had begun to feel like a pilgrimage, and a pilgrimage is much about the journey itself (such is life).
I felt invigorated and childlike, full of anticipation, even on the bus, because my soul knew it was on a journey. While the rest of Canada was doing regular weekday things like going to work and running errands, my day had become wonderfully distinct.
Has your heart ever been so excited that the external expression of that was this desire to skip joyfully like a child? That was my reaction when I stepped off the bus which had finally arrived at my stop, Mount Royal. At the first glimpse of the gates, I was filled with the Holy Spirit!
The feeling reminded me of what Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, experienced when the baby leaped in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. I also felt, in echo, my own heart leap inside my chest when I looked up to see Canada’s crown church in honor of their patron saint, Good Saint Joseph. An impressive 280 stairs lead up to it. Pilgrims kneel and pray silently as the last part of their pilgrimage before they enter the holy place.
The scene was almost surreal, like a happy movie. Workers in uniforms were lining the walkways with summer flowers, making it look like a colorful carpet to a castle. Statues of Saint Joseph and angels welcomed visitors to the grounds, and green grass and blue sky were the backdrop. I knew immediately this was a special place. The size of the oratory’s dome itself is the third largest in the world, almost as large as Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome!
With each final step I recalled the homily that most revealed to me the character of Saint Joseph, given at my parish on his feast day, March 19, just a couple months earlier. I learned that Saint Joseph, “The Worker”, was a laborer, just like these landscapers planting flowers, just like you and me who go to work everyday. He was relatable.
An ordinary worker was the type of person who God saw fit to be Jesus’ keeper on earth. The priest’s homily had painted a picture in my mind of who Saint Joseph was (and is). His human hands were probably rough from being a carpenter. As many hours as Saint Joseph worked, I bet he always had time to finish up one last thing before calling it a day, just like we try to do.
As God chose the simple Mary of Nazareth to be Jesus’ mother, he asked Joseph of the House of David to be the husband of Mary, who bore the Son of Man. God knew that Jesus, in addition to needing a loving mother, needed a faithful, strong, and humble father to protect him from his first breath. ‘God Became Man’ NEEDED a mother and a father on Earth, who we now refer to as ‘The Holy Family’.
God asked Saint Joseph to fill the closest space to His Own on Earth! But who in that time would believe that Mary was baring the redeemer? It had been revealed to Elizabeth divinely through the baby in her own womb, John the Baptist (who would later tell thousands to ‘prepare a way for the Lord’).
Mary’s own parents, Ann and Joachim suffered barrenness and the shame that came with it, for so many years and until it was God’s time for Mary to enter the world. Her parents had some spiritual understanding that little Mary was made special so that they consecrated her and offered her to grow up in the temple serving God. Mary delighted in serving God from the beginning.
Did Joseph believe? Not at first. What husband would believe upon his wife’s arrival back home after a visit with her relative that she would be pregnant without any relations? Angels interceded on Heaven’s behalf so that Joseph undoubtedly believed and gave his own yes to Mary and the baby inside her after an angel spoke to him in a dream. The angel was so sweet to Joseph to even give him the name to name Jesus. I love the humanness of Joseph and also his faith in what the angel said to be true.
Saint Joseph is well known in Canada and throughout the world as “Protector”, as inscribed under his statue at the base of the national shrine. Joseph was obedient and faithful in following holy instructions. Soon after Jesus was born the angel instructed Joseph to move his family several times in order to protect Jesus in his youth. Specifically, in a dream, Joseph was instructed to swiftly escape to Egypt with Mary and the baby and stay there while Herod was trying to hunt him down elsewhere.
Talk about irony! God has a sense of humor. Jesus would be safe in Egypt. He would never be ‘recognized’ in Egypt, knowing all of the biblical history there. Also related to the Old Testament, Joseph was sent to Egypt to safeguard the food that would later be needed for the famine. The first Joseph’s obedience to God ended up saving his own family from hunger, too.
All of this reflection before even going into the church! The shrine grounds are very extensive. It would easily take an entire day to see it all, so it was time to move inside. I was welcomed, handed a map and sent up an escalator. The first thing that caught my attention on the map was that the heart of Brother Andre Bessette was on display here. Wow, I have never seen a human heart, let alone “the heart of a saint”. That must be extremely important if it is on display, so I would be sure to see this Saint Andre’s heart in my quick visit.
A wander through the mysterious and quiet halls of the Oratory beganto reveal Brother Andre’s life to me. Brother Andre, born Alfred Bessette was a short, smiley, approachable-looking old man. He seemed very likable. Figures of him made in wax replicated scenes from his life and included his personal items. These scenes were so realistic that I felt that I was starting to get to know him just through the glass.
I arrived at his heart, darkly lit and encased in a reliquary. Hand written prayer notes surrounded the heart, 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.
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
Next, these were my thoughts as I stood there:
His friendship with Jesus, Mary and Joseph?
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 to be friends with the Holy Family, too. I wanted to be with in this circle of friends! I learned later that Brother Andre’s mother was very devoted to Saint Joseph and that is how, from childhood, he grew to be very close with Saint Joseph as well.
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? At the heart of it, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are all rooting for God, rooting for us to dwell with Him, too, He who created us, and who follows through with His promises! The Father sacrificed his only Son in order to bring us to adoption with His own family. Let us approach Jesus and his earthly parents in a familial, friendly way! It is through them that we get to Our Father.
Greeting visitors to Mount Royal his earthly life, Brother Andre said to them, “I will pray with you.” He actually got a reputation for praying with people. Many physical healings occurred in the pilgrims of his day through Brother Andre’s intercession, through his loving supplications. 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, Canada’s beloved “Miracle Man”. Sometimes people were healed immediately on the grounds and they were so excited that they did not walk away, but ran, forgetting to even give thanks!
Never did Brother Andre take credit for any miracle healings, but always gave credit to “Good Saint Joseph”. In fact, 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 recite 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 ten years ago, 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. The irony is that God has to give us faith. But we have to ask for it. Is this a catch 22? Saints help us to walk with God in faith, especially the famous Canadian saint, Saint Andre Bessette. 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. I say, turn to Saint Andre who Will turn you to Saint Joseph who both always turn you to Jesus. And as a bonus you have a bunch of friends in Heaven cheering you on your human pilgrimage.
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 in the halls made me think of how powerful he must have felt Saint Joseph’s presence.
The Holy Spirit works through each of us to call us to holiness with Himself. How did God work through little Brother Andre that made him so famous that it resulted in a massive basilica being erected and a million people visit annually? The answer is that it was a matter of supply and demand!
Brother Andre first requested years ago that a statue of Saint Joseph be placed on top of the bare mount across the street from Notre Dame school, where he worked greeting visitors. He wanted to give people a special place to pray and increase their faith through Saint Joseph’s intercession while on their visit to Notre Dame School. He would often send people with prayer requests with the assignment of praying a novena, which means nine days of prayer to Saint Joseph, and come back after that to see if their faith had increased. He had faith that Saint Joseph would ignite a fire within their heart, like his own fire of love for Jesus, if they were seeking it.
In 1914 a small crypt church was built to accommodate 1000 visitors. Soon enough that wasn’t big enough to accommodate the ongoing influx of the believers visiting Mount Royal’s ‘Miracle Man’. 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 bigger and bigger spaces to accommodate the flocking faithful.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal stands today 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, the now Saint Andre 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 grateful for my first visit to the basilica because it changed me. When I see the face of Brother Andre now, I know I have a friend in him (and you do, too!).
Saint Andre reminds me that when I pray, God hears me. It reminds me that God can do amazing things for many souls through just one person, even a doorman with little education, 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. God made us each uniquely, speaks to us individually, and calls us differently.
So, what do we think 100 years later? Do we prefer to be internet famous, or famous like a saint? Amen?