The Basilica of the Sacred Heart stands at the heart of the campus of the University of Notre Dame, and it was also a convenient distance from the dorm I lived in as an undergraduate. During the frigid South Bend winters, many of us survived the walk across campus by cutting through various buildings on our way back to our dorms. On many a cold day, I used this excuse to wander through the stunning (and warm) church.
One of my favorite places to visit was a little side chapel dedicated to St. André Bessette. (At the time, he was only “Blessed André,” and there were a stack of prayer cards in the chapel with a prayer for his canonization.) The first time I wandered into the chapel, I was intrigued. I had never heard of St. André, but there was something about the statue – his humble, gentle face or his outstretched hand, perhaps – that drew me in. I wanted to get to know this humble man.
Born in Quebec in 1845, André’s life was marked with poor health. In fact, his health was so frail that although he felt called joined to join the Holy Cross brothers, he was only permitted to be a humble doorkeeper.
But God worked miracles through this humble little man. Although the position of doorkeeper was anything but prestigious, God choose André to be one to promote a greater devotion to St. Joseph, working many miracles through André and St. Joseph’s intercession. Prompted by his sincere devotion to St. Joseph, St. André worked toward building a shrine dedicated to the foster father of Jesus. Although he didn’t live to see the final results, the St. Joseph Oratory was built as a direct result of his work. Although he was initially deemed too weak to join the Congregation of Holy Cross, it was he who became their first saint.
This weak, humble little man has profound lessons for us, especially living in the society we live in today. Of all the lessons he has to teach us, there are three that are most important.
God is less concerned with efficiency and more concerned with sincerity.
It is the crowning virtue of our society to be productive. When asked how we are, our first response is often, “Busy!” We are expected to be busy at all times. It matters less why we’re doing what we’re doing, and more that we are doing it with a spirit of hard work and efficiency. But this is not how God works. God cares less how efficient we are, and more about the sincerity with which we accomplish his work. As a man who was weak and often sick, André was anything but efficient, and he didn’t even live to see the completion of St. Joseph’s Oratory. Nevertheless, his devotion helped many to grow in their faith and sparked a renewed devotion to the foster father of Christ. André did all that he did with a profound, sincere love for God.
God is not hampered by our personal weaknesses.
Prior to joining the Congregation, St. André was turned away from a series of different jobs and positions. His health made him too weak to work for very long, and although his desire to work was sincere, he was simply unable. As tradition shows us, time and again, God chooses the weak in order to show his strength. Because he was physically unable to do much, André did what he could spiritually. In his prayer life, he was a giant among men. Because he was such a simple, humble man, the poor who came to his door were not afraid to approach him. Because of his deep faith and rich prayer life, he was able to help them.
St. Joseph is a powerful intercessor, whose help we should avail ourselves of daily.
His devotion to St. Joseph was at the heart of André’s ministry. It is interesting that this frail man, unable to perform manual labor, was so drawn to a saint who spent his life engaged in physically challenging work. There is a strength in Joseph – a quiet strength that carries over to the quality of his prayers for us. Brother André sensed the power of Joseph’s prayers, and encouraged others to ask for St. Joseph’s intercession. Despite his weakness, Brother André did spend most of his time doing simple manual labor. Like St. Joseph, his work was not prestigious by any means. Yet, both Joseph and André show us that there is great beauty in very simple work, if done for the love of God.
As a lowly freshman at a competitive university, I found great comfort in Brother André. As a wife and now mother to two young children, I continue to find great comfort in his intercession on my behalf. Quiet and unassuming, Brother André knew the key to sainthood – greatness lies not in what we are able to do on our own, but in what we allow God to do through our weakness.