Saint André Bessette is one of my favorite saints. Something about him and his personal story always struck me as important for my formation. As a high school student at Notre Dame High School (West Haven, CT) I was introduced to Brother André by the Brothers of Holy Cross. Not a lot was said of him unless you asked about the man whose picture hung on the office wall. His life simple and it made an impression on me because his average background resembles my own in a way: André came from an average Catholic working class family with a subtle devotion to St Joseph. Some may say poor, but that is a relative thing when your priorities are not fixated on money and status.
We are fascinated by holiness and the sacred. Just look at the fascination we see today with Pope Francis —the media calls this the “Francis effect”: simplicity and holiness is attractive. But what is really fascinating to me is the life discipleship which opens the heart to works of charity and sanctity. In what ways is André an example of being a disciple of Jesus and the apostles? How does this discipleship form the heart that leads to being made a saint by God? The Church tells us that one avenue to understanding these questions is focus on one’s charity. “Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it,” is the common perspective. To go deeper, grace not only perfects something, this something depends on the personal action of the Trinity. Aquinas will teach, I am told by the Dominicans,
The quantity of a thing depends on the proper cause of that thing, since the more universal cause produces a greater effect. Now, since charity surpasses the proportion of human nature . . . it depends, not on any natural virtue, but on the sole grace of the Holy Spirit Who infuses charity. Wherefore the quantity of charity depends neither on the condition of nature nor on the capacity of natural virtue, but only on the will of the Holy Spirit Who “divides” His gifts “according as He will. (ST, II-II, 24, 3)
The life of Saint André Bessette was moved by the Spirit to be a friend of Jesus. In recommending his student, André’s pastor said to the Congregation of Holy Cross: “I am sending you a saint.” Note the recognition of holiness early on. Not intellectually gifted, André made his life the object of charity which literally opened doors for others to follow: he was the porter at Montreal’s Notre Dame College. We follow witnesses.
The little way was not only a way of life for the Little Flower but a scriptural manner of living that bore great fruit. You will recall that his heavenly guide was Saint Joseph, the spouse of Mary, and it is to him that Saint André built the largest Catholic church in Canada: St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. He died there in 1937 and then more than a million attended his funeral.
The simplicity of Saint André pointed to Saint Joseph and he pointed to his son, Our Savior. Just after the Epiphany we honor a man who manifested the work of the Holy Spirit in Saint André Bessette. May we follow.