Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Saint du Jour - The Porter of Paradise

How often do we stop and really look at one another? How often do we really listen to each other’s stories, as opposed to waiting for them to stop talking so we can “one up” them? Do we notice the face of the person at the pharmacy, the Wawa cashier, the drive-thru window as we drive through our lives at often break-neck speeds? Our fast-paced culture is almost conditioning us to miss many face to face encounters, and many souls are slipping through the cracks. Enter Blessed André Bessette, born in 1845 near Montreal, Canada. His story as it pans out would appear to be one of total insignificance. He could have gone unnoticed, could have felt unwanted, lost in the shuffle, just another number… but it was not so. André is the voice of the Invisible Man, he is the shadow cast by the little ones who seemingly don’t matter in this culture. The eighth of 12 children, he was weak and sickly from birth. When both parents had died, he was adopted at age 12, worked as a farmhand, then slipped into a variety of unsuccessful trade careers: shoemaker, baker, blacksmith. He was a factory worker in the US during the Civil War. At 25, André tried to enter the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He was rejected at first because of his poor health, but at the request of a kind Bishop Bourget, he was finally received into the Order. He was given the obscure job of doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Montreal (with some additional duties). “When I joined this community,” André once said, “the superiors showed me the door, and I remained 40 years.” A listening heart, a prayerful demeanor, and a deep compassion for all he encountered at that door is what changed things. André had a strong devotion to St. Joseph and would visit the sick, applying oil for healing to their bodies. When an epidemic exploded at a local college, he nursed the infirm. Not one person died in his care. A stream of sick people began to move towards his door, and soon it became a gushing river of souls. “I do not cure,” he said. “St. Joseph cures.” At the end of his life, four secretaries were hired to handle the 80,000 letters he received every year! André saw people by the hundreds and he listened. He was a magnet whose holiness and compassion were the main attraction. With 65,000,000 Catholics in the USA alone, what would happen if just a handful of us had that listening heart? That attentiveness to the needs and the experiences and the stories and the sad news and the joyful news of the other? What if we really looked and listened, like the children’s books always told us? What would we see? André, the 8th child in a dozen, the weak one, the uneducated porter who held the door open for people, died at the ripe old age of 92. And I’m sure at his death a Door was opened for him. The Door to Paradise. Blessed André Bessette, pray for us, and at our death, may we see you at your post again, with the light of the Son streaming through that Open Door that leads into Life Eternal!
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