Brother André still speaks to ‘le petit monde’

By 
  • October 4, 2010

Brother André museumFor those of us whose 21st-century lives are defined more by the Internet, our genetic codes and dollars that ricochet around the world at the speed of light, it might be difficult to imagine how the life of a 19th-century farm boy who grew up to offer healing through St. Joseph, holy oil and prayer could possibly matter to us.

In his new devotional book about Br. Andre, Fr. George Madore imaginatively meditates on the life of Canada’s first male native-born saint. Madore’s meditation brings him to a conclusion that he makes the title of the book — Brother André: A Saint for Today.



By e-mail, The Catholic Register asked Madore about writing the book and imagining the life and the world of Brother André.

Madore: Being myself a French-Canadian of a certain age (67), it wasn’t too hard to imagine the world Brother André lived in. I remember my own Grandpa as a humble worker, with not much instruction but with great faith. And around me, still today, I hear people remembering the hardships they went through in their childhood. As I documented myself and went through hundreds of pages offered by different articles and biographies, I became more and more aware that one can neither understand nor explain Brother André if one does not become aware of his deep interior life.

Register: In what sense does Brother André speak to us in our time? Is Brother André someone who can be understood by post-Quiet Revolution Quebeckers? Is there still a thread that connects Quebec society today with the world of Brother André?

Madore: Of course, we live in a world that is miles apart from that of Brother André. But I feel that the differences in a way are more technical (TV, cellphones, computers) than human. Today, people hunger for spirituality. They try to soothe this hunger though fun, consumerism and often strange new spiritual messages (new age, astrology, etc.). People today still feel that Brother André was inhabited by God. “Touching” Brother André by going to the Oratory, or praying to him, is a way for people to touch God indirectly.

The message of Brother André is: If  a man so simple and ignorant could be near God, why not me?

Register: In some ways, Brother André’s life is a kind of capsule of the suffering and humiliation Quebec suffered from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th — including his exile to the United States, the absence of opportunity in his life, the obscurity and anonymity of a life shut out from books and almost shut out from the economy. How can that life speak to modern Quebeckers? To English Canadians? To the rest of the world?

Madore: The figure of Brother André appeals to humble people — as we say in French, “le petit monde.” They are those who never make headlines, those who never ask for anything, those who will never be famous. To those people, Brother André is one of them. He belongs to them. He was not a priest or a great preacher, nor a theologian.

He was a simple man who did simple jobs, who was sometimes tired and impatient, who liked to make jokes, who went through life with fragile health. Simple people identify with him.

Register: In his lifetime, Brother André was called the “miracle man.” Is it the miracles that are important, or the steadfastness of his faith? Or the offer of healing — physical and spiritual?

Madore: The miracles were certainly a sign of Brother André’s deep faith. But also of his Christ-like compassion for the sick. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (11:28). Saints are people whose soul and life reproduce a certain aspect of the soul and life of Christ. I am sure Brother André experienced the compassion of Christ for himself. He was in admiration of this compassion and identified deeply with the compassionate Christ he met in the Gospels.

This was his secret, the source of his love and patience. Yes, patience! Imagine welcoming hundreds of people day after day, week after week, all coming with their sorrows and personal dramas. How come he was never fed up? His source was the Christ he prayed to at night — sometimes all night long.

One of Brother André’s last words, if not his last word, was: “Pray for my conversion.” His spirituality was simple and deeply evangelical — to become the Christ he loved, admired and wanted to reveal to others.

Madore’s Brother André: A Saint for Today is published by Novalis and is available at www.novalis.ca for $4.99.

 

 


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