Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat for the Seminarians of Cathedral Seminary House of Formation, Douglaston, NY
At Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, NY
Mass for the Monday after the Epiphany
Memorial of St. André Bessette
January 6, 2014
1 Jn 3:22:-4:6, Ps 2, Mt 4:12-17.23-25
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following was the written text that guided the homily:
In these weekdays after the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the Church has us ponder the deeper meaning of Christ’s manifestation to all the nations represented by the Magi by showing us various other of mini-epiphanies. Today we see the epiphany of the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that the people sitting in darkness and the shadow of death in the land of Zebulun and Napthali, called Galilee of the Gentiles, would see a great light. That’s precisely what they saw when Jesus came and began to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, to call people to conversion so that they could enter into the light and life of that kingdom, to teach in their synagogues what it means to live in the light, and to cure every disease and illness among the people. Great crowds were drawn to this epiphany of great light, as Jesus was curing people of the darkness of ignorance through the proclamation of the kingdom, of the darkness of human misunderstanding through his explaining that proclamation in his teaching, and from the darkness of human pain in his healing.
The Church was founded by Christ to be the perpetuation of his Epiphany, to be what Pope Francis calls after the Fathers of the Church the mysterium lunae, “mystery of the moon,” to reflect the manifestation of the light of Christ’s preaching, teaching, healing and loving so that all those living in present day Zebulun’s and Napthalis might come to experience through repenting and entering the kingdom.
The saints are the great reflectors of the light of Christ’s epiphany
The ones who are the best at becoming the light of the World through reflecting Him who is the Light of the World are the saints. Today we celebrate a great saint, canonized just over three years ago, and called to the house of the Father just 76 years ago today, St. André Bessette. As a descendent of French Canadian immigrants I’ve always had a special devotion to St. André, the first native born French Canadian. But since I became a pastor I’ve grown in a devotion to him because for four years of his young life, after he was orphaned at 12 and needed to support himself, he came to the United States to work in various factories and during that time he worshipped regularly at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, where I was pastor for 7 years, and also at Notre Dame Parish in Fall River, where I’m now pastor of the newly named merged parish at that location. I’ve often gone on pilgrimage to his tomb in Montreal and tried to spread his devotion.
St. André is a reflection of Christ’s light for the whole Church, but I’d like to ponder his holy luminescence for seminarians and priests in a particular way, by focusing on five virtues.
St. André’s perseverance
He sensed he had a vocation to dedicate his entire life to God but after the death of his father when he was 9 and the death of his mother three years later, all of the kids in his family of 13 who were old enough to work had to work. So he went to work. Because he was so sickly and weak, however, it was hard for him to keep jobs, especially in the brutal factories where if a man were not capable of strenuous manual labor for lengthy shifts he soon saw himself on the sidewalk.
But he persevered trusting in God, that God would find a way for him. The pastor of his parish noticed his devotion and generosity. He had received really no education and so there would be no chance of his becoming a priest, but the pastor sent him to the Congregation of the Holy Cross seeing if he could become a religious brother. The note of introduction said, “I am sending you a saint.” He was initially rejected because of his health, but that didn’t stop him. Eventually the Archbishop of Montreal got to know him and intervened on his behalf, and he was accepted as a novice. What exactly the Congregation of the Holy Cross, an educational order, would do with someone with less education than its students, was something that wasn’t initially obvious, but St. André knew that he could help out somewhere.
The same virtue of perseverance was needed in the building of the great Oratory in Montreal, which was the great dream of his life, laboring over the last 33 years of his life to get it built and needing to still work after he had died to get it finished. When he went to see the Archbishop to ask for permission to build a shrine to St. Joseph, the Archbishop gave it, but said he couldn’t go into debt at any point. He needed the money up front. He had only $200 at the time raised from small donations. So he built initially a small chapel with that $200. But then he kept expanding it. And, eventually, with the help of lay friends, he was able over the course of four persevering decades to raise enough money to build the largest shrine in the world ever dedicated to St. Joseph. He never quit. Jesus tells us that by our perseverance we will secure our lives and St. André teaches us all never to give up, even when things seem hard or well-night impossible.
St. André’s Humility
Above his tomb there’s a catacombal arcosolium with the expression, “Pauper servus et humilis,” “a poor and humble servant.” He really was a model of humility, willing to do any service for the Lord. The superiors assigned him basically to the task of porter at one of their high schools, with additional duties as laundry worker, messenger boy, and sacristan. He used to joke, “When I joined the community, the superiors showed me the door and I remained 40 years!” He knew that no matter what task he was asked to accomplish, he could radiate Christ’s light.
There’s a great lesson for us here. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the first of the four minor orders was “porter.” The road to the priesthood began with the same office that St. André fulfilled, because a priest always needs to open for others the door to Christ, he needs to be willing to welcome all comers. St. André became a saint humbly opening doors for people and giving people welcome. We should see that path as a path to holiness and mission.
St. André’s hospitality
The physical action of opening doors and buzzing people in was just an external sign of what was happening with him. He was letting people into his life. He was welcoming people as if he were welcoming Christ. People felt that they could be themselves with him because they knew he looked at them with love and understanding. They could unburden themselves before him. The students loved him and would come to speak to him. Visitors loved him and spent time with him at the door. Soon half of Montreal was coming to see him and they needed to rent a rail car station so that we could welcome and give hospitality to the vast multitude who was coming to see him.
There’s a great lesson for all of us in the Church. The Church exists to welcome all people and after a warm welcome and entering into a relationship with them to call them, as Christ does in today’s Gospel, to repent and enter the kingdom. But we really can’t get people to share the converted life of our faith until first we welcome them and in some places, people feel that they’ll be judged rather than loved if they come to us. All of us can learn from St. André’s great effect with people of all backgrounds in Montreal how to become a welcome mat so that people can, walking over us and with us, enter the door who is Christ.
St. André’s great love for the sick
St. André always exercised a mission to those who were walking in the darkness of sickness. Just like Jesus in Galilee of the Gentiles had the sick brought to him from all parts, so the sick of Montreal started to come to St. André from everywhere. And to those who couldn’t come, he would go out to see them. After his long workdays, he would walk to visit the sick. Later, when he was receiving 80,000 letters a year asking for his prayers, he would have friends drive him around in a car so that he could attend to them. He would pray with them, anoint them with oil from a lamp burning before a statue of St. Joseph at the College (High School) des Neiges where he was porter and thousands were healed. It was exhausting work, and he was never healthy, but off he went. It’s a real testimony to his zeal and love for others that he kept pushing his weak frame for 91 years in doing such work. He was exercising the role of Simon of Cyrene, helping Jesus carry his Cross, a devotion to which he had great fervor and, when he built the Oratory, he built it with one of the largest outdoor Stations of the Cross of anywhere in the world.
Just as we see in the Gospel, however, physical healings are just an appetizer for the much more important healing of the soul, and St. André knew that. With many of the people who were asking for physical cures, St. André would tell them that he would pray with them for a cure, but first he wanted them to go to confession and receive Holy Communion worthily. After they had reestablished their relationship with Christ, he would pray for the physical cure.
At the Shrine of St. Joseph on Royal Mountain, you can see hundreds of crutches left behind, one of the many tangible signs of how many miracles God worked through St. André’s prayers and St. Joseph’s intercession.
All seminarians and priests need to cultivate a similar love for the sick. We have a duty to visit the sick, to anoint them, to give them viaticum, to accompany them along the path of redemptive suffering. Many priests, however, do this just as a burden. St. André is a great intercessor to have us do this with great love, for Christ and for others. We know that whenever we care for someone who’s ill, we’re carrying for Christ who said, “I was ill and you comforted me.” St. André never forget that essential truth and neither should we.
St. André’s great love for St. Joseph
After our Lady and her Son, St. André and St. Teresa of Avila are the two greatest devotees to St. Joseph in the history of the Church.
In his porter’s office, he had a statue of St. Joseph in the window looking out toward Royal Mountain where the Shrine of St. Joseph would be eventually built. He always encouraged anyone who asked him for prayers to “go to Joseph” (Ite ad Ioseph) and to develop a much deeper bond with him in order to learn how to love Christ and to love our lady. He gave all the credit for every miracle to St. Joseph.
There’s a great need for seminarians and priests to develop a deep devotion to St. Joseph in all parts of their life. He’s a great model and intercessor of chastity. We call him the Virgin’s “most chaste spouse.” He shows us that real love for others doesn’t have to be genitally expressed, but that our love for others must always keep in mind helping them fulfill their vocations, as he helped Mary fulfill hers as the Virginal Mother of the Son of God and helped Jesus fulfill his. Invoke him in all struggles against chastity! He also shows us what manly hard-work looks like. Jesus told us to pray to the Harvest Master for laborers in his vineyard, not just bodies, and he shows us that work. Finally he teaches us about spiritual fatherhood, how to protect and provide for a spiritual family, virtues every pastor needs. Throughout your seminary formation, I would encourage you to go to St. Joseph. He will teach you so much about the priesthood and the Christian life. St. André is doubtless praying today that you will.
The daily source of his radiance
As we come forward today to receive the Lord in his continuous epiphany on the altar, which was the source and summit of St. André’s life, we remember that this is where he got the strength to be so radiant in faith. The same Lord who shone through him will shine through us if we cooperate with him as St. André did so that one day we will be able to share his friendship in the presence of St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 JN 3:22-4:6
We receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit whom he gave us.Beloved, do not trust every spirit
but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God,
because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This is how you can know the Spirit of God:
every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh
belongs to God,
and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus
does not belong to God.
This is the spirit of the antichrist
who, as you heard, is to come,
but in fact is already in the world.
You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them,
for the one who is in you
is greater than the one who is in the world.
They belong to the world;
accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world,
and the world listens to them.
We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us,
while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us.
This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.
PS 2:7BC-8, 10-12A
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
this day I have begotten you.
Ask of me and I will give you
the nations for an inheritance
and the ends of the earth for your possession.”
R. I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.
And now, O kings, give heed;
take warning, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice before him;
with trembling rejoice.
R. I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.
MT 4:12-17, 23-25
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness
have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people.
His fame spread to all of Syria,
and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases
and racked with pain,
those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics,
and he cured them.
And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea,
and from beyond the Jordan followed him.