Friday, March 5, 2010

The Canonization of Brother André

This will be one of those posts that would stir up all kinds of controversy and probably get me excommunicated from the Catholic church if more than three people were to actually read this blog.

I read in a news article last week that Pope Benedict (you know, the new one; the one who looks frighteningly like Darth Sidious) has approved the canonization of Montreal's Brother André Bessette. No, this does not mean that the Pope intends to fire Brother André's remains from a cannon. It means that Brother André has officially been declared a saint by the Vatican.

Actually, it means that the Vatican intends to officially declare Brother André a Saint. The canonization won't actually happen until October 17. Until then, I guess Brother André remains a heavenly intern.

Brother André Bessette was born Alfred Bessette in Saint-Grégoire d'Iberville, Quebec back in 1845. Even as a young boy, Bessette showed an intense spirituality. By the time he reached his twenties, his parish priest, having noticed his generosity and devotion, presented him to the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Montreal.

He had a particular devotion to St. Joseph and would recommend the sick to him in prayers when visiting them in their homes. Some of those people were cured and many proclaimed that they had St. Joseph and Brother André's intervention to thank, although Brother André himself always refused to take any credit for the healings.

In 1904, Brother André started a campaign to erect an Oratory to honor St. Joseph. It took twenty more years before construction on the Oratory actually began in 1924. In the meantime, his reputation as a healer continued to grow as more and more people, and even some doctors, proclaimed cures resulting from Brother André's intervention which defied medical explanation.

When Brother André died in 1937 at the age of 91, millions of devoted admirers filed past his coffin. He was like a Canadian Mahatma Gandhi. His remains were, fittingly, placed in a tomb at the foot of the Oratory which he had championed, except for his heart, which lies in a separate shrine in the same oratory after having been stolen and eventually retrieved. You know, for most of us, "You stole my heart" is just an expression.

Because of Brother André's reputed powers as a faith healer, millions petitioned the Vatican to canonize him. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982. For you non-Catholics, that means that we Catholics were formally allowed to pray to Brother André to intercede with God on our behalves, but it didn't yet make him an actual saint.

In order to qualify for sainthood, a person must be credited with at least two miracles by the Vatican. Until last week, although Brother André reputedly helped to heal thousands during his lifetime, the Vatican officially recognized only one as a bona fide miracle. Last week, the referees at the Vatican apparently watched the replay tape for a second miraculous healing one more time, and decided to allow it.

Here's my problem with all this. Who gave the Vatican the authority to promote a man to sainthood? Since nobody ever becomes a saint until after they've died and the afterlife is supposedly under God's jurisdiction, wouldn't it be up to God to decide whether or not Brother André gets his halo?

Understand that I don't mean to denigrate Brother André's selfless devotion nor the man himself in any way. All I'm saying is that, if he deserved to become a saint, I doubt that God waited all these years since Brother André's death for the Vatican's permission to make him one.

1 comment:

Tubes said...

It is a posthumous title us mortals are assigning. I doubt God or Brother Andre is worried about it. The title wasn't necessary for intercessions. Yet the assigning of such shouldn't be taken lightly, hence the indepth analysis.

I just read that it is also being considered for John Paul II. This would be unusually fast.