Thursday, January 6, 2011

Saint Brother André Feast - Italian Epiphany Tradition: La Befana

Today, January 6th, for the Universal Church celebrates the 74th anniversary of the death of its first male Canadian-born saint – St. André Bessette, though in many countries the feast is impeded by the celebration of the Lord's Epiphany. 

The close of 2010 was marked by the celebrations of St. André’s canonization on October 17th. It is possible that another date will be chosen by the Church to celebrate St. André of Montreal, so this may be the first and last, or perhaps one of the few times, his feast will be celebrated on this his "heavenly birthday".

Brother André on his Vow Day

Le chemin du ciel

Le ciel c’est vivre dans la maison du Père : « Vous savez, c’est permis de désirer la mort dans le but unique d’aller vers Dieu » … « Quand je serai mort, je vais être rendu au ciel, je vais être bien plus près du bon Dieu que je ne le suis actuellement, j’aurai plus de pouvoir pour vous aider. »

Quelques instants avant sa mort, il exprimera sa douleur : « Que je souffre, mon Dieu, mon Dieu ». Puis, à voix très basse, faiblement : « Voici le grain de blé ne meurt, il reste seul : s’il meurt, il porte beaucoup de fruits. » (Jn 12.24)

« Il a passé sa vie à parler des autres au bon Dieu et du bon Dieu aux autres. » Ce témoignage d’un ami nous donne la juste mesure de ce que fut sa vie imprégnée de foi et d’amour. On peut difficilement dire où, dans sa vie, commence le travail et où cesse la prière, tellement l’un et l’autre semblaient s’entremêler dans une même coulée. Il meurt le 6 janvier 1937, en sa quatre-vingt-douzième année. Les journaux ont défilé devant sa tombe et assisté à ses funérailles. Son corps repose aujourd’hui dans un simple tombeau à l’intérieur du magnifique sanctuaire qui s’élève maintenant sur le Mont-Royal.

Frère André, un homme de chez-nous, enraciné dans notre sol, a été un éveilleur et un entraîneur. Pour nous, il est encore un vivant symbole du renouvellement chrétien auquel nous sommes tous conviés. Ce qu’avec la grâce de Dieu, frère André a pu vivre, nous pouvons le vivre, nous aussi, avec la même grâce de Dieu.

Frère André est décédé le 6 janvier 1937 à l'âge de 91 ans à l'hôpital de Saint-Laurent.

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The portrait of Brother André on the occasion of his canonization

The Road to Heaven

For Brother André, heaven is living in God’s house. His views on death as life’s ultimate fulfilment were often expressed thus: “You know, it is permitted to desire death if one’s unique goal is to go forward God… When I die, I will go to heaven, I will be much closer to God than I am now, I will have more power to help you.”

A few moments before his death, those around him heard him cry out, “I am suffering so much, my God! My God.” And then, in a very weak voice, “Here is the grain,” referring to the Gospel of John 12:24, “unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies. It remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.”

“He spent his whole life speaking of others to God, and of God to others.” In giving this testimony, his friend presented a valid assessment of Brother André’s life imbued with faith, and love. In fact, it is difficult to say at what point in his life work ended and prayer began as the two seemed to flow so naturally one into the other.

On January 6, 1937 at 91 years of age, Brother André died at Hôpital Notre-Dame de l’Espérance in Saint-Laurent, a suburb of Montréal. Newspapers reported that well over a million people attended his wake and burial. His body lies today in a simple tomb in the beautiful Oratory that rises so gracefully on Mount Royal. To this day, thousands of visitors come to Saint Joseph’s Oratory to receive physical and spiritual healing.

Even today, Brother André remains for us a living symbol of Christian renewal to which we are all invited. Whatever Brother André was able to achieve through God’s grace, we are also able to achieve through that same grace offered to us so generously and consistently. (

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Lord our God, friend of the humble, who blessed your servant, Brother André with a great devotion to St. Joseph and a real concern for the needy and the afflicted, through his intercession fill our hearts with compassion and lead us in the ways of prayer and love, that we may enter with him into your glory. Through our Lord.

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La Befana: An Epiphany Tradition

The Befana, for those who don’t know, is a legendary old woman who brings gifts to Italian (and Italian-American) children on the feast of the Epiphany, a sort of Signora Santa Claus.

According to legend, the Befana was a particularly fussy housekeeper who lived along the route taken by the three kings on their journey to worship the baby Jesus.

When the Magi stopped at the Befana’s house, they offered to let her tag along and visit the newborn Messiah, but she claimed to have too much housework to do and declined.

Only after the Magi had left town did the Befana regret her decision and hurry to catch up… but by then it was too late, and the wise men were out of sight.

Since that first Epiphany she has been leaving presents for the children of every home she visits in the hope that one of them will turn out to be the Christ child.

As an aside, the Befana was not fooled when bishops conferences transferred Epiphany to Sunday and still visits on January 6. So, even if you’re not Italian, you can still celebrate the Epiphany all week.

H/t: Anthony Lusvardi,

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