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Humble saint challenges our achievement-oriented culture

Growing up in our highly competitive culture, I internalized a message drilled into me from a young age: You are what you do. The world encouraged me to define myself by my accomplishments and the consequences. Competition can be healthy. It can bring out our best and help us to strive for excellence. Far too often, it is taken to a spiritually dangerous extreme, in which I am nothing more than my job title, the school I attend, my grade point average, the car I drive, the clothes I wear, the vacations I take, or the size of my annual bonus.

sq andre bessette

St. Andre Bessett CNS

Years before I seriously considered my vocation to the priesthood, I was busily living out this worldview — working for a Wall Street investment bank — when I read a book titled God’s Doorkeepers that challenged and inspired me.

The book detailed the spiritual life of a saint whose feast day we celebrate this month, André Bessette. Known as the Apostle of St. Joseph and the Miracle Man of Montreal, St. André Bessette is the first canonized saint of the Congregation of Holy Cross and a special intercessor in my life.

Born Alfred Bessette in Quebec in 1845, to an impoverished French-Canadian family, he was orphaned at age 12. A sickly man who struggled to even read, he attempted unsuccessfully to learn a dozen trades and took menial work on farms and in factories in Canada and New England. Unqualified to teach or to study for the priesthood, André was content to serve as a porter, groundskeeper and maintenance worker for his religious community. He quickly developed a reputation for prayerfulness, joy and a rugged simplicity of life. I later learned that my grandparents, in the years well before his canonization in 2010, would ask for “Good Brother André” to pray for specific intentions in our family.

St. André’s life of humble service poses a powerful challenge to our achievement-oriented culture. André knew he was not defined by his unremarkable role as a porter at Notre Dame College in Montreal. He radically understood that God’s love and mercy for him were his defining characteristics. St. André reminds us that we are only defined by who we are — beloved sons and daughters of God — and not by what we achieve or by how we fall short.

At a time in my life when I was striving to earn everything, St. André intervened to begin teaching me that God’s love is given freely and is ours to accept or to reject. He often spoke of God’s enduring and paternal tenderness for us, remarking, “When you say to God, ‘Our Father,’ he has his ear next to your lips.” The words of another saint, John Paul II, perhaps best summarize St. André’s understanding of himself: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his son.”

St. André Bessette, pray for us.

Nugent, who is from St. Agnes Church in Arlington, is in his second year of pre-theology studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019