Becoming Little: Lessons from St. André

I recently realized I had been listening to a lie: You can’t become a saint like this. You’re just a mom.

As a woman who writes and reflects on how our vocation as parents leads us along the path of holiness, I was shocked I could be so deceived. When I shared this with my confessor, he shepherded me back to the simple truth that my ego loves to forget. He said, “Caitlan, we are called to become little.”

My ego is repulsed by humility—You can only become a saint if people know who you are. The hiddenness of your life isn’t doing real work for the Kingdom. You’re not doing enough.

But, the saints didn’t live outside of sin, temptation, or the mess of life. They don’t show us the perfect, easy, or sanitized way. They journey with us along the demanding but well-trodden path of authentic love, self-sacrifice, repentance, praise, and prayer. They show us how to set our gaze on and remain in God’s love over and over and over again.

Today, we celebrate the feast day of St. André Bessette, who was born Alfred Bessette in Quebec on August 9, 1845. Alfred was sickly from birth—he was baptized immediately after being born in case he lived only a few days. By the time Alfred was 12 years old, he had been orphaned. He continued to have poor health and lacked formal education. 

However, from a young age, Alfred had fervent faith and a devotion to St. Joseph. Alfred’s childhood pastor (named Fr. André) encouraged a vocation to the priesthood, and sent Alfred to the Congregation of Holy Cross with a note that said, “I am sending you a saint.” The Congregation did not accept Alfred, because of his poor health. Rather than become discouraged, Alfred gained assistance from the Archbishop of Montreal, and was accepted into the Holy Cross Novitiate in 1870.

The Congregation assigned Alfred—now, Brother André—to be doorkeeper of Notre Dame College in Montreal. His poor health and lack of education seemed suitable for this simple position. As doorkeeper, Brother André greeted visitors and tended to their needs. 

Visitors to the College who prayed with Brother André experienced physical healing. News spread and pilgrims traveled to see Brother André, pray with him, and experience healing. Brother André was confused by his popularity and attributed all healing to St. Joseph’s intercession. 

Brother André desired to increase devotion to St. Joseph, and so founded a shrine to St. Joseph—the Oratory of St. Joseph—across the street from the college. In 1909, Brother André was released from his duty as doorkeeper to become caretaker of the Oratory and tend to sick pilgrims who traveled to the Oratory to see him. Thousands of miraculous healings were attributed to the “Miracle Man of Montreal” over the next decades until Brother André’s death on January 6, 1937.

Pope Benedict XVI canonized St. André Bessette on October 17, 2020, making him the first saint from the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

One may assume that being a mom automatically equals being humble. After all, cleaning poopy bottoms, having food smeared on our clothes, caring for sick children, and driving to and fro is the status quo. 

However, external realities like these don’t always show forth the state of our hearts. We might ask ourselves: Do I give joyfully? Do I serve out of love for Jesus? Do I freely entrust myself to God’s will for me and my family? Do I trust that God is always good, trustworthy, and faithful?

When I beg God to give me a humble heart, he does that and more—he fills that humble heart with joy, peace, and desire to love.

As we celebrate the feast of St. André Bessette today, let’s join together in asking his intercession for faithful and humble hearts. For, in the words of St. André, “It is with the smallest brushes that the Artist paints the best paintings.” 

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