Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

What I Saw in Montreal

This past half-week, my boss took me with his family and some other families to Quebec on pilgrimage. St. Joseph's Oratory sits on Montreal's highest point, where just a century ago nothing but trees stood. It is well lit up at night, and is thus an apt symbol for its own situation.

Into the mid-1960s, Quebec was Catholic. Ninety-five percent baptized, and over three fourths of the baptized sat in their places in the pews of their local parish church every Sunday. Now, eighty percent are baptized, and less than three percent (!) attend Mass regularly, a seminarian for the archdiocese told me. Since the Silent Revolution of 1968 emptied Quebec's parish churches in the course of a few months, Quebec has joined most of the West in its slide into the dark night of inhumanity euphemistically called "human secularism." Still, high above the city in its dark night shines St. Joseph's Oratory, well-lit in the darkness. And there is something amazing about it. That church, at least, is not empty. In fact, it is rather well visited.

The same seminarian told me that since colonial times under the English, the French Catholic Church in Quebec had been charged with running many social services. Up until 1968, when such services were taken over by the state, the Church had run almost all of Quebec's hospitals, schools, orphanages, unemployment relief, and so on. The Church was, in many ways, coterminus with organized life of society. Those functions were taken over by the state at precisely the same time that the sexual revolution began making real inroads into Quebec; this was also the same time that liturgical "reform" radically altered everything believed sacred in the life of those people. For the most part, they were not especially educated in the faith, either. All those changes crashed upon them at once, and it was too much: the Perfect Storm against their faith. Over the course of a few months, almost everyone asked themselves, "What are we doing here?" and without protesting or shouting or demanding changes, simply stopped going to church.

As far as I can tell, it is not Quebecois that fill St. Joseph's either. They were there, to judge by the license plates in the parking lots. But most of the visitors were from other provinces in Canada, from all over the U.S. and even Mexico, and many groups speaking Asian and European languages had clearly flown in. The visitors' motives appeared to range from idle curiosity and tourism to pilgrimage and prayer. Some snapped photos while others clicked rosary beads. I did both. For whatever their reasons, visitors to the Oratory seem to remember something that the Quebecois have forgotten; perhaps they are looking for something that the Quebecois do not realize they have lost. Maybe the Quebecois do realize they have lost it, only they do not know where to look. One of the tour guides told us that formerly, one had to be very devout to work at the Oratory. That is no longer the case, he told us, because there are not enough of such people left in Montreal.

St. Joseph's Oratory was started by an almost illiterate, poor, lay brother in the Congregation of the Holy Cross during the First World War. Brother Andre Bessette will very likely be canonized by Mother Church before too long (in Church years, of course). The little brother had a big devotion to St. Joseph, and also was renowned for his deep humility and sanctity. Even in his own day he was famous, owing to the miracles he worked. He always gave credit to St. Joseph, and only intensified his devotion to that great little man. When people were healed, he asked them to leave some sign, to encourage the faith of others who came to speak with him, to ask his prayers, or to seek healing. Many left crutches, and to this day, there are warehouses full of them at the site. Thousands of crutches, old and new, are left hanging on racks all around
the place. Most of the crutches seem to me to be old, though, dating to Blessed Andre's time.

The Church in Quebec needs to take real stock of her practical situation. Practically speaking, she is dead there. But this has happened before, elsewhere - in fact, in many places. Christians know that dead things can come back to life. When the Church in Quebec focuses again on sanctity above all else, and begins to pray as earnestly as Brother Andre did, then perhaps her parishes will begin to shine. Mass-goers and coreligionists will love each other and call each other brother and sister again, as our little pilgrimage group did. Mother Church will have something to offer her children again: love and healing - antidotes and innoculations against the deadly sicknesses related to secular humanism. If the light has been snuffed out in Montreal, perhaps it will be re-ignited by tourists' curiosity and pilgrims' prayers. Perhaps it has already begun. The 49th International Eucharistic Congress is to be set in Montreal in 2008. We shall see.

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