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Humble Brother Opened Heaven's Door


BROTHER ANDRÉ: Friend of the Suffering, Apostle of Saint Joseph
BLESSINGS OF THE ROSARY: Meditations on the Mysteries
DISCERNING THE WILL OF GOD: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making
THE MIRACLE OF STALAG 8A: Beauty Beyond the Horror: Olivier Messiaen and the Quartet for the End of Time
The Most Inspiring Saint

BROTHER ANDRÉ: Friend of the Suffering, Apostle of Saint Joseph, by Jean-Guy Dubuc, translated from the French by Robert Prud'homme. Foreword by Mario Lachapelle, C.S.C., foreword translated by Andre Leveille, C.S.C. Ave Maria. 234 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. He has visited Montréal's Oratory of St. Joseph, which Brother André founded.

ON OCTOBER 17, Pope Benedict XVI will canonize Brother André Bessette, C.S.C. (1845-1937). In this book, Father Jean-Guy Dubuc of the Archdiocese of Montréal explains why an estimated one million people prayed at Brother André's casket before his funeral and why more than two million people each year visit the world's largest shrine dedicated to St. Joseph.

Father Dubuc served as director of communications at the Oratory of St. Joseph from 1994 to 1999. Father Lachapelle serves as vice postulator for Brother André's cause. Alfred Bessette was so frail that he was baptized the day after his birth in the province of Québec. He was the eighth child of a carpenter and his wife, who had a deep devotion to St. Joseph. Between 1863 and 1867, Alfred worked in New Hampshire and Connecticut factories before returning to Canada. In 1870, the pastor of Saint-Césaire wrote to the superiors of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, "I am sending you a saint."

Alfred entered the community at Montréal's Notre-Dame College, took the name André and was soon the porter, a position he held for 40 years. About 150 young men boarded there.

Soon after St. Joseph was named the patron of Canada in 1870, sick people reported being cured by Brother André. At his urging, a simple St. Joseph chapel was opened on Mount Royal (opposite the college) in Montréal in 1904 and was replaced four years later. Construction began in 1916 on the crypt of the present church. Work started on the upper church eight years later, continued until 1931, was suspended for seven years and then resumed. The church's dome was completed in 1967. Brother André was beatified in 1982.

Dubuc notes that Brother André, who liked to laugh and to tell jokes, "tried to make people see with their inner eye, that is, their soul, the intervention of God in their lives....He was never long-winded, and he always used speech and gestures sparingly. Yet, everyone seemed to leave him with rekindled strength and with a new reason to hope."

In the Foreword, Father Lachapelle quotes several of Brother André's sayings: "There is so little distance between heaven and earth that God always hears us. Nothing but a thin veil separates us from God"; "It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the best paintings"; "Put yourself in God's hands; he abandons no one."

According to Father Dubuc, Brother André always "wanted to lead people to prayer, to conversion and, ultimately, to faith."

This volume includes four pages of black-and-white photos, a time line and an index.

You can order BROTHER ANDRÉ: Friend of the Suffering, Apostle of Saint Joseph from St. Francis Bookstore.


BLESSINGS OF THE ROSARY: Meditations on the Mysteries, by Dennis J. Billy, C.Ss.R. Liguori Publishing. 112 pp. $10.99.

Reviewed by DOMINIC LOCOCO, O.F.M., a longtime subscription agent for St. Anthony Messenger.

HERE IS a book that may be used for spiritual reading or in conjunction with the recitation of the Rosary. In the words of the late Pope John Paul II, we need to be reminded of why we pray (or should pray) the Rosary: "With the Rosary, the Christian people sit in the school of Mary and are led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love."

For many centuries, the Rosary has been the prayer of choice for millions of Catholics around the world. Especially today, with widespread media attention, we hear and read examples of such devotion.

A few months ago, before the beatification of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, his mother, Marianna, recited the Rosary before thousands of Poles who came to honor her son. Father Jerzy was the chaplain of Poland's Solidarity movement, which was instrumental in the resistance to Communism. He was kidnapped and murdered in 1984, shortly before the regime was defeated. He lies buried with the rosary given him by Pope John Paul II.

As Archbishop Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, said in presiding over Father Jerzy's beatification, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christendom." Here in the United States, around the same time as the event in Poland transpired, an inmate was about to be executed in an Ohio prison. His final 15 minutes on this earth were spent praying the Rosary, asking Our Lady to "Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

I have prayed the Rosary almost every day for the last 58 years in religious life and have a hobby of making rosaries. Father Billy's book was welcome material in helping me gain new insights into the biblical and spiritual riches in each of the 20 decades of the Rosary he interprets for us.

His format is easy to follow. For example, the joyful mysteries zero in on the Incarnation, from the "Annunciation" before the birth of Jesus to the fifth decade, "Finding Jesus in the Temple." After an in-depth study of each mystery, Father Billy poses reflective questions to flesh out personal responses.

Part II enlightens the luminous mysteries (no pun intended). These mysteries were given to the Church during the pontificate of John Paul II and cover much of Christ's public life. When I first began praying these mysteries, I wondered why it took so long to uncover these mysteries and incorporate them in the Rosary.

The author notes two prophetic actions in the "Mysteries of Light," another name for the luminous mysteries. One is the "Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan" that marked the transition from Jesus' hidden life at Nazareth to his public life in Galilee and Judea. The second is the "Institution of the Eucharist," which gives us a foretaste of Jesus' presence to the members of his Body. These mysteries highlight both the prophetic and the sacramental nature of Jesus' ministry, which continues in the lives of his followers.

Even if one prays the Rosary infrequently, this small book will prove invaluable as an aid to meditation on the Gospels and drawing close to Jesus.

You can order BLESSINGS OF THE ROSARY: Meditations on the Mysteries from St. Francis Bookstore.


TRAVEL AS A POLITICAL ACT, by Rick Steves. Nation Books/Perseus Book Group. 209 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, editor of this column, managing editor of this magazine and veteran traveler to more than 25 countries for business and pleasure.

RICK STEVES'S ENGAGING personality and "been there, done that" expertise on travel have made him incredibly popular. In other books, TV series and radio programs, he has tried to make travel easier for Americans, encouraged us to mingle with "the locals," pointed out bargains in hotels and restaurants, and explained in detail the great art and architecture in churches and museums.

What sets Steves apart from other travel writers is how articulate he is about his values. He preaches the value of humility and traveling simply (one carry-on bag is all you need). This new book is not a "preachy political treatise," which he admits he tried to avoid.

It is political in the broad sense: "Seeing how smart people overseas come up with fresh solutions to the same old problems makes us more humble, open to creative solutions, and ready to question traditional ways of thinking. We understand how our worldview is both shaped and limited by our family, friends, media, and cultural environment. We become more able to respectfully coexist with people with different ‘norms' and values."

Travel has undoubtedly shaped Steves's personal politics. By being open to what he has seen and the people he has met, he has allowed his travels to educate him. He sees travel as bringing people together, learning others' ways and giving them more "wiggle room."

Steves cites an Afghani professor in Kabul who pointed out, "[O]ne third of the people on this planet eat with spoons and forks like you, a third of the people eat with chopsticks and a third eat with fingers like me. And we're all just as civilized." His message got through to Steves, who confesses, "Eventually eating with my fingers became quite natural. (I had to be retrained when I got home.)"

Steves is a practicing Lutheran whose PBS show is sponsored by Bread for the World, a citizens' group organized to end world hunger. He wants Americans to broaden their cultural horizons and get out of their comfort zones. People who witness for themselves the rich/poor gap in the world change. Americans who circumvent our isolation by geography and wealth begin to understand how people from other countries see us.

Steves goes into the recent lessons that specific areas of the world have taught him: Yugoslavia's breakup that led to tragic wars, with their psychological and physical wreckage; the new European Union's struggle with ethnic diversity; El Salvador and globalization; Denmark and its continuing contentment with socialism, despite high taxes; Turkey and Morocco as two examples of secular Islamic countries; Europe's "smart" drug policies; and Iran, "the most surprising and fascinating country" he says he's ever visited.

In this book—and in a recent talk that I and 900 other people (a third of them sitting on the floor) attended at the Cincinnati Public Library—Steves emphasizes the moderate side of Islam and downplays the threat of terrorism in other countries.

It was surprising to me to learn that Steves admits that many times he's been afraid before a trip, yet he counsels people to overcome their fears, especially in the wake of 9/11. He warns that leaders manipulate fear to distract and mislead.

His final chapter on homecoming does get a bit preachy as he challenges readers: "Find creative ways to humanize our planet while comfortably nestled into your workaday home life." He challenges people to add their own ideas in a forum developed at

The many four-color pictures, sidebars and index make this book a complete package.

For those who want to know how America fits into this interconnected new world, read this book. I wish it had been published before I started traveling the world.

You can order TRAVEL AS A POLITICAL ACT from St. Francis Bookstore.


DISCERNING THE WILL OF GOD: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making, by Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V. Crossroad Publishing Co. 159 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by ELIZABETH YANK, a freelance writer and homeschooling mother from South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

SINCE I AM a busy mom with six kids still at home, as much as I would like to, I can't read all day. With Discerning the Will of God, however, I was hard-pressed not to hide away and bury myself in this engrossing read.

Thought-provoking and applicable to everyday life, the book holds the reader's attention from the opening pages because Gallagher uses real-life examples to which we can all relate.

Easy to read, simple to understand yet profound in meaning, Discerning the Will of God helps us to prepare ourselves better to answer life's big questions: Should I marry this person? Should I change my job? Am I called to the religious life? How do I know what God is calling me to do?

Gallagher walks us through a step-by-step process, equipping us with the tools we need to make an informed decision, not just an impulsive stab in the dark based on emotions.

Even if the questions we are discerning are not lifechanging, we can still apply the same principles to the question at hand. Gallagher invites the reader to consider, "Am I seeking the will of God or my will? Do I believe that God has my best interests at heart? Do I believe, truly believe, that God loves me?"

Gallagher also asks the reader to reflect, "How do I come to a decision? Do I seek God in the Eucharist, silence, adoration and Scripture? Do I seek the advice of a spiritual advisor? Does he or she confirm my decision process and final conclusion? What about my state of mind? Am I agitated or at peace? Do I write down all the pros and cons of my decisions? Does my final decision offer me peace?"

For those struggling with major life-changing decisions or even small-impact decisions, Discerning the Will of God offers the tools to reach decisions thoughtfully and prayerfully with God's peace in mind.


THE MIRACLE OF STALAG 8A: Beauty Beyond the Horror: Olivier Messiaen and the Quartet for the End of Time, by John William McMullen. Bird Brain Publishing. 240 pp. $24.95, hardcover; $18.95, paperback.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a native Cincinnatian and retired public librarian.

AT A PRE-CONCERT LECTURE, the concertmaster of our local symphony orchestra said it was not a requirement for good music that the composer be a good person. While reading this fictional biography of Olivier Messiaen, I wondered if the opposite could also be true: Could a good, indeed saintly, person compose music that is not universally liked or even known?

Ordered to report for military duty on September 3, 1939, Frenchman Messiaen arranged for his wife and young son to board a train to the Auvergne Province. Then he visited La Eglise de la Sainte-Trinite in Paris, where he was titular organist, collected his sheet music and headed for war.

France and Britain had declared war on Germany, and every man was called to duty, even so unlikely a soldier as this slight, visionimpaired organist. Messiaen's unit encamped at Metz for two months, and he was assigned hard manual labor. Finally, his commanding officer, doubting his ability to handle a gun, assigned him to teach music harmony. Only in his correspondence with his wife and in the musical scores secured in his haversack, along with the Bible and The Imitation of Christ, did he find solace.

In January 1940, Messiaen was transferred to a medic unit and sent to Verdun, where he met Corporal Etienne Pasquier, cellist of the famed Pasquier Trio. Pasquier introduced him to Henri Akoka, clarinetist with the Orchestre National de la Radio. Akoka, age 28, a Trotskyite, described Messiaen's music as "musical revolution" in agreement with the social revolution he championed.

The Germans attacked France on May 13, 1940, and the Maginot Line was quickly breached. The French army was in chaos and retreated. Troops took to the road and beheld there the mindless destruction of war. Walking on bloody feet, searching for food, smelling the acrid odor of burning bodies and buildings, Messiaen, Pasquier and Akoka surrendered on June 20. France surrendered on June 25, and German authorities occupied two thirds of the country.

The friends were marched 40 miles to a makeshift compound at Toul where, despite horrendous living conditions, Messiaen returned to composing the piece for solo clarinet he had begun at Metz. Akoka commented that time signatures were often missing, and Messiaen replied, "Music in the future will have no time." When the clarinetist practiced, fellow prisoners would deride the dissonance and the lack of melody and meter, one calling it "noise."

Three weeks later, the prisoners were transferred to Gorlitz by cattle car. A barely conscious Messiaen, weakened by malnutrition and dysentery, when placed on a Red Cross medic stretcher assured his friends he had "united his sufferings to those of Christ."

Released from the hospital, he was reunited with his friends at Stalag 8A. When a violinist, Jean le Boulaire, appeared in their barracks, Messiaen expanded his composition to include him.

A friendly German guard named Brull, a devout Catholic and music lover, befriended Messiaen, provided a quiet space for him and aided in securing a violin, cello and upright piano. The physical makeup of the trio was now complete.

Admittedly, the Germans wished to create a good image by providing cultural programs for the prison population of 30,000. Entertainment was provided every Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m., with the first hour reserved for classical music. The acts served as distraction for the hungry, starving, freezing and depressed inmates.

On January 15, 1941, Messiaen introduced Quartet for the End of Time by citing Chapter 10 of the Book of the Apocalypse as its inspiration. At its conclusion, he said to the 400 people in attendance, "Never before have I been listened to with such attention and understanding."

Was the piece understood as he wished—belief that hope transcends horror; that Christ suffers with us; that reading the Word we become it? Perhaps not by all, but certainly for a fallen-away Catholic agnostic cellist, an atheist violinist, a Jewish Trotskyite clarinetist and a mystical, devout Catholic organist, it was!

Well-researched, the understated narration and dialogue in this novel allow the characters to reveal their true selves in extraordinary circumstances. I recommend this book for history buffs, musicians, music lovers and anyone unfamiliar with world war.

You can orderTHE MIRACLE OF STALAG 8A: Beauty Beyond the Horror: Olivier Messiaen and the Quartet for the End of Time from St. Francis Bookstore.



The Most Inspiring Saint

St. Francis inspired those in his time to follow Jesus in a radical new way.

REFLECTIONS ON ST. FRANCIS, by John Michael Talbot (Liturgical Press, 135 pp., $15.95), contains the meditations of Catholic music's most popular artist on the Rule and Testament of St. Francis. Talbot's observations are as original as the community he founded in 1982—The Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage in Arkansas. He invites readers to see how prayer, community and simplicity can be incorporated into their lives.

FRANCIS: THE SAINT OF ASSISI: A Novel, by Joan Mueller (New City Press, 272 pp., $19.95), is a dramatic retelling of the story of St. Francis, lush with historical details and context. Mueller is a professor of Christian spirituality at Creighton University. This novel is faithful to the Franciscan sources. Her description of how Church and state functioned in medieval times has much to say to peacemakers of today.

SAINTS: Lives and Illuminations, written and illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 159 pp., $15.99). This book for those older than eight has exquisite original color portraits of 76 of the best-known saints. (St. Francis of Assisi graces the cover of the jacket and St. Joan of Arc the back.) If anyone is looking for a saint for a baptismal or Confirmation name, this might be a useful resource. It would certainly make a good gift book.—B.B.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookstore, 135 W. 31st Street, New York, NY 10001, phone 212-736-8500, ext. 324, fax 212-594-6025.


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