Overestimating the importance at this time of the canonization of Alfred Bessette, Montreal's Brother André, would be nearly impossible. At a time when the Church is portrayed primarily as an institution, often an unsavoury institution, Brother André shows that the Church is, above all, holiness. The Church is a healing touch; it is the mercy of God in our midst.
Recognition of the saintliness of one man who died more than 70 years ago will not wipe away the stain caused over the last 20 years by the revelations of clerical sexual abuse and the ensuing cover-ups. The damage done to the victims will not be undone within their mortal lives. The damage these scandals have done to the Church will not be undone, period.
The forgetfulness that often accompanies the passage of time will not heal the wounds. Nor will good public relations programs paper over the scandals. Only the clear and gentle witness of the holiness of its members will overcome the harm done to the Body of Christ.
As long as the world looks at the Church and sees "institution," no change in public attitudes can be expected. It is only when the public face of the Church is holiness and mercy that it will again be attractive to vast numbers. Before that happens, the Church will likely decline in numbers and the ridicule of its members will continue.
The Church that will emerge will not be the Church of the pure and sinless. The darnel will always be mixed with the wheat; Christ will always be at table with sinners.
Here we have the witness of Brother André. He was a man of deep prayer, a man of miracles. Yet his holiness moved him interiorly to put himself amidst those of other creeds and faiths, to accept others unconditionally and to speak of God's great love for each person.
What people fear from the Church is judgment. Our doctrines are not what drive people away; it is the fear of having their own sin exposed before others and being judged harshly.
Some Christians have looked at even the holiest of men and women and seen nothing but "diabolical blackness." But the saints look at the greatest of sinners and see the flickering light of Christ awaiting the gentle breath of God's mercy.
Brother André was like that. One million people came to his funeral not so much because he was a wonder worker. Andre presented the holy face of the Church, the arms that embrace everyone, the hands that heal and the lips that speak of God's mercy.
When the world again recognizes the Church, not as an institution, but as the communion of sinners who are both healed by God's love and agents of God's love, then the dark night will be over. The dawn will be with us and the sun will arise.