When I travel, my mind wanders. I hadn’t seen the movie Bladerunner in years, but while waiting to depart on the redeye for a pilgrimage to Quebec, the crescendo of this movie kept replaying in my mind. Roy Batty, the artificially intelligent creature, is fighting for his life when he delivers his famous speech beginning with the words, “I have seen things you people would not believe.”
We were making a pilgrimage to various shrines in Quebec to thank God for helping us through 15 years of marriage, a marriage we had both fought hard for. We journeyed with gratitude for answered prayers, and for continued discernment on our diaconal journey. My wife and I honeymooned in Quebec in 2008, and we first visited St. Joseph’s Oratory on that trip (years before she would become Catholic and my return to the faith). The visit left a deep imprint upon us, and we were excited to return with our 12-year-old son. We arrived early on August 9th, a detail God orchestrated, to take in St. André Bessette’s birthday celebration.
Pilgrims’ prayers to St. Joseph
St. André’s devotion to St. Joseph was, quite literally, monumental. I tried to focus on St. André, but the sad climax to Bladerunner kept replaying. I supposed that silent St. Joseph, if he were to deliver any speech, would likely begin by uttering the same words:
“I have seen things you people would not believe. I’ve listened to angels tell me that Mary had conceived the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. I witnessed kings bow before my son and offer him precious gifts in a manger, and I was visited by God’s messengers telling me to flee to Egypt. I heard Simeon’s prophetic words that my foster-son was God’s light revealed to all nations, the same boy who impressed the wisest rabbis in Jerusalem. Oh yes, I have seen things you people would not believe!”
Father André could also exclaim, “I have seen things you people would not believe.” The humble doorman who funded the Oratory’s original chapel with profits from haircuts would see the lame walk and the sick healed at this remarkable shrine to the patron saint of Canada.
We arrived at St. Joseph’s on a fresh dewy morning in Montreal. After touring the Basilica and attending Mass in the Crypt Church, we prayerfully walked the larger-than-life outdoor Stations of the Cross. I’d been up for about 30 hours at this point, and I was starting to feel (and perhaps smell) like a pilgrim. I was tired, hungry, and sweaty, but walking the Stations reminded me that I could never feel as tired as Jesus did on the road to Calvary.
“The statues look like they’re weeping,” my son said. Indeed, the stone faces were marked by years of exposure to the elements and stains ran down their faces. As we climbed toward the crucifixion, my son’s observation helped me make sense of another line from this famous sci-fi dirge: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” This forlorn heartache expressed the anguished love I had for my life during my years as an atheist. I experienced awe without glory, wonder without purpose, passion without peace. The replicant Roy Batty loves his life and mourns he can’t have more of it because he inhabits an irredeemable universe that can’t love him back.
Brothers and sisters I didn’t know and would never meet reminded me how big God’s love is. St. Joseph strengthened me in my noblest vocation to care for those God entrusted to me, my wife and family. And St. André still proclaimed how to live an authentic Catholic life in a skeptical world. I sought and found things some will never believe - I would never be alone, not even in my final hour, and there would be, in the slogan of St. Joseph’s Oratory, peace beyond my days.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers