Saturday, September 15, 2007

Blessed Basil

On the hallowed grounds of the University of Notre Dame, this is a special day... and not because of the Michigan game.

Today, the family of the Holy Cross communities -- priests, brothers and sisters around the world -- celebrates the beatification of its founder, Fr Basil Anthony Moreau. The ceremony formally granting Moreau the penultimate honor before sainthood took place earlier today in the new blessed's hometown of Le Mans, France. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins CMF, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided at the beatification liturgy.

The cause of Moreau (1799-1873) wasn't formally opened until the mid-1950s, and his heroic virtue was only ascertained in 2003. His miracle -- cited as the "1948 cure of a Canadian woman suffering from pleuritis of the left lung" -- got the Roman sign-off last year.

Between South Bend's famous outpost of the Congregation of Holy Cross -- begun by a group of its priests sent by the founder to the Indiana prairie in 1842 -- and everywhere else, the web resources abound with biographies, prayer cards and everything else. But a particularly keen biographical sketch of Moreau, and what his life can teach the rest of us, was given last year by the commencement speaker at another of the community's institutions here in the States, Massachusetts' Stonehill College.

The following's a long snip... but as valuable as it is lengthy.
There’s a great cartoon in Hagar the Horrible. I don’t know if Hagar the Horrible is in any of the papers around here, but Hagar the Horrible has all kinds of wonderful theological and philosophical reflections in the four frames of his cartoon. One day, he’s going up this huge hill. It must have been a Sunday because there were more than four frames. He’s climbing up this hill, climbing up this hill, climbing up and, finally, he gets to the top of this mountain on which is sitting the guru. And, he says “Oh, great guru, please tell me the secret of happiness.”

On the next frame, you see him going down with a real quizzical look on his face. He’s going down, going down, going down. In the last frame, he looks right at us and he says, “It’s really got to be more than just buy low and sell high.” And, it is, and it is.

The secret of happiness is to love each other and to love God, that’s it. No, I’m not going to sit down right now. But, that’s the secret of happiness. I want to talk to you about it because I want to give you an example -- an example of an extraordinary man, of whom you may know something about, perhaps more than I do, who found the secret of happiness all the days of his life and in such an unusual way because he was the founder of a number of religious congregations. He was a great builder, he was a great visionary, and he died as an outcast. He died divorced from his Congregation and died in terrible poverty and in disgrace.

Yet, the Church is saying to us today that this was an extraordinarily happy man, not only a happy man, but a holy man. And Father Basil Moreau is going to be beatified within the next few months. That’s certainly a sign that the Church feels that he discovered that secret of happiness. I think it is in three things and, briefly, I’ll talk to you about them.

He was born in 1799 and died in 1873, so that’s a long life. I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow description of what he did every day. But there were three things that were part of his life. I think that in a certain sense there are three things that are part of the life of everybody who is looking for happiness. One was family, the other was education, and the last was spirituality.

Let me share some vignettes about family because he came from a large family -- a family of very poor farmers in Le Mans and they lived in the north of France up near the Belgian border. They were so poor that, when he went to the seminary, his father walked with him the 60 miles to the seminary. I don’t know if they needed one day or not, but he walked him the 60 miles, kissed him goodbye and then walked back.

They had nothing except themselves. He was a man who loved poverty because he was brought up in it, really knew nothing else. Because of that, he was very strict about what he would spend, never spending anything on himself. Some of the others in the Congregation began to say, “You know, we can do something else.” But, he said, “No, we have to make sure that we’re really doing what God wants us to do.”

He was like a father with his children and that’s how he was with the congregations that he started. He was not like a general with his troops as some others founders of congregations might have been. He wanted the priests, the brothers and the sisters all to be in the one congregation, each one helping the other.

Rome felt that in those days, okay you could have the fathers and brothers together, but the sisters had to be separate. But Moreau always wanted the vision of a family -- it was what gave him his strength and what gave him the vision of this Congregation of Holy Cross, which has grown and done such great things -- and which still does them today -- and still will do them tomorrow. And which I hope will help with vocations even from some of you here today who are graduating from a Holy Cross school.

When Moreau needed funds, he didn’t go to the wealthy; he went to the poor, partly because the rich had been wiped out because of the French Revolution. People said, “No, you’ll never get help from the poor people.” He did, however, because he was one of them and because he knew that the poor are always the most generous of all. He knew the value of money and he always kept it in a very careful control.

The religious communities in his time were not able to have money because they were not recognized by the government. So, the money had to be in his name and he very carefully, tremendously carefully, made sure that every sou, every franc he spent was taken care of. Toward the end, this got him in trouble because they said, “No, you haven’t done all of this,” and they began to insinuate that he wasn’t a good manager. But a poor man is a good manager because he doesn’t have money leftover to spend. Family was always the secret of the life of Basil Moreau -- the secret of his foundation, the secret of his communities and the secret of his happiness.

And now, education. He had the best education you could get in those Napoleonic days of France in the early19th century. It was a difficult time as people were pulled out for wars and teachers would be stripped of their authority, and you would find a school without any teachers and you would have to look for another one. But he knew that his father had walked up those 60 miles and he knew that he had to get a good education, as you have done, because you’ve known the sacrifices that your parents have made so that you could get a good education. He wanted to make sure that he learned.

Moreau knew how hard it was for him to let him go and not work on the farm. He knew how hard it was for his father to let him go out. He wanted to make sure he learned everything he could and he was bright and he did well in school. He became a priest and was sent to the Sulpicians and there he developed a deep spirituality, founded and centered on Jesus, which I guess every spiritual life has to be.

He knew the value of education and was able to look at the secular education of his time. There were many who said, “The Church should have nothing to do with these secular values." But he knew that as long as you kept the religious values, you could learn something from the state education system. You had to compete with it, and you had to be as good as it could be.

That’s been one of the marks of the Congregation of Holy Cross. They’ve always wanted to say, “We’re going to be as good as anybody and better, because we are going to work harder than they are.” And so he built an education that was strong and that was central. He avoided the extremes of the right and the left and founded his Congregation in the center. He was not a rigorist, as so many were in his time.

When it came to make a choice of “Do you become French or do you stay Catholic?” He said, “I’m going to stay Catholic.” He stayed closer to the Pope’s position than to the position of many of the Gallicanists of his time. He was modern in the sense of what he sought to teach and traditional in how he sought to teach it. He was trained to be someone who would take charge. He learned that when he was a kid living with his own family. He knew how to deal with people.

They asked him to take charge of a community of sisters and, within three days, he had the house, he had decided how to remodel it into a convent, and he also had found enough money to pay the rent for a whole year. He was stubborn and he could be angry. None of his sons will ever tell you that. No priest of this Congregation has ever been like that, but he could be like that, once in a while.

As a matter of fact, I shouldn’t tell this in the presence of Bishop Coleman, but he had a terrible time with his bishop, they didn’t agree on anything. And finally, he went to the Pope and complained about the bishop. The Pope said to him (a great line), “Don’t worry Father, Bishops don’t live forever.” I hope this doesn’t appear in the final text of what I’m saying.

Spirituality. He practiced poverty to a heroic degree. He never looked to do anything for himself. It was his view that everybody should have better than he had and that everybody should have the best. He learned a deep sensitivity in dealing with others. He was a man who understood people. When he was a young priest, he was supposed to go study theology and he said, “I don’t know theology, I can’t do this, I am not equipped to do this.” And, his spiritual director wrote, “Rejoice above all that you see nothing in yourself to depend on in this new post. That’s a very good beginning, to put nothing of yourself into it and to await the Lord who will not fail you.”

That’s what he did. He sent his missionaries to Algeria, sent them all over France, sent them to the United States. Built Notre Dame, built Canada, built New Orleans; began communities all over and with nothing -- loaning money, borrowing money, making sure that he’d be able to pay always -- but doing everything he had to do to make sure that people were doing the best they could.

Moreau was a child of obedience; he thought everybody was that good. They weren’t -- there were some among his sons and brothers who fought against him, who didn’t see his vision, who felt that he was too careful about money. They would spend and because he wouldn’t let them do this, they rebelled against him.

Ultimately, they put him out of the Congregation. Ultimately, they got the Pope to say that he couldn’t run it anymore. The Pope agreed with them. He was voted out and he spent the last few years of his life in exile from the Congregation, in a small house where a couple of his sisters took care of him. The Marianite sisters would come and bring him three meals a day. He never slept in a bed, he slept in a chair until he got very sick, and then they made him sleep in a bed.

Moreau died without a sou, without anything, an extraordinary man, and the Church has finally seen in him a deep holiness, and a deep goodness, and a great vision.

Sometime after his death -- about a 100 years after -- the General of the Congregation moved his bones to another Church and said, “I want to declare before these sacred remains that we, his children, priests, brothers, sisters recognize him as our worthy founder who has been humiliated and cruelly tried by unjustified treatment, but has given fruitfulness to the Congregation of Holy Cross, even through his tears and sacrifice. We ask his pardon for all the injustice, abandonment, and trespass which he had to suffer at our hands.”

Some years ago, the Congregation recognized this extraordinary man and beautifully and lovingly began to ask the Holy Father to recognize him as a saint. Just a little while ago, a miracle for his beatification was established and he will be beatified in a short time.

What’s the secret of happiness? It’s a secret that sometimes is obscured by the things of this world. It doesn’t come in riches; it doesn’t come in power; it doesn’t come in comfort; it doesn’t come in security. It only comes in reaching out to your neighbor, in loving God, and in loving the little guy. It comes in being willing to do what you have been trained to do here at Stonehill: think not just of yourself, but of other people.

That’s the secret of happiness; you don’t have to go up the hill to the guru to find it. You find it in the pages of the Gospels. You find it in the classes you’ve had over the last four years and you find it in the love that your parents have given to you and you find it in yourself. You just have to look for it -- because I know it’s there.
For the curious, the speaker was the archbishop-emeritus of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.