2007 Opening Mass Homily
Mass of the Holy Spirit
Opening of the School Year Celebration
August 28, 2007
In the 1980s as a graduate student in England, I had the chance to visit Sainte Croix, outside LeMans, France, where Fr. Basil Moreau lived, worked, and founded the Congregation of Holy Cross. I stayed in a place called the Solitude, the center of Holy Cross during Moreau’s life. Currently it’s occupied by sisters of a congregation that he founded. I had the chance to spend some time there and to celebrate Mass with the sisters who live there now, using Fr. Moreau’s chalice in his chapel.
One of the things that struck me was the very simplicity and unpretentiousness of the place. It is a functional two-story building. The grounds are lovely but not expansive or exquisite. It’s in a suburb of LeMans, an important French city but not an intellectual and cultural hub like Paris. And I found myself thinking that the environment in many ways reflected Moreau’s life. He was not born to nobility; he was a son of a wine merchant. He never put on airs. Everyone he met recognized him as a formidable person but he did not have great political influence in France or ecclesiastical influence in Rome. He was well-educated and wrote well but he didn’t write a spiritual or theological classic. And as I spent time there, as I reflected and prayed about that place, I wondered how such a place, how such a background, could produce a person who would send people literally around the globe on a mission and would have such extensive influence? How could such a person found a community that established educational institutions in Indiana and India, in Jinja, Uganda and Santiago, Chile? How could such a person found several communities of men and women, and how could it be that such a person is remembered and celebrated 134 years after his death?
I believe the answers to these questions are found in the heart and the spirit of Moreau. The spectacular thing about Basil Moreau, and that which we celebrate today, was not the grandeur of his environs or his pedigree but the grandeur of his heart. The convictions of Moreau’s heart drew many to his leadership, and the generosity of that heart sent them out to all corners of the world to serve human beings of many different cultures, thereby to serve God. Moreau’s life was like the grain of wheat in today’s Gospel story; in itself a small, simple, seemingly undistinguished seed, but when cast on the ground producing 30 and 60 and 100-fold.
On September 15, on the patronal feast day of Holy Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows, Father Basil Moreau will be solemnly declared “Blessed” by the Catholic Church. Beatification is the penultimate step before a person is declared a saint. It permits us to venerate him as dwelling with God in heaven, to look to his life as a model of holiness and Christian living, and to ask for his intercession before God in our prayers. The declaration of beatification acknowledges the power of the Spirit working in that life. Such a declaration is preceded by a long, thorough scrutiny of the person’s life, and normally it is expected that a miracle occur through the person’s intercession. In fact, in the 1940s in Quebec, Canada, a woman was cured of a very serious disease in a way that medical science could not explain after praying through Fr. Moreau’s intercession. Yet perhaps another great miracle of Moreau’s life was the founding of several religious congregations and the works that came into existence through his efforts and those of his congregations, which continue to thrive. The University of Notre Dame is one of those works; Saint Mary’s College is another. This University—our University—is, I believe, one of Fr. Moreau’s miracles.
How is he present here at Notre Dame? He only made one visit, 150 years ago this week. But I think he’s present in an even deeper way in the spirit of this place, through its sense of community, through the educational ideals it espouses and through a commitment to service in imitation of Christ.
When Jesus began his active ministry he first gathered around himself a group that would become his apostles: those he would send out. When he sent them out he said, “Go two by two, never alone.” He said that where two or three of you are gathered, there I am. And at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent and the Church was created, it wasn’t sent to people individually but to the community gathered together. The work of Christ, the work of the Church, is done in community. Moreau had a profound realization of this and made community central to all his works. From the earliest days of his ministry he spent his time and energy gathering people together to do God’s work. He wanted groups he founded to be ready to be sent around the world to minister to various cultures, to take up many different tasks, but always to do so in community, grounded in common prayer, common meals, and a common life.
He had the radical idea of bringing men and women together in a single community—lay brothers, priests and religious sisters. He was ahead of his time and it wasn’t approved by Rome, so he founded separate congregations for men and women. But his spirit of community pervades this university and is integral to its identity. In the residence halls, among alumni and friends of Notre Dame, this sense of community remains, I believe, due to Moreau’s vision and inspiration. We find God, we serve Him and achieve our salvation, not individually but in community. This was Moreau’s genius. Its effects are present among us now.
Another conviction of Moreau’s is that education of the mind at the institutions his community founded must be of the highest quality. He sent his religious out to get the very best degrees they could so that they could educate their students in the finest way possible. These institutions must be dedicated to the highest level of education of the intellect, but at the same time they must devote themselves to the education of the whole person—to mind, to spirit, to both moral and physical well-being. Educate the mind, he told his religious, but never at the expense of the heart. This ideal has guided Notre Dame for 164 years. We strive to offer the best education we can and at the same time to educate every student morally and spiritually as well.
A third feature of Moreau’s life was his extraordinary zeal for service. Nearly all who met him comment on this. He was tireless and uncompromising in his desire to serve. In addition to the enormous work it took to found these communities, he served in parishes, he preached retreats, he taught in the seminary. I think his commitment to service stands also at the heart of Notre Dame, through the service of you students; through the continuing dedication to service of our faculty and staff, alumni and friends of this university. The motto he chose for his congregations embodies Moreau’s commitment to service: “The cross, our only hope.” The cross represents the challenges, the hardships, the frustrations and even darkness we welcome to our lives when we commit ourselves to service through love. Moreau was always willing to take on hardships and frustrations in his quest to serve others. And near the end of his life he had to embrace that cross in a dramatic way when the congregation he founded encountered great financial difficulties and found itself nearly bankrupt. Moreau was blamed for this, somewhat unfairly, and was removed from the leadership of the congregation. But remarkably he accepted this with humility and generosity and left willingly, caring only that the congregations he founded would flourish.
He showed that the cross is not an end in itself but leads to hope and to deeper love. Beneath the Golden Dome on the first floor of the Main Building, the heraldry of the Congregation is inlaid in mosaic on the floor, along with the Latin motto that Moreau established for Holy Cross, Ave Crux Spes Unica. “The Cross, Our Only Hope.” It is as if the architectural message of the gilded glory of Mary on the Dome has its source and foundation in the commitment to self-sacrifice and service expressed by that motto, as if what Notre Dame stands for and all it accomplishes finds its source and foundation in the generous heart of this man who calls us also to service. He is the seed cast to the ground that produces great fruit. To the world—to paraphrase Paul from the second reading today—to the world his life is perhaps a stumbling block and foolishness, but to us it is the power and wisdom of God.
We rejoice and give thanks for the witness of Moreau’s life, and let us together dedicate this academic year to Fr. Moreau. With his beatification a great asset has been gained for the University. We can now pray and ask for Fr. Moreau’s intercession for each of us individually and for the life of this university as a whole. Beginning today at this Mass, which opens the new academic year, let us pray in a special way through the intercession of Fr. Moreau for a successful year. May each and every one of us at Notre Dame imitate his spirit of holiness, his generosity, and his devotion to service.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President, University of Notre Dame