Today's blog entry is comprised of the homily given by Fr. Richard Wilkinson, C.S.C. on January 20, 2016 the Feast of Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. The homily was delivered to the Congregation and others gathered at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the Univeristy of Notre Dame.
Michael Downey, in his book, “The Heart of Hope,” tells of growing up in Philadelphia. His family was to take their first vacation at the Jersey Shore. He describes loading up his father’s first car for the longest trip they had ever taken as a family – sixty miles which would mean crossing Delaware River over the Walt Whitman Bridge. He writes, “I remember my first bridge crossing, what seemed to me the journey of a life time. I was petrified as we neared it: the bridge. We had to cross the bridge.”
He continues, “I had heard stories of people falling or jumping, crashing into the water that seemed to be as distant from us as heaven to earth (or hell!). I can still name the fear: we would have an accident on that bridge and plunge to our deaths. Or, glued to other cars in traffic as the huge span opened to let the boats beneath pass through, ours would be the single car that would tip over the edge, nose diving into the muddy Delaware: a deep, dark, cold, and filthy underworld.”
“I closed my eyes… as we approached the toll booth on the Philadelphia side. I could hear my father’s description of how Irish immigrants built the bridge. He spoke of its height and weight, the length of its span.”
Then, “My mother’s voice quivered with fright: ‘Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road and close your mouth’.”
Downey writes how, “Getting over that bridge was an excruciating journey. But there was no other way.”
Downey’s crossing that bridge speaks to all of us of in our own journey of faith. It can sometimes feel like an excruciating journey, we may even close our eyes, but we know there is no other way. Learning to love the cross as a sign of hope was the core of Blessed Basil Moreau’s spirituality and theology. It was though his prayer and life experience he came to the obvious insight that “there was no other way” to be a disciple of Christ except through the cross. Life teaches us that we cannot outrun the cross. Moreau writes, “For those who live by faith, the cross is a treasure more valuable than gold or precious stones. Let us not allow ourselves, then, to be discouraged by trials, no matter how numerous or bitter they may be. Afflictions, reverses, loss of friends, privations of every kind, sickness, even death itself, the evil of each day and the sufferings of each hour - all these are but so many relics of the sacred wood of the true cross that we must love and venerate.”
Our first reading from the Book of Samuel follows our readings as we start ordinary time. The Philistines have defeated the Israelites more than once. Now the powerful Goliath strikes fear and trembling into the Israelite army. Enter David whose fearlessness comes not from his power or strength, but from his faith, as he puts it, “it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves.”
Moreau was obviously a man of fearless faith, vision and tenacity. Like David, he confronted the ills of his world: the lack of education and formation, the fear and violence of post-revolutionary France, the neglect of life and the hostility to faith. Like David, Moreau was a risk taker and put the common good ahead of his own personal comfort and security, even before his own legacy. Moreau was a man of great vision and deep faith. He also was long suffering with doubt, failure and isolation; he had long moments when he wondered how long the fall into the darkness might be, not only for himself but for his beloved Congregation. He persevered, hanging on to his faith, with spurts of doubt and hope, which were at times indistinguishable … because he believed in the promised mystery of the resurrection on the other side.
Like Christ, Moreau teaches us that faith doesn’t shield us from suffering; it teaches us how to live with it so we don’t become sad and embittered. Faith does allow the cynic. Hope-seeking faith, believing that God is with us, even in the midst of pain, restless doubt and personal failure is not pious piffle. It may seem to be a flimsy sling shot but faith can fell our deepest fears and the foes within us and around us.
We exalt the cross, not suffering. Jesus knew through his humanity that we all live life journeys that can be difficult and even excruciating. There is no other way. Jesus came so that we might believe with a little less doubt that his cross redeems every cross that we might bear. Christ’s redemptive love on the cross is our only hope; it is the “always” of God’s mercy. We cannot outrun the cross. However we can choose how we will live with the cross: as a fear-filled cynic or a joy-filled disciple. The cross can imprison us or it can reveal the presence of the living God abiding with us and around us. Let us pray that Blessed Basil Moreau guide us and protect us on our way.
Fr. Richard Wilkinson, C.S.C., currently serves as the Assistant Provincial Vicar for the Congregation of Holy Cross, United States Province of Priests and Brothers. Prior to his ordination, Fr. Wilkinson completed a pastoral year with Mother Teresa’s Missionary Sisters of Charity Hospital for Dying and Destitute in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Since his ordination he has served in numerous roles nationwide and abroad. He is originally from Laconia, N.H.