The following is the homily that was given Thursday, March 29, by Fr. Jim King, C.S.C., at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to conclude Holy Cross Week at the University of Notre Dame. Fr. King is the Superior of the Holy Cross Community at Notre Dame as well as the Director of Campus Ministry at the university.
People sometimes ask us what’s the difference between a C.S.C. or a Dominican or a monk or others priests, and why there are so many different kinds. I’ve given a lot of different answers.
When I’m talking to business students – or depending upon their background and knowledge of religious life – I’ve made analogies to companies that manufacture essentially the same products, like computer companies. Dell, Acer – they make essentially the same product but have different origins or corporate cultures. Or sometimes a visionary like Steve Jobs comes along with the ability to deliver a similar but unique product that occupies a new niche.
It’s just natural for religious communities to arise in different places at different times and have various emphases, just like any other kind of organization, even if a lot of us are involved somehow in education. I’ve talked more explicitly about some of those historical situations and how Holy Cross came into being in France in response to the need for Catholic education and evangelization in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by the French revolution, which is much different from how the Franciscans came into being in 13th century Italy. And, of course, I’ve spoken in various ways about founders and charisms, and apostolic priests and brothers versus contemplative ones.
But I’m going to give a little different answer today because even most other priests we get in discussions with about what we do think we’re crazy – when we talk about living in dorms … or not just living in them but having people as rectors doing what 24- or 25-year-old master’s students do in other places – staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning screening talent show acts, sitting in dunk tanks, blessing Bengal or Baraka Bout participants heading into boxing matches, getting so accustomed to bass thumping our ceilings that we usually cease to notice (even if we haven’t gone deaf yet), celebrating Masses at 10 p.m., talking about our most embarrassing moment in icebreakers on Freshman Retreats, leading midnight walks to the Grotto or maybe attending interhall hockey games that begin around ten. And that’s all in addition to the more normal Campus Ministry and teaching duties you’d find people like us doing elsewhere. Yeah, even most other clergy think we’re nuts for doing those things.
Now I’d like to think most of us are most reasonably smart. A few of these guys sitting behind me are downright brilliant. Some of us are pretty good preachers, and sometimes we’re better when we keep it short. Some may have perpetually sunshiny personalities and go around fist-bumping everyone they meet, and others perhaps are a little crustier. Let’s face it if we’re up at 5 a.m. on a Friday night, it’s probably not good news and most of us are likely to be a little crustier than usual. But overall, I don’t think you’ll find many of us who don’t like being around students and relish the dishing out and taking it that inevitably comes from living in close quarters among them.
And it’s not really unique to Notre Dame because you’ll find much the same interactions whether you belong to a Holy Cross parish in Phoenix or a high school in India or Uganda. It didn’t originate, with all due respect, from Fr. Hesburgh or even Fr. Sorin but from his mentor, our founder, Fr. Moreau who loved mixing it up with students, welcomed the collaboration of lay people rather than distancing himself from them, encouraged their participation in the governance of his schools, and encouraged Holy Cross religious to live among the students they educated and housed.
And that charism endures here and lots of places all over the world where Holy Cross serves to this day. If there is a spirit here that goes by the label of the Notre Dame family, it’s because of the legacy of the master, our founder, who taught us how to care about our students individually and care about every aspect of their educations, whether in the classroom or outside it. He was the genius who realized there was a niche for a religious community modeled on the Holy Family that likes being around people, especially students, even at odd hours – even if that means spending time with them in ways that don’t seem particularly productive or useful, or even explicitly “religious.”
There are lots of ways of following in footsteps of Jesus: by embracing poverty, teaching, preaching, missionary work, a life of contemplative prayer, and as married people as well. But Jesus wasn’t a thundering orator; he never studied for an advanced degree or taught in a classroom. He spent his days walking among ordinary people, meeting them in their homes and on their roadsides, eating what they ate and sleeping wherever he could find a spare room. He dealt with them as they came to him with a never-ending variety of needs and did what he could. He came to remind them that he was the living sign of the covenant God made with Abraham – that God had not abandoned or forgotten them but was with them in the person and spirit of Jesus who came and would always remain with us.
I’d like to think that Fr. Moreau personified what it meant to know the person of Jesus, the man we know from the gospels. At one point he had five jobs and still went out on parish missions. He loved people, and he was a beloved teacher, whether one-on-one or in a theology class, who liked to mix it up with people, had a lot of pastoral sense, and liked to tell stories that helped them, as he put it, to become citizens not just for society but for eternal life, by living in his Word and striving to keep our part of that covenant God first made with Abraham. While there are pluses and minuses to any form of the Christian life, and while some things some of us will inevitably do better than others, that’s the part of Jesus’ life and ministry that we in Holy Cross try to emulate – embracing strangers as if they are family and making them feel at home among us.
We always hope and pray that students and others who come to Notre Dame are changed during their time here – that they see themselves and their capabilities, futures, and faith in a different and more profound light than when they first arrived. Abraham saw himself as a farmer or sheepherder with a barren wife. God looked at him and saw a father of nations. Jesus’s opponents saw themselves quite wrongly as Abraham’s descendants and failed to see the direct descendant of God in their midst. But Jesus also met people who saw themselves as fisherman but had the capacity to become apostles; soldiers who could be faithful servants; prostitutes who would become the holiest of women; physically and spiritually blind as people whose sins could be forgiven because they and we are all children of God.
At the end of the day, I don’t know if we’re inherently all that different – our DNA is pretty much the same as anyone else’s – in religious life or outside it. But we hope that by living in the spirit of our founder and striving to be disciples of Jesus alongside all of you, we are following in the footsteps of Fr. Moreau who knew the greatest possibilities for transformation come when people live together, bound as one in faith, sharing the Eucharist together, with the support of people who are our family. We rarely if ever experience conversion in isolation according to some predetermined plan; instead, we experience it unexpectedly through mixing it up with other disciples and seeing ourselves in a new light, afresh through their eyes of faith.
We’re all privileged to be part of God’s family, the Church’s family, the Notre Dame Family. We hope the Holy Cross family does a reasonable job of making you feel this is your home and walking with you on your own journey of faith. I’d like to think we in Holy Cross have a few more pastoral hits than misses – regardless of our skills and imperfections. Today we hope you know that we love being here in that mix with all of you. We are grateful for your support and content to teach and walk and live among you as people sharing the one road to the kingdom in which the Son of God and Son of Abraham calls us to place our greatest hope.