Women of Holy Cross 175th anniversary prompts reflection, directs vision

by Sister Joy O’Grady, CSC

Sister Joy O'Grady, CSC, Women of Holy Cross 175th anniversary prompts reflection, directs vision
Sister Joy O’Grady, CSC

This Reflection after the Word was shared at Mass on September 11, 2018, at a 175th anniversary celebration hosted by Saint Joseph Health System, Mishawaka, Indiana.

“A charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit to an individual or collective group for the common good of building up the church.” *

Every founder and religious congregation receives a charism that inspires and directs the formation and mission of the congregation.

Today at this liturgy, we are gathering to celebrate the beginnings of the women of Holy Cross, who arrived in Indiana in 1843. The beginnings were shaped by the signs of the time and the charism given to our founder, Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau: “To renew the Christian faith, to regenerate society, to ‘bring about better times’ by a constant response to the most pressing needs of the Church and society.” *

So why do we celebrate a historic occasion such as this, 175 years old?

What is the “it” that we celebrate with this event?

What relevance does it bear for our NOW?

We’ve heard it said that “we recall the past as a means for remembering the future.” Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy said, “We celebrate the past to awaken the future.”

As a young ordained priest living in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Moreau’s charism led him in the following ways:

In times of civil chaos and violence, Moreau put forth a vision of educating the whole person.

In times calling for unfettered strength, aggressive action, competition for resources, Moreau put forth a vision of identifying with the crucified Christ and finding true hope only in the cross.

In times of instability and uncertainty, Moreau put forth a vision of going to foreign lands without a “strategic” plan, without a secured destination, without a foreign language.

In times of great civil and ecclesial upheaval and discord, Moreau put forth a vision of founding one religious society of priests, brothers and sisters united after the model of the Holy Family.

So, the “it” we celebrate today is the prophetic vision of our founder, his countercultural witness and his persevering attention to what the Spirit of God was doing in the heart of the world of his time.

If Moreau was here with us today—with the lived experience of the breakdown of our societies’ moral values, the growing loss of respect for one another within our human family and for mother earth, the devastating sadness and rage over the cover-up and complicity of our religious hierarchy in allowing child sexual abuse to occur, and a growing violence toward those who are poor and displaced around the world—what might he say to his congregation? What is the relevance of his charism for the church and Holy Cross today?

I believe that we can look for part of the answer to this in the readings today from Acts 2:42-47 and John 15:1-8, and in remembering the values which emanated from the charism given to Moreau 175 years ago: Trust in Divine Providence; union of hearts; compassion for the lives and suffering of all of creation; courage to risk all for the sake of the kingdom of God; and the nourishment of a zeal that sets our hearts on fire for the mission.

The context of our current reality is, in many ways, similar to the context of Moreau’s world and the charism is still contemporary and urgent.

In our looking back today, we are also being commissioned to act. Our founder did not talk about these values, but with a confident reliance on the providence of God, and a courage anchored by faith, he acted in paradoxical ways to confront the evils of the period.

If Moreau was here today, these are some things I think he would say to us:

Holy Cross is God’s work, not ours. Trust in God’ providence. Really trust; Live your lives, act courageously, in ways that speak of hope.

Listen for what God is saying to us in the cry of those who are poor and oppressed. Listen for the paradigms emerging for our time and respond with whatever resources you have.

Engage your minds and your hearts with the pain and contradictions of our civic and ecclesial institutions, relationships, and care of Mother Earth.

Remember, today’s answers are not found in yesterday’s solutions.

While the growth of our congregation has moved from North America to Asia, Africa and Mexico, our sisters continue to travel across the seas (now by plane rather than ship), to respond to the apostolic needs of our times. Schools are being founded and expanded, sisters are being prepared to bring health care to those who are poor and underserved. Attention to current issues of justice, particularly for women and children, is a priority. Efforts toward collaborative ministries with our Holy Cross brothers and priests around the world are significant and growing.

If we could speak back to Moreau today, I think we might say what we said at our General Chapter of 2009: “We Sisters of the Holy Cross, acutely conscious of the urgent needs of the world and empowered by the Spirit, pledge to continue to respond to these challenges and commit ourselves to the transformation of right relationships wherever we are.” (2009 General Chapter)

In our remembering, we are reminded that God’s mission is not about numbers. It is not about a perfectly laid out strategic plan. It is not about finally finding the perfect moment. It is about seeing with the eyes of the heart and acting for justice with the confidence expressed in John 15:7-8: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. By this is God glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

* From “Charism of Holy Cross: Spirituality, Mission, and Community Life,” The 2006 statement of the Congregation’s International Commission on Consecrated Life