Reflection After the Word—January 20, 2017
by Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC
Within an hour or so of this Eucharistic celebration honoring our founder, Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, the United States of America will inaugurate a new president at high noon. One might think that a lot has happened in the 144 years since Moreau drew his last breath in Le Mans, France.
I am fond of a cartoon I saw last year. A little boy sits at a table doing his homework. His chin is resting on one hand. A textbook lays open before him. In the other hand, his pencil is poised ready to take notes or fill in the blanks. He moans aloud to anyone who has ears to hear, “How will I ever learn history when every day the world keeps makin’ more?” (Bill Keane, Family Circus)
Every day the world keeps making more history, but as the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” But what pushes history forward is that each new generation must rediscover its founding principles and draw new meaning from its founding persons, symbols, and documents. Our founding principles, symbols, and texts are scripture-based. Through the lens of the scriptures we discern in our own time and place the Good News today. Since the Second Vatican Council, we have also turned to our community history to better understand the meaning of the charism of our founder for today.
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
We claim as our founder a Frenchman who journeyed often to Rome to claim legitimacy for the three societies of Holy Cross. Like Saint Paul he poured out his heart and soul, his “tender affection” in letters to a nascent community which was already spreading beyond its initial borders. Paul called himself “a prisoner of the Lord.” This title was more than rhetorical because Paul literally was bound in chains in a Roman cell for the sake of the gospel. When “B. Moreau” signed his letters, he identified himself as Rector, Missionary Apostolic, or Apostolic Missionary for twenty years before referencing himself in his signature as superior, or superior general. Basil Moreau built up the Body of Christ as both pastor and teacher. Most of Moreau’s circular letters echoed Saint Paul’s urgent plea to strive to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.
There was much in Moreau’s France to disturb the peace and unity of the nation. Moreau was born ten years after the French Revolution. During the life-span of Basil Moreau, France endured nine changes of its civil government. The 19th century in Europe was a time of ferment and unrest. Napoleon Bonaparte in the name of the French Revolution made himself Emperor of France. Eventually he was defeated and deposed and the monarchy restored by the royal houses of Europe. Then the restored French monarchy fell in 1848. Moreau observed that “more than one throne was destroyed” yet Moreau insisted that Holy Cross was blessed despite that most difficult year. (CL 35, Jan. 5, 1849) In quick succession in 1850 the Second Republic ended and the Second Empire was established. It was a period during which coups and revolutions convulsed Europe, including the papal states. French troops were unable to protect the pope against the Italian populist rebellion. Such chaos in the Old Europe divided more than France. Sister Veronique last November, in accepting the Civil War Campaign Medal honoring our sister nurses, spoke of “the cross of war” as the context for our ministry in 1861-1865 in the New World. If one becomes a disciple of Jesus the Christ, one must respond to the fallout from the rise and fall of empires and nation states.
No wonder Moreau issued prohibitions against reading newspapers—the press was filled with calumnies, slander, and the constant churn of economic and political disruption (CL 40–Jan. 4, 1850; CL 47–Dec. 8, 1851). I think some of us remember our years of initial formation, when we hung up our long stockings to dry in “the hanging room.” While we were straightening out the stockings on the rack or hanger above, we were also looking downward, trying to read yesterday’s newspaper on the floor. Only the novice mistress or superior had access to all the news that was fit to print—and read. Were Moreau alive today he would be urging us to fast periodically from cable television and online news, no matter of what political stripe. We are living in an era when one wonders what is journalism and what is “fake news.” Novices, be wary, be very careful of social media. Do not believe every Tweet you read, except this “Good News” which is less than 140 characters: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Moreau lived in such a tumultuous time that he often mentioned in his Circular Letters the “storms” disturbing his own political and religious world. He warned against political entanglements, which is different from being an engaged citizen. He wrote, “Whatever fate Divine Providence holds in store for the nations of Europe, and especially for France, take care not to be involved, even indirectly, in political factions which try to hasten the march of events.” (CL 40—Jan. 4, 1850) One’s religious vocation, being a follower of Jesus Christ is one’s primary commitment. His loyalty to the papacy and to Pope Pius IX was due in part to looking to the church as a rock of stability, order, and clarity when the world felt like it was falling apart.
The early Christian community tried to practice Saint Paul’s virtues of humility, gentleness, and patience in hopes of surviving the Roman Empire by accommodating itself to it. Likewise, in 1851 Moreau wrestled with the obedience the state was due when a duly elected president initiated a successful coup d’ etat and declared himself king. In the end, Moreau urged obedience. His logic was that one could not set up a new social order as easily as one could set up a factory or a business. Instead, Moreau made a wager and trusted in Divine Providence, hoping that political stability would allow Holy Cross to take root and flourish. “Since men no longer act on principle, is it not better to accept the situation as it is, though we are not responsible for it, and see therein a new design of Providence?” (CL 47–Dec. 8, 1851)
There is much in our global reality that shakes us to the core. What happens here in the United States impacts the rest of the world and vice versa. There is a reason we have Offices of Justice and Peace in every diocese, let alone in our religious congregation. There is a difference, however, from being a political partisan or ideologue, and one who discerns the signs of the times within the context of the universal church. Let us remember Moreau’s love for the Church and our public role in it.
Those of you who are young in this Congregation, continue “to live in a manner of the call you have received.” Pray to mature as women conformed to the Risen Christ whose body we are together. Bear with one another through love, especially with those of us who are older. We have borne the cross of war, discord, and division.
We have seen more than one American president stand on the Capitol steps, who promised to unify this very diverse country; to proclaim “Liberty and justice for all.” The axis of the world does not turn on the Washington Mall. The world turns, yes. The world spins. Around and around it goes, anchored in the Cross—the Cross which is our only hope, our best hope. Hold on to it, cling to it—as did Basil Moreau. Together, we will keep making more history. Or as Moreau would have urged, see the hand of God in all the events of life, knowing that to those who love God all things work together for good. (CL 35—Jan. 5, 1849)