Here is a reflection from Dr. John Cavadini, our Theology Department chairman, in his journal about the recent beatification of Basil Moreau, CSC. It is dated September 16th:
We arrived at the parish church of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix, Our Lady of Holy Cross, at about 3:30 pm, a half hour before a service of evening prayer in thanksgiving for the life and legacy of Father Moreau. The church was already packed with people, praying and singing. Everything was jubilant, with daylight streaming in through the windows, sprays of dahlias and zinnias from local gardens, and the candles and votive lights in the sanctuary and at the tomb of Fr. Moreau. The service was conducted in French and English, alternating, for the benefit of the participants who had come from the United States and Canada, Africa, Asia, Latin America, as well as from the parish itself and from around France.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs; and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
The service opened with this reading from the Gospel of Matthew. The commentary in the service book mentioned “the tiny seed, planted in Le Mans,” that had “grown and become a tree which is an image of a family.” And yet my mind had been going back and forth between the vibrant, crowded ceremony and the seeming indifference, as far as I could tell, of the rest of the city of Le Mans, which seemed to go about its business with scant notice or even curiosity regarding Fr. Basil Anthony Moreau. Perhaps tomorrow, at the beatification ceremony in the stadium outside of town, it will seem different. But in the city there were no celebratory signs or flags, and the crowd in the church, though it filled its relatively small nave, did not flow out onto the plaza.
I found myself looking for the large “tree,” but the more I looked, the more the parable from Matthew seemed to present the “tiny seed,” “the smallest of all seeds,” instead. That, I took as an image of holiness, of the sanctity we celebrate in a beatification ceremony. For someone like myself, always seeking the verification, the external and glorious, self-evident fruit that will obviate the awkward need for faith, the parable served as a reminder that the essence of holiness is always hidden, always invisible, and always presented to faith and never, fully, to exterior inspection.
To read the story of Basil Anthony Moreau is to read the story of a “tiny seed,” a movement of the will, of love, sown deeply in a field of suffering that never seemed to abate, the kind of suffering that comes when vision collides with institution, when love seems ambiguously incarnated in a nexus of ambition, of competition for notice and privilege, of a desire for an instant and obvious big tree that can be claimed as one's own.
The “tiny seed” of holiness must have seemed completely invisible in the field of abandonment and disillusion in which it ultimately found itself hidden, at the end of Moreau's life. That it did not become gnarled into a twisted shrub of bitterness is the miracle of holiness, which is hidden, and yet which sends forth a “tree,” capacious and welcoming, which those looking for a home, for a “nest,” can find. This large tree is the tree of the Cross, of love and compassion undefeated by rejection, misunderstanding, or anything else–Love itself, in which alone are there branches suitable for a true home worthy of living creatures.
This tree of compassion, the Cross, is, as the motto of Holy Cross reminded us in the service, our “true hope.” If we are placing our hope in the verification of the large edifice of acclaim and prestige, the seed of holiness will always seem invisible to our vision. If we are true to the vision of the founder of Holy Cross, our hope is in the coherence of vision and grows into a gracious and welcoming tree of compassion and love to which all the birds of the air, in a world full of suffering, will gladly flock.
“Moved by his life given over to Christ, let us give thanks to the Lord for such marvelous deeds” (from the hymn, “Hommage a notre Fondateur,” sung during the service.)
Prof. John Cavadini
University of Notre Dame