Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, September 07, 2007

“Jesus said, ‘I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.’” (Luke 15:7)

“SOUL-SURFING” – September 16, 2007
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Luke 15:1-32)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

This weekend, many members of my religious community, the Congregation of Holy Cross, are gathered in Le Mans, France, to celebrate the beatification of our founder, Father Basil Moreau. A prophetic figure in his own day, and perhaps even more so today as he speaks to our contemporary church, let me first tell you something of the life and legacy of this holy man.

“Born on February 11, 1799 near Le Mans, France, Father Moreau experienced the devastating consequences of the French Revolution. Ordained a priest at age 22, he taught and served as the assistant superior of the major seminary in Le Man where he laid the foundation for the society of Auxiliary Priests. He longed to be engaged in the ministry of preaching, Christian education, and the foreign missions.

“In 1835, at the bishop’s request, he took direction of the Brothers of St. Joseph, founded in 1820 by Father James Dujarie. On March 1, 1837, the Auxiliary Priests and the Brothers of St. Joseph were united into the Association of Holy Cross. On May 13, 1857, this Association became the Congregation of Holy Cross.

“In 1841, to respond more effectively to the mission, Father Moreau founded a group of women religious. Today, the women of Holy Cross form three distinct congregations: Marianites of Holy Cross, Sisters of the Holy Cross, and Sisters of Holy Cross.

“In response to the appeals from bishops, Father Moreau sent his religious in teams of brothers, priests and sisters to minister in Algeria and the United States (1841), Canada (1847), Italy (1850) and India (1853).

“Father Moreau resigned as superior general in 1866, but continued an active preaching and retreat ministry until his death on January 20, 1873. The cause of his beatification was introduced in Rome in 1955.

“Today, men and women religious of Holy Cross minister in Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia. They are involved in a variety of ministries fulfilling their commitment to continue the mission of Jesus in the spirit of Father Moreau.” (From a Holy Cross vocation brochure, author unknown)

Admittedly, this brief biographical sketch of our founder sounds similar to that of so many other religious founders, courageous women and men who drew others to share in a vision and a life’s work. Basil Moreau’s uniqueness lies in his counter-cultural vision of what ministry ought to be like. As founder of a new religious community composed of sisters, brothers and priests, he believed that women and men, lay and ordained, ought to live and work together as equals, preaching the gospel by both word and deed. In his own day when the hierarchical structure placed ordained men upon pedestals to the diminishment of all others in the church, our founder spoke out strongly of a new vision, one that challenged many centuries of ecclesiology. Holy Cross Brother Paul Bednarczyk, director of the National Religious Vocation Conference headquartered in Chicago, spoke of this at a recent retreat weekend for members of our religious community:

“Father Moreau’s vision of men and women, ordained and non-ordained, sharing equality in the same religious congregation is a radical idea not only in today's Church, but even more so in 19th century France. That vision is what makes the Congregation of Holy Cross so unique in the Church. Over the years we have made movements to broaden this vision to be inclusive of our lay colleagues in the family of Holy Cross. We no longer call them employees, but rather we refer to them as ‘co-ministers’ or ‘collaborators’ with us in ministry, for after all, they too share the responsibility in carrying out the mission of Holy Cross. Without a doubt, that ‘family spirit’ of Holy Cross has been one of the hallmarks in our institutions.

“When you consider the disconnectedness of many families and the fragmentation existing in our western society, we in Holy Cross have much to offer through our witness of community and union. This has been proven over and over again, as people continually find a home in our ministries. They feel safe, secure and cared for.”

In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus once again challenges the religious leaders of his day, this time in response to their berating Him for sharing a meal with known sinners. Standing in the center of the circle of his accusers, “Jesus said, ‘I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.’” (Luke 15:7) Indeed, so much of the ministry of Jesus includes a challenge to the religious thinking prevalent in his day: corrections offered, errors refuted, crooked paths made straight. And His work is not yet complete; we still await the fulfillment of the kingdom that is to come.

And in that long waiting Basil Moreau hears Jesus asking him to continue the divine mission. Thus was born the Congregation of Holy Cross, from its foundation a challenge to the church to recognize the value of women and men, lay and ordained, living and working together as equal partners in service of the gospel. This was Basil Moreau’s vision; this is our legacy as members of the community he founded. And this weekend, in beatifying this man and his vision, Rome joyfully announces that, indeed, the kingdom that is to come is not as distant as once it was.

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