Your Eminences, My dear brother bishops, Dear brothers in Sacred Orders, Dear sisters and brothers in Consecrated life especially you, the joyful daughters and sons of Blessed Basil, Honorable representatives of civil society, My dear friends in Christ It is a privilege that I do not deserve, to stand before you this evening to preside at this Mass of Thanksgiving and to preach on a theme of gratitude to God for the wonderful gift of the beatification of Blessed Basil Moreau. I believe I am so honored because years ago I discovered the life and passion of this remarkable man and began to speak to my dear brothers and sisters in the Congregations he founded about this great hidden treasure that the Church had almost forgotten and the graces that would surely come from the re-discovering of his merits, his accomplishments and his sufferings.
In the course of these years I have come closer to the religious families that, under God, owe their lives to him and so, for me as well, these days are days of great joy and great satisfaction.
We celebrate this afternoon the life and accomplishments of an extraordinary man. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that we celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of a man who seemed so ordinary. Basil Moreau was not born to riches or to a noble house. His studies did not mark him as a major theologian or a philosopher whose reflections had an effect on the course of thinking in his own time or thereafter. Most of his life was spent here, in the Le Mans of the turn of the 19th century, a provincial capital and the seat of a diocese since the 5th century. It was a town known for its history and its beauty, but surely not the seat of empire or of startling military importance.
Neither martyr nor doctor of the Church, he was a priest of this local diocese, a friend of the poor and a champion of the religious Sisters. His gifts were perseverance in what he believed was right, absolute fidelity to God’s Will as he understood it, outstanding prudence and meticulous honesty in material affairs, and a determination to build within the Church a religious family that would truly be a family in every sense of the word and find its strength in that reality.
The readings of today’s Mass are well chosen. They describe for us three wonderful facets of the life of Blessed Basil – the man, the religious, the blessed Servant of the Lord. The Epistle to the Ephesians is so clearly a call to unity. It is a plea made by the apostle for unity within the Church and unity within every community of the faithful. Saint Paul calls the Ephesians to recognize “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and works through all and is in all.” This wondrous and so often cited call of the apostle was very much the call of Basil Moreau. Throughout his life, as he tries to continue to hold together the religious families which he has established, he calls them to a unity within faith and understanding. He recognizes and fosters the gifts which God has given to the diverse members of the religious families which he has founded, but he needs to hold them together. As best as his resources can make possible, he trains and prepares them for their different roles. But it is always – in complete conformity with the call of the apostle – a call to unity within the Mystical Body and even more clearly to unity within his vision of religious life.
The Gospel, of course, especially now as we read it in the light of the life and the sufferings of Blessed Basil, becomes more alive for us in the story of his own Passion. He suffered greatly toward the end of his life, not just physically, but in the sense that he had found himself divorced from the religious family he loved so much. Perhaps he felt himself a failure. Perhaps he felt that all his dreams would ultimately come to naught. But surely he, himself, must have meditated on those words of Jesus after the first prophecy of the Passion. “If a man wishes to come after Me he must deny his very self, take up his cross and begin to follow in My footsteps.”
Basil was doing this all his life as he strove against the difficulties and dangers of post-Revolution France. And yet, at the same time, it is in these darkest days that he becomes perhaps most perfectly attuned to the sufferings of Jesus and more totally consumed by the reality of the cross. It was no accident that the religious family which he founded would take its name from a neighborhood which was also the symbol of the supernatural reality which consumed him and gave him strength even until the end.
We give gratitude to God this day for blessing the process which found its culmination yesterday. But most of all, we give gratitude to God for giving us this man who is the center of our thoughts, as a servant of Jesus and as a true pastor of the Church. At every beatification, those who find themselves related in a special way to the newly beatified, offer their thanksgiving to God as we do today; thanksgiving to the Church for giving us this process by which a truly holy man may be recognized by the faithful; thanksgiving to his Congregations, which gave at last their loving support to this process, as if re-discovering his virtues, his accomplishments and his role in their lives.
I cannot help but mention the words of a former General of the Congregation when the bodily remains of Blessed Basil were moved to another church, when he called out to his brothers and sisters in this religious family, “I want to declare before these sacred remains that we his children, priests, brothers and sisters, recognize him as our worthy founder who has been humiliated and truly tried by unjustified treatment and has given fruitfulness to the Congregation of Holy Cross even through his tears and sacrifice.” I am sure that Basil in heaven heard those words both with joy and with sorrow, with joy at the recognition that his children had given him and with sorrow that they had to pass through a period of uncertainties which caused both him and them deep sorrow.
But now that we can call on Blessed Basil and ask for his help as we look to the future, let us also become very conscious of the things that he has taught us in the past.
If one would want to make a list of his virtues, we would have to begin with his love of the poor. The wonderful story of the sacrifice which his family made for him to go to school and to study to be a priest is an unforgettable tribute to their deep faith and deep confidence in God. Basil left them with sorrow, not that he doubted that God was calling him, but that he knew they would truly miss his two strong arms, his devoted service and his generous love. Who can ever forget the tale of his father walking with him the sixty miles to the seminary, embracing him, kissing him farewell and then turning to walk back home again. Basil knew the poor and loved the poor. The poor were his friends and his family. Even in his days of looking for financial help for his Congregations, he reached out in a special way to the poor, asking for their help, knowing that so often the poor are more generous than anyone else because they have learned to do with less so that their neighbor can deal with something.
We may not forget as we recount his virtues his deep fidelity to the Church and in a special way to the Pope. He comes to maturity at a time when throughout much of Europe and France itself there is a concern whether one should be for the Pope or for their country. Basil knew no such distinction. You serve your country best when you serve the Church, when you serve God, when you serve the Pope. He had seen the Church’s suffering as a young child growing up in a time of turmoil and had understood that this vocation to which he was called was going to be one which required heroism and courage and perseverance.
This perseverance is also one of his great traits. He was always focused, focused on the need of the poor, focused on the need to educate children, focused on the need to call men and women into a life of holiness, focused on the need to establish institutions which could educate and care for those who would have nothing else but God and God’s servants to look after them. Perhaps of all the virtues of this man, this is the most clear. He works day and night to help people. He reaches beyond France and beyond Europe to answer the call of the missions in the New World of America. He never tires and never stops. Sometimes in his zeal he becomes difficult for others to work with because he is so totally committed to his task. Is he at times unwilling to recognize the weaknesses of others? Perhaps. But this is the fault of good people who see a moment wasted as a moment in which one could do much more. He is an educator, for ahead of his time. He has a vision of outstanding Catholic education and this, in a wonderful way, he has passed on to his sons and daughters and to the institutions they have built.
One must also mention his honesty here. He had known the value of a penny and would never use one recklessly. This became both his triumph and his cross. His triumph in that he was a man in whom others could put total confidence because they knew he was as honest as the day is long. It was his cross, too, because sometimes those of his sons and daughters who felt they were more visionary than he or more ready to dream or more anxious to accomplish something quickly were confronted by his careful, totally disciplined methodology which would not allow or even understand what they felt so called to do.
Ultimately, they accused him of not using funds properly, or not giving them what they needed to build the institutions that he had asked them to build, not joining their dream, their vision, in their way. Was he wrong in holding back so often? Perhaps he was, but isn’t it possible that it was his extra caution that made some of the dreamers stay a little closer to reality and made them bring their plans a little more realistic and firm. Maybe it was a combination of the brilliant vision of some of his children, made more reasonable by his own hesitation, that ultimately achieved the results they all had in mind and heart. But these virtues were strong as the man was strong. They were demanding as the man was demanding and they had only one ultimate goal, that God be served in the best possible way, that men and women walk together as a family of faith, that they truly be united with the Pope and the Church and each other, and that they never hesitate to be the best and to do the best they could. This was his dream. This was his vision. This was his hope and in a way that, perhaps during his lifetime, he could not even imagine, this was the ultimate reality which may not have been possible without his presence, his sacrifice and, indeed, his pain.
If we had visited him at his deathbed here in Le Mans, what would he have told us? Certainly, not a word of anger, not a word of disappointment with the others who may have not been loyal. Perhaps a word of regret, possibly he thought that he had failed; perhaps he thought in hindsight that it had all been in vain. But these were temptations of desolation and his life was never given to those. We left him poor, depending on the Marianites of Holy Cross to bring him food each day, in a poor house, taken care of by his sisters, suffering, pained, cut off from those he loved the most, his sons and daughters of his religious families. Does not this happen often in the lives of saints? Maybe this is the martyrdom of which we spoke earlier. This is certainly the cross where he becomes more and more configured to the agony of Christ in the garden. These make for the heroic virtues of Basil Moreau, but they are a cloud which passes and which now has passed, as we see in the light of his beatification the overwhelming joy of the Church and of his Congregations, as we call to him as Blessed. He calls to us and says to us, “Do not forget the old lessons. Be faithful to the Pope and faithful to the Church. Be faithful to the care of the poor. Be faithful to those deepest virtues of honesty and charity and perseverance.”
Now we call him Blessed. Blessed, because the Lord has used him in so great a way and because he had risen to that willingness to be used. May his message, which is so clear and so real to us these days, continue to move our hearts and minds and may we whose lives have been touched by his example, his teaching and his suffering never be afraid to see in him the other Christ that every religious must learn to be, that other shepherd who with Jesus, will tend to the flock, that other dreamer whose dreams, because they are deeply rooted both in reality and in faith, we now see coming true in the works of his religious Congregations and in the lives of his children. Blessed Basil Moreau, founder, educator, and friend of the poor, pray to the Lord for us. Amen.