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Musings on the Back Porch of Heaven

Father Lou DelFra | Thursday, September 20, 2007

Last Saturday, some of us – mercifully spared the trip to the Big House in Ann Arbor, or was that the Coliseum in Rome? – instead packed into the 6,500-seat Centre Antares, in Le Mans, France, for the Beatification Mass of the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Father Basile Moreau. It was the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. (Note to the Athletic Department: We should not tempt the spirits by playing big road games on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows – it is just asking for trouble.) A Mass of Thanksgiving followed on Sunday, in Moreau’s home, Cathedrale de Saint-Julien in Le Mans.

They were, appropriately, enormous celebrations. Beatification is the last major step before becoming a saint. All that remains is canonization, when Moreau will officially become St. Basile.

Which raises the question – what exactly does it mean to be beatified? Or, as my nephew put it, “Is he in heaven, or ain’t he?” Beatified, but not yet canonized. Is he, like, on the back porch of heaven? Eating hors-d’oeuvres but no entrée? In the “Others Receiving Votes” but not yet the Top 25 on St. Peter’s AP Poll?

I looked up at the two-story high banner of Moreau’s portrait, hanging behind the altar. What was he thinking? 6,500 people chanting your name is enough to make anyone smile, though when you’re already in heaven, isn’t everything else a letdown? I followed his gaze down to the floor of the arena. And it was there that it hit me.

The crowd was awesome in its diversity. African priests in bold multi-colored robes from the Holy Cross province in Uganda peppered the otherwise white-clad celebrants. Bangladeshi sisters from the Holy Cross community, living among the poor in Bangladesh, danced up the center aisle to the rhythmic shakes of tambourines, bearing flowers to decorate the altar. The priest celebrating next to me – a Haitian – spoke only Creole, our lone point of mutual comprehension an energetic, familial embrace at the sign of peace. Chilean students from Holy Cross’ biggest school – St. George’s in Santiago is a kindergarten through high school with more students than Notre Dame – rowdily waved a Chilean flag and sang happy birthday in Spanish to one of their party, Mass hardly being a place to keep silent in Santiago. Domers studying abroad in Europe tried valiantly, mostly unsuccessfully, to explain where Indiana is, and raised their fingers in swirls, the crescendo of “Gooooooooooooo Moreau” announcing the kick-off to the Mass.

LeMans, France is three hours southwest of Paris, stuck rather uninspiringly halfway between le grand capitale and the Atlantic coast. It is hardly a place that makes you strut down Main Street thinking, “If my parents could only see me now….”

Yet, there we all were – from extremely different places on the planet, priests, brothers, sisters, and lay people, giving their lives away to the Gospel, under the patronage of Holy Cross schools, universities, social services, parishes, somehow all linked to a young priest with an idea in LeMans, France, as his world was falling apart around him in the rubble of the first days following the French Revolution. A man, only recently ordained into a persecuted Church, who founded an order dedicated to evangelization and Catholic education. The more I think about it, the more incredible it seems. We are all here because of him.

This afternoon, in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities join to celebrate the beatification of Father Moreau. We will continue to celebrate throughout the year. And while the celebration is obviously very much about Moreau – he is in heaven, after all, if only on the back porch – the Mass is, in a certain way, much more about us, one of Moreau’s most amazing legacies.

We give thanks to God today for a man who believed in the Gospel. Who spent his life for Jesus Christ and his Church, in some of the Church’s darkest days. Who began to found kindergartens and grade schools and parishes in the middle of rural France. As more people joined him, he kept building, then started sending – first to Africa, then to the US (where Father Sorin, a bit of a rogue, stopped short of his destination – he was supposed to go to California, but don’t let yourself daydream too much – and overspent on a wild idea he had to start a school in Indiana), then to Canada, and Bangladesh. Others would follow to India and South America.

This is the work of no human. This is the work of Providence. And yet, the mystery of the Incarnation, which is at the very heart of our Faith, makes the bold claim that God dwells among us most fully in a human being – most fully in Jesus Christ, but through Christ, in each of us. This is how God continues God’s work in the world – through the inspired work of the human beings that constitute the Church. Some among us are heroes, whose work God blesses to inspire the rest of us, seize our hearts and mobilize our energies. And create places – like Notre Dame – that continue the legacy long after the hero kicks his feet up on the back porch of heaven.

This week’s FaithPoint is written by Father Lou DelFra, director of campus Buble studies in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.