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Saints show how to look beyond ourselves

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Amid the local and global interest in the beatification last week of Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., I enjoyed periodic moments that shook me out of my comfort zone and reminded me that not everyone lived on the “all Moreau, all the time” track that many of us here on campus felt part of for a while. As my early-morning running partner and I made our way along one of our routes around campus, she asked me, “Who’s the guy on all the blue signs?” I found myself trying to explain the story of Blessed Basil to her, a devout non-Catholic Christian, in a way that also made sense out of our church’s unique tradition of naming people saints.

Kenneth Woodward wrote in his highly acclaimed “Making Saints: How the Church Decides Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t and Why” that “A saint is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like – and of what we are called to be. Only God ‘makes’ saints, of course. The church merely identifies from time to time a few of these for emulation. The church then tells the story.”

We’ve had a chance to look back and celebrate now for a while, to “catch a glimpse of what God is like” through Basil Moreau, to remember how Moreau fit into the French church and politics of his time, and how clearly the Congregation of Holy Cross, which he founded, has been in the very fabric of Notre Dame ever since he sent Father Sorin and his young helpers on their missionary journey.

So, where do we go from here? Surely we would do an injustice to Blessed Basil, and to our very understanding of holiness, if we let all this fuss drop into mere memory until a final miracle boosts him up over the threshold into official sainthood. It seems to me our next step ought to at least include asking ourselves the question, “How can Moreau’s example of holiness help us open our hearts to God’s love and our lives to God’s activity here on earth?”

Ironically, perhaps, we are surrounded as students, faculty and staff with the temptation to believe that it’s all about us: that through our hard work, our strength of character, our devotion, our generosity, we somehow create our holiness through our own efforts. After all, it works in the rest of our lives, right? We’re here, right? As top students, scholars, teachers, administrators, we somehow “made it” to Notre Dame. Why shouldn’t God recognize our efforts in the same way, right? Wrong.

And what a relief it is, actually, to be wrong. Saints offer us examples of people who, through whatever the circumstances of their lives, appreciate and cooperate with God’s faithful love. We certainly must work at being holy, but even our ability to do so is God’s gift. The church recognizes saints as folks particularly adept at knowing that it’s not all about them, but about God’s love showing forth in their actions and lives. This quotation from Moreau himself seems perfect for bumping us out of our illusions that we should get all the credit or the glory for our successes: “If God has given me a mind, it is so that I may know him. If he has given me a heart free to love, it is so that I may attach myself to him … If I am all that I am, it is only for him, and I must strive unceasingly towards him as my center.”

Maybe Moreau was inspired by the example of St. Vincent de Paul, whose feast day we celebrate today. Vincent lived in France also, about 220 years before Basil. He organized the wealthy of Paris to serve the poor, and worked zealously to ensure that clergy were well-educated and trained. He established charitable societies in every parish to serve the needs of the poor and sick at the local level, which today are known as Societies of St. Vincent de Paul.

How will we, inspired by the example of Blessed Basil Moreau, change our world? This Sunday’s gospel will tell the story of the rich man and Lazarus, who lay at the rich man’s gate, starving and covered with sores, while the rich man either didn’t notice or chose to ignore him. We are undeniably overflowing with abundance, as was the rich man. We have caught a glimpse of what God is like. We must not fail to respond in love, as Basil did, with lives of whole-hearted attention, gratitude, and service.

This week’s FaithPoint is written by Kate Barrett, director of resources and

special projects in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

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