Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. That word appears a lot in scripture: to deny. In Matthew 10:33, “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Contrast that with Peter in Matthew 26:35, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” Well, we all know how that turned out.
And in a somewhat perplexing passage from 2 Timothy, “But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” That one takes a little examination, and while I am no scripture scholar, I’ve always interpreted that as saying that since our Lord, by His nature, cannot be anything but faithful, he will continue to be so, even if we are not.
In the metaphorical pages of our Congregation’s history, this word appears quite a lot as well, especially in the ones that speak of our founder, Blessed Basile Moreau. How many religious insisted upon their fidelity to him, much as Peter did to Christ, only to abandon him in his moment of trial? But Blessed Basile remained faithful, for he could not deny himself, nor could he deny the Congregation that he had founded for the salvation of the Church and the world. Striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace, he did his best to keep the community together, and to do so, renounced his own place within it.
In denying himself of his own pride, his attachment to leadership, and to a degree, his own material comfort, Blessed Basile took up his cross and tread a path of humility that serves as an example for us all. While most of us will never be called to live these mysteries in such a dramatic fashion, it is for us a model of the denial of oneself that the Lord demands. It is one that asks us to discard our pride, our lack of fidelity, our attachments, our petty grudges, our resentments, and our disappointments.
It asks us to deny our gifts and talents as well, not in the sense of suppressing them but in our recognition that they were bestowed upon us by the God who created us and that they are not for us. Rather, they are to be at the service of the Gospel and our vocation.
We want to hold on to all of these things, but we cannot since they burden us too much for us to take up our cross. They weigh us down too heavily for us to march forward as we follow him. And so we deny them; we let them go, as did our blessed founder. We fear that in denying ourselves we will incur heavier burdens, but we pray, through the intercession of Blessed Basil, that the grace of the Resurrection will help us find the joy and the hope that transforms our denial into fulfillment, our crosses into gifts and our lives into sweet and blessed offerings for God and His people.
This reflection on Blessed Basile Moreau is an excerpt of the homily that Fr. Gregory Haake, C.S.C., Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Notre Dame in the United States, preached at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the university’s campus on January 20, 2023, to open the celebrations for the 150th Anniversary of Blessed Basile Moreau’s entry into eternal life.