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“The Cross, Our Only Hope” and the Excellence of CSC Accompaniment

Today I promised to write about the CSC motto of “The Cross, Our Only Hope.”

This motto is best articulated and lived by the women and men of Holy Cross, and I feel generally inadequate to explain it here.  But I will share one related text that has meant a great deal to me as well as two stories of compassionate accompaniment that I believe to be rooted in this motto.

So!  In September of 2007, four ‘07 ND grads and I moved to Uganda to work alongside the Holy Cross as lay volunteers.  For me, it was a tough transition.  It took me about a month to share these difficulties with our volunteer community.  The perceptive and generous Joe Wysocki (the recipient of Dick Stout’s white mug from yesterday’s post) listened to what I was saying, disappeared into his room for a moment, returned with his copy of the CSC Constitutions, and offered me the book opened to the final chapter: “Constitution 8: The Cross, Our Only Hope.”

Joe lived at Old College for a time, and knew Constitution 8 from his formation there. He offered it to me then, without presumption or interpretation.  His care in that moment was one of the finest gifts I received during those years.

And so I offer it to you now.  Here is an online version of Constitution 8.  (And here is an index of all eight sections of the CSC Constitutions.  I find them to be extraordinarily well-written, and a window to understand, in a partial way, the gift and challenge of religious life for those of us living the lay vocation.)  

Modeling the wisdom of Joe, I will not over-interpret them here.  I will, though, offer brief context about something I feel rather strongly.

I realize that the themes of today and yesterday (loss, sorrow, the Cross) are some pretty high octane stuff.  There is much power there within one’s soul and psyche and I believe the particularities of these themes are best worked out with perceptive, loving friends, in spiritual direction, and, often, in counselling.  (One of my favorite stories of my favorite saint, Oscar Romero, is that a crucial part of his conversion was working through tough stuff in therapy.  We don’t tell this type of story enough, I think.)

So, for example, I recall talking about Constitution 8 with a Holy Cross spiritual director, and being reminded: “It is possible to carry more than God requires, and love less than God desires.”  While infuriatingly vague, it gestures to the point I am trying to make… namely, that interpretation of “the Cross” is subtle, depends a great deal on one’s personality, and is best done with trusted, skilled interlocutors.

Two more observations, then I’ll wrap this up.

First.  Read paragraphs 115 – 117 with me here.

115. To struggle for justice and meet only stubbornness, to try to rally those who have despaired, to stand by the side of misery we cannot relieve, to preach the Lord to those who have little faith or do not wish to hear of him … our ministry will hint to us of Jesus’ suffering for us.

116. To spend ourselves and be spent for the needs of neighbors; to be available and cheerful as a friend in Holy Cross and to give witness while others hesitate; to stand by duty when it has become all burden and no delight … community too can draw us nearer Calvary.

117. Whether it be unfair treatment, fatigue or frustration at work, a lapse of health, tasks beyond talents, seasons of loneliness, bleakness in prayer, the aloofness of friends; or whether it be the sadness of our having inflicted any of this on others … there will be dying to do on our way to the Father.

Often, when I experience the above, I tell myself the lie that I am alone in it.  Lies have that pesky disadvantage of being untrue, and those paragraphs reveal the merciful truth that I am not at all alone in these things.

The words of Sorin Starts a School that resonate these ideas were the hardest to write, I suppose because they mean a great deal to me.   Here is the page where they will appear.

Sorin Starts a School Page 22 and 23
Sorin writes to Moreau in Sorin Starts a School

Second, and finally.  Over the thirteen years I have read Constitution 8, one bit returns to me repeatedly.  It is this line from paragraph 118:

If we, like [Jesus] encounter and accept suffering in our discipleship, we will move without awkwardness among others who suffer.

I think of this a great deal when I give thanks for the quality of accompaniment that I have received from CSC folks, particularly from a sister of the Holy Cross, Sr. Judith Anne Beattie, CSC.  Judith Anne is an extraordinary spiritual director and was a faithful companion to me as I travelled through my 20s.  

Often, in direction, I would share deep sadness, and I am at a loss to describe the remarkable quality of presence with which my stories were received.  She communicated composure, care, patience, trust, and a startling clarity of perception.  Judith Anne is my model for one who is able to “move without awkwardness” in the presence of suffering, and I think it must be the grace of a vocation lived with “The Cross, Our Hope” as the motto, in sincere discipleship, and in the presence of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows.

(Pre-order Sorin Starts a School: The Foundation of Notre Dame today! Ships to you May 2021. All proceeds support the work of the Holy Cross in Bangladesh. )