The Legion believes we can all be Saints
Shortly after my appointment as Spiritual Director to Concilium I asked a very experienced priest what he thought this new task involved. He said: “your job is to encourage and help legionaries to become saints”. I then suggested to him that many of the legionaries I meet are closer to Our Lord and His Mother and more generous in apostolic work than I will ever be. He replied: “that is probably true but don’t worry. The Legion will make you a saint too if you are faithful to its spirit”.
Of course, you know that according to the Handbook the primary object of the Legion is the personal sanctification of its members. We join the Legion in order to become saints. It may take time before we become fully aware of this primary goal of the Legion. But a good legionary is one who is deliberately and of set purpose trying to be a saint every day of their lives. One of the most important questions Frank Duff asked himself and us was this: “Can we be Saints?” His answer was an emphatic yes and he founded the Legion as a practical way of proving that we not only can be saints but must be saints or else fail in the only ultimate purpose of our life.
The first words of Frank Duff in a published spiritual work were as follows: “In the heart of every right-thinking Catholic, God has implanted the desire to become a Saint. Yet few make a serious attempt to realise the ambition. The cause for this is to a large extent discouragement, due to the misunderstanding of what a Saint really is”. Frank founded the Legion to make as many people as possible saints. The Legion is a school for saint making. Of course, one does not have to join the Legion of Mary in order to become a saint. God leads people to heaven in an infinite number of ways. But if one becomes an active or auxiliary member of the Legion of Mary they will never be allowed to forget the primary object of their lives - personal holiness. Everything about the Legion gears us to holiness: to Jesus through Mary and through Jesus to life in the heart of the Holy Trinity.
It has often been said that the only ultimate failure in life is not to be a saint. In other words, not to get to heaven is not just a failure but absolute and eternal disaster. So Frank was obsessed with the desire to save souls, to facilitate the entrance of every single person into Heaven. He was passionate not only for the salvation of his own soul but for the salvation of all souls. In fact he was convinced that if you were not apostolic, that is, interested and actively committed to the salvation of others, the salvation of your own soul may be endangered. It will be a source of great blessings for you if you read and re-read and try and try again to put into practice the first pamphlet that Frank Duff ever wrote: “Can we be Saints?”
The Handbook puts it very succinctly: “Already it has been stressed that the holiness of the member is of fundamental importance to the Legion”. A legionary is someone who totally belongs to Mary in order to belong totally to Jesus. Yet we have to put the question to ourselves: Is striving to be a saint the most important aim of my life? If not, the reason is probably as Frank Duff has already pointed out a false understanding of what a saint really is. Frank gives us at least one misguided conception of what a saint is: “I am appalled at the thought of a life of constant effort to crush my nature into a new form. I have no strength of will, and such a life is beyond my powers.
“With such reasoning, we harden ourselves against the call which rings so often in our ears. Unimportant ideas occupy the strongholds of our minds and shape our thoughts; while He, the owner of Eternity, is left only as one of the hundred interests in our lives, so that it is not surprising that the zeal, the courage, the ardour, that do big things, are spent on gains or pleasure which give a visible and rapid return. In a word, we undervalue holiness. The bottom line is a paralysing conviction that I cannot be a saint. That is something only for exceptional and heroic men and women.” That means we cannot or will not even take the first step to being a christian and therefore a legionary. If we don’t believe it is possible for us to be a saint we won’t even begin to try.
So we need to be thoroughly convinced that we can be saints. We are called to be saints. God wants us to be saints even more than we do ourselves. He offers us habitually every grace we need. It is beyond our natural powers left to themselves but God’s grace is always available to us. Holiness is the normal and not extraordinary way of life of a true christian and legionary. If we don’t really believe it is possible for us to be saints we will hardly even begin to try.
It is imperative to firmly put aside all definitions of what it means to be a saint that tend to make it impossible for us. Let us take the definition that Frank gives us: “Thus, there is another definition of what a Saint is. It is this: One who, with the object of pleasing God, does his ordinary duties extraordinarily well. Such a life may be lived out without a single wonder in it, arouse little notice, be soon forgotten, and yet be the life of one of God’s dearest friends”. This is the same kind of definition that St. Therese of Lisieux gives us, and St. Francis de Sales, and St. John Bosco, St. Jose Maria Escriva, Blessed John XX111, our present Holy Father and indeed that’s how all the saints understand it. Being holy is simply doing all our ordinary duties out of love of God and our neighbour. God does not ask fantastic deeds but genuine love expressed in and through the actual circumstances of our life.
Let me quote Frank again: “Every person that is born is called to be a Saint. Take it as most certain that you - no matter how unfitted your life may seem for holiness - are being given graces sufficient, if corresponded with, to bring you to sanctity. We have already seen that nothing beyond our strength is expected; neither is sanctity the exclusive property of any grade or manner of life. Among the Saints canonised by the Church are kings and beggars, and representatives of every trade, slaves, hermits, city people, mothers of families, invalids, soldiers and persons of every race and colour”.
Pope John Paul said in an address to young people: “Don’t be afraid to be Saints!” If you are middle aged I say to you: “Don’t be afraid to be Saints!” And if you are now very senior citizens I say to you too: “Don’t be afraid to be Saints!” This is the primary objective of every legionary worthy of the name.