Allocutio at August 2017 Concilium Meeting by Fr. Bede McGregor OP
What is Holiness?
Last month we reflected on the universal call to holiness which is a fundamental teaching of the Church and therefore of the Legion. To the question: Who are called to be saints? Frank Duff our Founder replied emphatically: ‘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.’ Our Founder insisted that the primary purpose of the Legion is to help legionaries to become saints. So a good legionary is someone who is explicitly and continuously trying to be a saint. Brother Duff was very aware of all the difficulties and objections so many people conjure up against trying to be saints. For instance they may say: ‘I am a bundle of weakness. 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.’ Of course one of the biggest deterrents to even considering our vocation to be a saint is because of a cockeyed notion of what sanctity really is.
So how would we define a saint? Frank Duff responds by saying that a saint is ‘one who, with the object of pleasing God, does ordinary duties extraordinarily well. Such a life may be lived out without a single wonder in it, arouse little notice, be soon forgotten, yet be the life of one of God’s dearest friends.’ Many of the saints tell us the same thing: holiness is doing little things with great love. Do whatever you have to do with love for God.
However, to seriously take the first steps in striving to be a saint and even more so to persevere despite all temptations to compromise or even worse to give up really trying, often needs a change of mind-set. Frank Duff writes: ‘In a word we undervalue holiness. Once alter this and little is required to do it – once accept the fact that holiness is the most important thing in the world for us, and it will become the most natural thing in the world for us to strive after it. There lies the whole secret of effort. Make the goal attractive and reasonable, and we will pursue it in spite of hardships, and almost in spite of ourselves. The human mind works in that way.’ So the question we need to habitually put to ourselves must be: ‘Do I really consider being a saint the most important objective in my life? If it isn’t then we will only make half-hearted efforts to be saints and therefore be lukewarm legionaries.
How do I acquire this conviction that becoming a saint is the most important in my life? Brother Duff writes: ‘The secret of bringing this about is contained in a few words; we must face facts. Now and then we must give the mind a chance to raise itself above the sea in which it is submerged, of things that do not matter, and to face in all coldness the grim truths which group themselves around the central facts of Death and Eternity. Think of the immortality of the soul, the insanity of preferring temporal to eternal, the shortness of our stay on earth, the nearness of that moment which will decide all; and the pricelessness of each minute of time, which, short as it is, yet shapes our undying life beyond the grave. To occupy oneself deliberately with these solemn considerations and still remain indifferent is impossible.’ There we have an example of the hard-headed realism of Frank Duff and Legion spirituality.
So far we have been following very closely the little booklet: ‘Can we be Saints?’ It was written by Frank Duff as a young civil servant in around his late twenties. Obviously, he cannot say everything that is needed in a short booklet and as the long years passed he developed his thoughts and insights. In his later writings, especially in the Handbook, in books, articles and letters he expands, deepens and clarifies his convictions on the universal call to be saints. But it is still imperative for us to read and reread this first writing of Frank Duff on the invitation God gives to each one of us to be saints. In conclusion to this Allocutio let me just mention the place of Christ in the writings of Frank Duff and then we will deal with it more fully at a later time. For our Founder the Legion is pure Christocentricism. He writes: ‘The Legion will continue its characteristic course, seeking to subject every aspect of life to the domination and inspiring power of Christ, Our Lord, and always in the company of Mary, His Mother and ours. The Legion is Christocentric to the fullest extent that it can be made so.’