Allocutio at January 2017 Concilium Meeting by Fr. Bede McGregor OP
The Ecumenical Imperative and the Legion of Mary
The Octave of prayer for Christian Unity is a good time to renew our commitments to the ecumenical imperative i.e. praying and working for Christian Unity in every possible way open to us in the providence of God. This is especially true for the Legion of Mary that sees Christian Unity as one of its most important concerns and apostolates. In its prehistory and throughout its life and notably in the example and teaching of Frank Duff our founder, the Legion has been significantly involved in the Ecumenical Movement.
The Legion would certainly say Amen to the words of Saint John Paul 11 when he writes: ‘Restoration of unity among Christians is one of the main concerns of the Church… and this task is for all of us. No one can claim exemption from this responsibility, Indeed, everyone can make some contribution, however small it may seem, and all are called to that interior conversion which is the essential condition for ecumenism.’ (John Paul 11 30th May 1982)
But in order to have a deep and authentic commitment to ecumenism we need to have some powerful motives to energize us. The following motives immediately suggest themselves:
The example of Our Lord. If the life of the Legion is pure Christocentric and
the interior life of the legionary is also riveted in a personal friendship with Jesus, then surely we must respond to His great prayer for Christian Unity that he shared with us at the Last Supper the night before he died for us. ‘I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it is you who have sent me and that I have loved them as much as you have loved me.’ (John 17:22-23). If we have in some degree the mind of Christ we must surely pray with Him and in Him for Christian Unity.
Openess to the Holy Spirit. Christian Unity is the work of the Holy Spirit. We make our Legion Promise to the Holy Spirit so it surely follows that we would strive to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in his work for Christian Unity.
True Devotion to Mary. At the 11 Vatican Council Pope Paul V1 solemnly declared Mary as the Mother of the Church. Like her Son she desires that all the members of the Body of Christ should be completely one. Surely true devotion to Mary would include a serious commitment to promoting Christian Unity.
That the World may Believe. Our Lord gives us as the basic reason for Christian Unity that the world would believe in Him and the good news of the redemption of mankind. Disunity is a proven block to the evangelisation and salvation of the world. So too it is a huge block to the fundamental mission of the Legion. It follows that a strong motive for our commitment to promoting Christian Unity in the Legion is an apostolic one to remove one of the great obstacles to the salvation of souls.
The Eucharist and Christian Unity. There are many other compelling motives for promoting Christian Unity, but I add just one more here that influenced Frank Duff, our founder in a special way. He felt it was a desperate tragedy that our separated brothers and sisters were deprived of the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist and indeed of some of the other Sacraments too. He wanted the Legion to be a specialist in bringing people to the Eucharist because he saw it as the greatest gift that the Catholic Church has to offer to our brothers and sisters in other Christian communities.
In previous years I have unwittingly neglected to speak of true and false kinds of ecumenism, so now I would like to say a few words as a possible help to discernment. In truth it would take a lengthy book to really uncover the many forms of true and false kinds of ecumenism. I will suggest just two points of paramount importance that I have discovered in the writings of Frank Duff and other eminent ecumenists. First, there is the temptation to compromise the truth in different ways in order to facilitate a supposedly better relationship with other Christians. For instance, Frank writes: ‘Sometimes Mary is kept in the background so as to meet the prejudices of those who make small account of her. This method of making Catholic doctrine more acceptable may accord with human reasoning. It does not reflect the divine idea. Those who act in this way do not realize that they might as well preach Christianity without Christ as ignore Mary’s part in redemption.’ In many places our founder makes clear he is strongly opposed to soft peddling, leaving aside, being silent about or compromising his Catholic faith in order to accommodate the non-Catholic. Of course, he also points out in the Handbook in several places: ‘therefore key persons should act according to Our Lord’s own formula for the successful passing on of knowledge: ‘Learn of Me for I am gentle and humble of heart.’ (Mt.11:29). Probably it can be said that the more they efface themselves during the actual discussion, the more freely it will run.’
Here is a passage from the writings of Canon Ripley who was a close friend of Frank Duff for more than 40 years that sums up all that I have been trying to say. In fact it is a quotation from Blessed Paul V1: ‘The temptation is to set doctrinal matters to one side. It is to hide, to weaken, to regard as worthless, to deny if necessary, those teachings of the Catholic Church which are not today acceptable to our separated brethren. We say this could be an easy temptation because it can seem only a small matter to minimize and get rid of certain truths and certain dogmas which give rise to controversy in order to bring about comfortably the union which has so long been desired. But Christianity is a divine truth which we have no power to change. Our duty is to know it and accept it in order to save our souls. This kind of reasoning is not deceiving only those who are unskilled in theological matters. It is creeping in even among the experts, even amongst those who, often in good faith, are searching for a rational expedient to smooth out the way so that we can agree with the separated brethren: The intention is good, the method is not. To pretend to resolve doctrinal difficulties by attempting to discredit or disregard or hide dogmas which the Church’s teaching authority declares to be binding and definitive is not a good service. It will not help the cause of unity because it makes our separated brothers distrust us. It makes them suspect that they are being tricked or it gives rise to the idea that certain things may be possible which are not so.’ The zeal of Catholics, the Holy father stressed, should be for ‘the truth of an integral and living faith.’
Let me conclude this Allocutio by stressing the inseparability of truth and love. St. Paul emphasizes that we speak the truth in love. If we don’t really love our separated brother and sister then perhaps we should stop talking. Let us pray constantly for the grace of some share in God’s love for our non-Catholic friends. He loves them infinitely, he thought it worthwhile dying for them, they are the object of his loving providence, and his command that we love one another must include them if we ourselves are to grow in friendship with Our Lord. I think it is good to think often of that striking sentence in the Letter to a Roman Catholic, by John Wesley: ‘If we cannot as yet think alike in all things, we can at least love alike.’