January 2018 Concilium Meeting

By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P.

A Stronger Commitment to Christian Unity

The January meeting of Concilium usually takes place during the annual Week of Prayer
for Christian Unity. So once more I wish to speak about the Church Unity and with
special reference to the Legion of Mary. I want to begin this year with a quotation from
Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian
Unity. He writes: ‘To be effective evangelisers, the Catholic Church and other Christian
Churches must constantly undergo their own conversion to a stronger commitment to
Christian Unity. So that the evangelising task can be carried out in a credible way the
Church itself needs a self-evangelisation that includes conversion to the ecumenical
search for Christian Unity.’ The Legion must be humble enough to take those words to
heart too. We too can have a stronger and all persuasive commitment to Christian Unity.
First looking back over 100 years of its existence we have many reasons for profound
thanksgiving for the notable dedication of the Legion to the awesome task of the
ecumenical apostolate. Let us begin with the extraordinary witness and commitment
of Frank Duff himself. He was very aware of the almost insurmountable obstacles to
Christian Unity in Ireland, especially Northern Ireland and in many countries where the
Legion is present. However, despite many difficulties he persevered in the ecumenical
apostolate at the personal level and by encouraging the Legion to do the same thing. We
remember how in 1939 he started the ‘League for the Reunification of Christendom.’ This
was a movement that today would be called Spiritual Ecumenism that is a movement of
prayer for Christian Unity. But in Legion style it also involved personal contact. In 1941
he was a major influence in the foundation of the Mercier Society that sought through
monthly meetings to promote mutual understanding and remove the caricatures of each
other’s Christian faith. In the light of the 11 Vatican Council his vision of the ecumenical
project of the Church received a warm approval and so the Pauline Circle came into
existence. I mention only in the briefest form some of the milestones in the ecumenical
history of the Legion but I think it would be true to say that the Legion would never be
fully its true self without this radical commitment to ecumenism.

However, the Legion’s commitment to ecumenism is not simply a desire to continue the
witness of its Founder and his legacy. It goes back to the Gospel itself and the prayer of
Christ and his immense desire for the habitual and fullest unity among all his disciples.
On the eve of his suffering and death Jesus prayed: ‘that they all may be one. As you
Father are in me and I in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe
that you have sent me.’ (Jn. 17:12). The Vatican Handbook on Spiritual Ecumenism
comments: ‘It is significant that Jesus did not primarily express his desire for unity in a
teaching or in a commandment to his disciples, but in a prayer to his Father. Unity is a
gift from above, stemming from the growing toward loving communion with the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit. Christian prayer for unity is a humble but faithful sharing in the
prayer of Jesus, who promised that any prayer in His name would be heard by the Father.’
The Document goes on to say: ‘Since unity is a gift, it is fitting for Christians to pray for
it together. Such prayers in common are certainly a very effective means for petitioning
for the grace of unity, and they are a genuine expression of the ties that even now bind
Catholics to their separated brethren. ‘For where two or more are gathered together for
my sake, there am I in the midst of them.’ (Mt 18:10). Prayer for unity is the royal door of
ecumenism.’ Therefore what a powerful contribution to Christian Unity it would be if every
legionary, active and auxiliary, every praesidium, and every higher council constantly
prayed for Christian Unity not only during the Official Week of Prayer but throughout the
whole year, every year. Around 10 million legionaries praying for Christian Unity would
be a magnificent participation in the ecumenical activity of the Church.

Another key to a deeper understanding of Ecumenical activity is the doctrine of the
Mystical Body of Christ. As we know, whatever good we do to promote Christian Unity,
however small, contributes to the unity of the whole Body of Christ throughout the
world. Of course, unfortunately the opposite is also true. Whatever we do that weakens
Christian Unity affects the whole Church. So I think it follows that fidelity to unity and
loyalty within the Legion is its greatest contribution to ecumenism in the whole Mystical
Body of Christ. So wherever there may be disunity in the Legion we have a betrayal of
the Unity that Christ prayed for, a betrayal of the Church and of Mary the Mother of
Unity and it would be a serious undermining of every apostolate of the Legion. Any form
of disunity would disfigure the compelling attractiveness of the Legion. The Legion,
like the whole Church, is called to be a family that reflects in some way the Unity of the
Trinity – a place of authentic love for one another in Christ and with Mary.

It would make no sense to try and promote unity with other Christians if we ourselves
are divided. The primary task of every legionary in the perspective of ecumenism is to
promote and cherish harmony, charity and unity in their praesidium and in the higher
councils. A deep love of unity should be a major characteristic of every legionary
especially Officers in a praesidium or higher council. Let us pray for this lovely unity in
the Legion throughout the world.

Finally let me end on a joyful note. Mary has often been seen as a problem in ecumenical
circles and in particular the Marian theology of our beloved patron and tutor, St. Louis
Marie de Montfort. But there seems to be a change taking place as this quotation from
the Anglican Theologian John Macquarrie from Oxford University seems to indicate:
‘There have been few devotees of Mary so enthusiastic as Louis de Montfort, whose
book on devotion to Mary is still widely used. But no one could be more forthright in
making it clear that devotion to Mary is not an end in itself…‘When we praise her, love
her, honour her or give anything to her, it is God who is praised, God who is loved, God
who is glorified, and it is to God that we give, through Mary and in Mary.’ Amen.