Allocutio at June 2017 Concilium Meeting by Fr. Bede McGregor OP
The Essence of the Spirit and System of the Legion of Mary
Frank Duff, our Founder gave considerable thought into writing what is called the Standing Instruction. It consists of only four sentences but in them we have four keys for unlocking the essential spirit and essence of the Legion of Mary. Bro. Duff considered them so important that he insisted in the Handbook that they be read by the President of the praesidium at the first meeting of every month. But surely he wanted them not only to be read but also to be meditated on with a view to unpacking their meaning and implementing them ever more deeply and effectively in our inner life and outer apostolates.
Today, I offer a reflection on the third sentence of the Standing Instruction that goes as follows: ‘the performance of a substantial active legionary work, in the spirit of faith, and in union with Mary, in such fashion that in those worked for and in one’s fellow members, the Person of Our Lord is once again seen and served by Mary, his mother.’
Let me begin with a quotation from Pope Francis: ‘I have a dogmatic certainty that God is in every person’s life, even if the life of a person is a disaster, even if their life has been destroyed by vices, drugs, or anything else. God is in this person’s life. Although the life of this person is a land of thorns and weeds, there is always a space where a good seed can grow. But you have to trust God.’ I think those words express quintessential Legion spirituality. There is absolutely no such thing as a hopeless case and one of the most beautiful and challenging apostolates of the Legion is to sow seeds of hope in persons and situations that seem utterly hopeless and riddled with despair. We need to keep this priority before our minds as we read the Standing Instruction and plan our apostolates.
But what is the doctrinal basis for these attitudes and convictions of the Legion? Let me just single out just three reasons. First, every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and the ultimate reason of our personal existence is that we live in friendship with God for all eternity. So we are in touch with God in some real sense when we are in touch with the human person. The creative love of God is at the heart of the personal existence of every human person. Secondly, Christ thought it worthwhile to die for every single human person without exception. Sin, especially grave and habitual sin may weaken or even destroy our love for God or even openness to Him, but it does not weaken one iota God’s love for the sinner. Christ made the purpose of the Incarnation absolutely clear: ‘I came to call sinners.’ And Christ is on the Cross because he loves sinners infinitely. Thirdly, Mary is the mother of every human person in the order of grace and she shares in her Son’s great love for the weakest and those in most need of affirmation, hope, and love. The Legion seeks to be an instrument of Mary’s maternal love for the whole of mankind but especially those who are most alienated from her Son.
But how do we acquire or deepen these Gospel and Legion attitudes and convictions? Let me suggest just three superb ways. First, let us turn to Mary and ask her to give us some share in her great love for all children especially those we meet in our homes, in our workplace, and in our apostolates. We ask for the grace to be humble and courageous instruments of her maternal love for souls. We are called to see Jesus in everyone we meet and no one can help us to see Jesus more clearly in everyone we meet than Mary his Mother. In union and dependence on her no legionary or praesidium or higher council can ultimately fail. Secondly, let us turn to the Eucharist. I think of Saint Theresa of Calcutta who said that the charism of her Congregation was to go from the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist to the presence of Christ in the heavy disguise of the poorest of the poor, to the destitute, to those whom nobody else will love. She said her mission would be impossible without the Eucharist. I think Frank Duff would concur completely with that conviction. Thirdly, we learn to be legionaries and appropriate the deep truth of our faith and our vocation in the weekly meetings of the praesidium and meetings of the higher councils. This is where we should learn to recognise Jesus in our fellow members and discover how to have a true devotion to Mary and share in her mission to the world. The praesidium must be a place where we experience the true dignity of the human person, a place where we experience a genuine affirmation, support and indeed a real friendship. It must be the place where we experience what it really means to be a member of the Mystical Body of Christ and to have Mary as our Mother and our deepest confidante and companion. It is hard to see how a praesidium or indeed any Legion council can survive, let alone thrive without a constant turning to the tremendous doctrinal truths that are its indispensable foundation. I think the greatest recruiting power of the Legion will always be the joy and apostolic solidarity of a praesidium and legionaries explicitly trying to live out the four sentences of the Standing Instruction. Let me conclude by reading once more the sentence we have been reflecting on today: ‘the performance of a substantial active legionary work, in the spirit of faith, and in union with Mary, in such fashion that in those worked for and in one’s fellow members, the Person of our Lord is once again seen and served by Mary, his Mother.