Allocutio at May 2017 Concilium Meeting by Fr. Bede McGregor OP
The Legion and the Vocation of Children
On the 13th of May 2017 Pope Francis went on a Pilgrimage to Fatima and canonized two young children, Francisco Marto and his younger sister Jacinta, as saints. This event is of tremendous significance and joy for all children in every country on earth. Indeed, it is immensely important for parents too. Of course, it has a special meaning for all of us, for the whole Church and the world. Why is this so? Because it emphasizes that the vocation of children is to become saints. Children are made for heaven. This is one of the great messages of Our Lady of Fatima. And inseparable from this message is the truth that children are called to be missionaries, to be apostolic. This becomes clear from the first conversation between Our Lady and the children. Lucy asks the most important question that anyone can ask: ‘Will I go to heaven?’ Mary says yes and throughout her six appearances at Fatima she reveals her great desire that all souls, especially sinners, should go to heaven and she wants the children to play a pivotal part in helping sinners into heaven. So Our Lady teaches the children the beautiful missionary prayer: ‘O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in need of your mercy.’
It is so strikingly clear that Our Lady wants all children to be saints and heroically apostolic. This desire is rooted in the heart and teaching of Jesus as proclaimed in the Gospel. For example, in Mark chapter 10, Jesus speaks strongly to his disciples who seem to see children as a nuisance to them: ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven. And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.’ Later in Matthew 18:6 Our Lord uses the strongest terms of condemnation for anyone who damages the very faith of a child when he says: ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’ Let me sum up the vast teaching of the Church on the dignity and mission of children by some words of St. John Paul 11 in his Letter to Children: ‘How important children are in the eyes of Jesus. We could even say that the Gospel is full of the truth about children. The whole of the Gospel could actually be read as the “Gospel of Children.” Let us put it very simply: What God thinks about children is made abundantly clear by God becoming a child and thereby giving all children a sublime dignity and vocation.
Now I would like to reflect a little on the specific role of the Legion with regard to the promotion of the dignity and vocation of children. Obviously, it is the parents who have the primary role in helping their children into heaven. To fail in this task would be the ultimate tragedy. But we can assist parents in this sublime task and the whole Church gives a place of honour to this apostolic work. Even a hurried glance through the history of the Church reveals an extraordinary commitment to the welfare of children not only in their temporal and material needs, but above all in their eternal wellbeing. The Legion too has played its part in this apostolate especially with regard to the spiritual needs of the child. But how does the Legion approach its apostolate with children? Let me quote the Handbook in answer to this question: ‘In all works, the Legion watchword should be “How would Mary view and treat these, her children?” In this work, even more than in others, the thought should be vivid. There is a natural tendency to impatience with the children. But a worse fault would lie in the imparting to the instruction of a mere business-like and secular tone, in such a way that these classes would only be regarded by the children as additional hours of school. If this comes to pass, nine-tenths of the harvest will be left untapped. So once again consider: How would the Mother of Jesus instruct those children, in each one of whom she sees her own beloved? I think it might be helpful to remember the remarkable confidence that Mary shows in the children seers at Fatima. She entrusts her extremely important message to them to proclaim to the whole world. Mary does not see children as simply objects of pastoral care, but as active participants in the mission of the Church and the work of the redemption of the world.
The aim I had in this Allocutio was to encourage legionaries all over the world to read the rich sections in the Handbook concerning our apostolic work with children and assess how much we are trying to implement its recommendations. I think the section on Children’s Mass attendance is of paramount importance today. It would be hard to imagine anything more vital to a child than to have a love of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist there will be dire spiritual impoverishment. The paragraphs on the teaching of Christian doctrine to children must surely express the desire of Our Lady. When she appeared at Fatima it is clearly as a catechist of children and she gives us an object lesson on how to do it. I would want to give a whole Allocutio on junior praesidia and Curiae and other topics relating to the Legion and the vocation of children, but they will have to wait for another time.
In conclusion let me give a quotation from the Handbook about the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood, now renamed the Society of Missionary Children. It seeks to get legionaries to foster a missionary spirit in children but I don’t think I have come across this suggested work with children in our Legion reports in recent years. The Handbook suggests: ‘Concern for the missions is an integral part of a truly Christian life. It comprises prayer, material support and the fostering of missionary vocations, in accordance with each one’s circumstances.
Legionaries might, for example, run a branch of the Holy Childhood and surround themselves with a host of children whom they will inspire with a love for the missions.