Allocutio at the October 2016 Concilium Meeting by Fr. Bede McGregor OP
The Gift of Unity and the Legion
One should not be surprised that Pope Francis speaks so often about the devil. The devil plays a prominent part throughout Sacred Scripture from the beginning in the Book of Genesis to the last book of Revelation. He continues to be present in the whole history of salvation including our present time. In the work of the new Evangelisation we forget his existence at our peril. This is true of the Legion of Mary too.
Let us summarise the main points in the teaching of Pope Francis. First he clearly and forcefully asserts the existence of the devil. ‘I believe that the devil exists and his greatest achievement in these times is to make us believe he doesn’t exist’. In another homily he says: ‘Maybe some of you might say: but Father how old-fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the twenty first century! But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against the Satan.’
Secondly, Pope Francis exhorts us not to be afraid of the devil. He says: Fear is also a temptation of the devil: to be afraid to continue on the Lord’s path. Fear however is not a good counselor. Jesus says so many times: ‘Do not be afraid.’ The greatest source of confidence in our confrontation with the devil is the Cross of Jesus. On the Cross Jesus defeats Satan utterly and radically so that the devil cannot have the last word in any of our lives if we stay close to the crucified Christ. God does not allow the devil to tempt us beyond our strength and his infinite merits and grace are always available to us even or indeed especially in the more violent temptations.
Thirdly, Pope Francis speaks often about the sure signs of the active presence of the devil in our individual lives and in our communities. Temptation is a sure sign of his activity and he is the specialist with vast experience of tempting us to deviate by sin from the path of friendship with Mary and Jesus. That is why the Scripture refers to him as the Tempter of Mankind. The Holy Father points to many other signs of the presence and work of the devil. Let me just mention a few: he points to defeatism or attacks on the virtue of hope, pessimism, discouragement and the temptation to a superiority complex or self-importance and an expert eye for the supposed faults of others compared with our own supposed virtue. The devil knows from his own experience how destructive pride is in all forms and therefore stokes up the temptations to that sin relentlessly.
But now I want to briefly reflect on the two weapons the devil employs that Pope Francis especially highlights. The main one is division, the other is money. He talks about them in several homilies and other addresses. Because of the shortness of time let me leave the question of money to another time. For now, let me just say that from the time of Judas and throughout the history of the Church we see how the misuse of money has been so destructive of individual Christians and of the mission of the Church.
With regard to divisions the Holy Father says quite simply: ‘Division is the weapon the devil employs most to destroy the Church from within.’ Church history backs this statement up. Division and schisms are the work of the devil and ecumenism and evangelisation are the work of the Holy Spirit. Unity is at the heart of the prayer of Jesus because disunity is so inimical to the preaching of the Gospel. Frank Duff our founder and the Legion throughout its history have been convinced concerning the priceless gift of unity and therefore of the need for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. However, I think it is just as important to work at preventing disunity as it is in trying to heal a disunity that is already in place.
But what has all this talk of division and disunity to do with the Legion? Well, first of all the gift of unity and the causes of disunity are an important theme in the Legion Handbook and secondly because of something Pope Francis says in connection with his advice on fighting the devil in our own lives: ‘This is the devil’s strategy: you become a Christian, go forward in your faith and I will leave you alone; I will leave you in peace. But once you have become accustomed to it, are no longer watchful and feel secure, I will return’. So when we get used to the apparent absence of the devil over a significant time then our defenses are down and we become very vulnerable. So basically we must never forget the fundamental insight of the Gospel and the Legion that we are always in the midst of a spiritual warfare: ‘I will put enmity between you and the Woman, between her seed and yours.’
Although the Handbook speaks of the special gift and task of unity in several places, some of the most striking insights can be found in Chapter 29 on Legion Loyalty. The sentences on the avoidance of independent action are particularly important. Let me finish with a quotation from the Handbook that speaks about how true devotion to Mary in all the members of the Legion will guarantee the unity and deep harmony within the Legion.
‘One of the dearest duties of the Legion shall be to show wholehearted devotion to the Mother of God. But with everyone adequately discharging this item of legionary service, the Legion will be found possessed of a marvelous unity of mind and purpose and action. This unity is so precious in the sight of God that he has vested it with an irresistible power; so that if for the individual a true devotion to Mary is a special channel of grace, what shall it bring to an organization which is persevering with one mind in prayer with her ( Acts 1: 14) who has received all from God, participating in her spirit, and entering fully into the design of God with regard to the distribution of grace! Shall not such an organization be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 4) and shall there not be ‘many wonders and signs.’ (Acts 2: 43)