December 2018 Allocutio

By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P.Spiritual Director to the Concilium

The Radical Vocation to Joy in the Legion

I think Christmas is a good time to reflect on the radical vocation of the Christian to joy, especially in times of gloom and doom, difficulties and discouragement. Especially every legionary is called to frequently reflect on his radical vocation to joy.

Let me begin with a quotation from Pope St. Leo the Great to be found in the Office of readings for Christmas Day: ‘This is the day Our Saviour was born; what a joy for us, my beloved. This is no season for sadness; this is the birthday of Life – Life which annihilates the fear of death, and engenders joy, promising, as it does, immortality.

Nobody is an outsider to this joy. The same cause for joy is common to all, for as Our Lord found nobody free from guilt when he came to bring an end to death and to sin, so he came with redemption for all. Let the saint rejoice, for he hastens to his crown; let the sinner be filled with joy, for pardon is offered to him; let the Gentile be emboldened, for he is called to life.’

Of course, the vocation to joy is not limited to Christmas but must be radically present in the Christian at all times. We remember the words of Blessed Columba Marmion who echoes the words of so many other spiritual writers: ‘The only infallible sign of the presence of God in our lives is joy.’ Joy is the identity card of the Christian. Our Lord tells us that the purpose of all his preaching is to give us joy: ‘I have told you all these things that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.’ (Jn15:11). The motive of the Incarnation is to bring joy into the world. The Death and Resurrection of Christ have the same explosive motive: joy to the world. This joy is no transitory or emotional or sentimental joy but eternal joy which begins here and now in our earthly pilgrimage. St. Paul writing from prison to the Philippians tells them: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.’ (Philip 4: 14). I think those words of Paul might well sum up what Frank Duff would say to the Legion especially today. In an enjoyable article entitled Legion Humour to be found in his book: ‘Woman of Genesis’ he writes: ‘The note of Catholicism is that of an easy joyousness. According to the Legion, which aims at the practice of an all-round Catholicism, must obviously seek to possess itself of all the notes of Catholicism. Incidentally, a mournful, woebegone apostle will shut doors against himself.’

In his Apostolic Exhortation on the call to holiness Pope Francis talks about the signs of authentic holiness and one of them is joy and a sense of humour. I think what he says in two sentences could be seen as a good description of our Founder Frank Duff. He writes: ‘Far from being timid, morose, acerbic, or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit.’

Let me turn a little more to Pope Francis, who following the example of so many of his predecessors, speaks a great deal about the Christian vocation to joy. In the opening lines of his Apostolic Exhortation the Joy of the Gospel he writes: ‘The joy of the Gospels fill the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. Elsewhere he writes succinctly: ‘Our joy is Jesus Christ, his faithful love is inexhaustible. Therefore when a Christian becomes sad it means that he has distanced himself from Jesus. But then we must not leave him alone! We should pray for him and make him feel the warmth of the community.’ So an authentic relationship with Jesus is the essence and foundation of Christian joy. This friendship with Jesus gives rise to the conviction that we are infinitely loved, infinitely important to God, that he has lain down his life for me, that he will never give up on me, that he will never tire of forgiving me or coming to me in the Eucharist. Pope Francis writes: ‘There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realise of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’

Let us turn to Mary under the title Cause of our Joy. Of course there would be no Christian joy without Mary. It is Mary in God’s plan who brings Jesus into our world as De Montfort says in the opening line of his True Devotion to Mary: ‘It is through the Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ came into the world; and it is also fitting that, through her, He should reign in the world.’ Jesus is our joy and it is Mary who gives him to us. So Mary is essentially and intimately involved in Christian joy and she infallibly leads us to the source of all authentic joy who is Jesus.

But Mary gives us a special invitation to rejoice. We know that the first word that the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary was: ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured one.’ Then when Mary expressed the deepest feelings in her heart she sang: ‘My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’ So if the spirit of the Legion is the spirit of Mary then a spirit of joy must be central to the life and apostolate of the Legion. Let us stand by Mary and live with her as fully as fully as possible our radical vocation to Christian joy. Let us not be cowed by the hostile influences in our modern world but respond in a spirit of authentic joy.

Let me give the last words to Pope Francis. He writes: ‘An evangeliser must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that delightful and comforting joy of evangelising, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelisers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ.’ Amen.