December 2019 Allocutio
Alfie Lambe: His significance for Universal Church and the Legion of Mary
By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P.
Spiritual Director of the Concilium
We are coming to the end of the 60th Anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Alfie Lambe and I think it would be helpful to reflect once more on the gift of Alfie Lambe that God has given the Legion and the Universal Church.
First of all I remind myself of something Mother Angelica jokingly said; “Those who write the lives of the saints will have to spend a long time in Purgatory”. Robert Ellsberg, who wrote the lives of many saints and men and women with a reputation for sanctity, gives us a hint of an explanation when he writes: ‘The official process of canonisation involves a prolonged investigation that can take centuries to complete. The formality of the process, the emphasis on certified miracles, and the fact that those officially named are invariably exceptional figures, can serve to emphasise the gap between ‘real saints and people like us.’ In that sense, the process can hinder, rather than help us realise a crucial fact; that all Christians and not just a select few are called to holiness.
Thankfully, the life of Alfie written by Hilda Firtel and the pamphlet written by Frank Duff give us a portrait that we can identify with and at the same time be inspired by. I warmly recommend them to every legionary and indeed to everyone.
Alfie is a multi-faceted gift to the Legion and the Church so although I will focus mainly on a few aspects of his life in this short Allocutio, there are many other aspects of his life well worth thinking and praying about and putting into practice. I think the message of his life should have a significant part to play in the spiritual renewal of the Legion and its continued growth throughout the world as we approach the celebration of the Centenary of the founding of the Legion.
Let me start with an expression that Alfie uses many times in his letters: ‘Living the Legion.’ This was his basic message to the Legion. He writes: ‘I am more than ever convinced that living the Legion is living the life of Our Blessed Lady, and the more one gives oneself to the Legion the more one finds oneself in Mary.’ But this living the Legion can sometimes involve great struggle. Alfie writes to a close friend: ‘How far I find myself from being what True Devotion calls ‘a living copy of Mary!’ Pride and human respect come so much into everything I say and do, that sometimes I am tempted to give up in order to stop insulting her. I know that I will not serve by giving up, so I must continue so that the reign of Mary may come, yes that Mary may reign in all hearts.’
In another letter he says: ‘I am really very weak, but I know that Our Lady uses the weak to show her power. For some time past I have made it a practice of reciting the Legion Promise daily towards the end of Mass. Every line of it is full of consolation for weak people.’ My conviction concerning the message that the life of Alfie gives to the Legion and the Universal Church is that God raised him up to remind us once more of the indispensable place Mary plays in the evangelisation of the world. The True Devotion to Mary would transform young Catholic men and women and open a whole new dimension to their personal lives and the new evangelisation of the world. It is imperative that we do not water down this True Devotion or think that it is not possible for young men and women in today’s world. It must be central to any apostolate or ministry to youth. The reason is quite simple: God created Mary to bring Jesus into the world and she remains the privileged means of bringing every individual person to Jesus. This was the guiding principle of the life of Alfie as it is indeed of the Legion itself. Let us get to grips with that section of the Handbook: ‘True Devotion to Mary obliges apostleship.’
In order to put Jesus at the very centre of our lives true devotion to Mary must become our top priority. The Handbook puts it in many different ways: ‘But legionaries must be brought to realise that they do not work directly for results. They work for Mary quite irrespectively of the simplicity or the difficulty of the task; and in every employment the legionary must give the best that is in him, be it little or be it great’. To become a legionary means to be totally belonging to Mary in order to be totally belonging to Jesus. The Legion of Mary changed Alfie from being an ordinary good Christian into an extraordinary apostolic Christian or the discovery of the Legion by Alfie enabled him to become the person God wanted him to be.
In his testimony concerning Alfie, Cardinal Mozzoni wrote: ‘The apostolate became an absolute obligation,’ or in the words of Frank Duff: ‘He gave all his energies to the pursuit of souls,’ or as Hilda Firtel defined him: ‘A giant of the apostolate.’ We get a glimpse of his apostolic zeal in his address to about 250 prisoners in the big gaol in Quito, Ecuador: ‘In glowing words he explains to them the idea of the Legion of Mary and impressed on them as baptised and confirmed members of the Mystical Body of Christ they had an apostolic obligation. The apostolate is less a duty than a privilege. It is our chance to intervene in the history of salvation and redemption, and hence to world history. People like you can change Ecuador.’ More than 150 prisoners became legionaries! How every parish and Diocese could be transformed if the Catholic laity could really become apostolic like Alfie or any good legionary! The Legion must play its part in showing the way of the laity, especially the young, in the new evangelisation. Alfie’s message is simple: Live the Legion – practice the True Devotion to Mary, live the Handbook. Amen