February 2018 Concilium Meeting
By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P.
The Legion and the Grace of Conversion
Today the meeting of Concilium takes place on the first Sunday of Lent. So I thought it appropriate to reflect on the spirit of Lent in the context of the Legion. From the earliest years of the Church Lent has been a magnificent time of grace for countless millions of Christians as they set about with God’s grace to renew their Christian faith and prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, the work of our redemption in the death and resurrection of Jesus, Our Lord and God.
It should be a time of immense grace for the Legion too. Pope Benedict has frequently insisted that our Catholic faith is primarily not about something but Someone. This is true of Lent too. It is primarily concerned with a great return to God or a deepening of our relationship with him. The spirit of Lent is succinctly expressed in the first reading of Ash Wednesday from the prophet Joel: ‘Now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to Me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning. Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord you God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent.’ (Joel 2: 10-12). Our Lord says the same thing: ‘Come to me all you who labour and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.’ (Mt. 11:28)
So a key word in the spirit and purpose of Lent is conversion or its equivalent repent. It is the very first word of Our Lord recorded in the Gospel according to St. Mark: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ (Mark 1; 15) and the story of the whole New Testament is the story of so many conversions: people meeting Jesus and being radically by the grace of this meeting. And of course conversion is central to the total work of the evangelisation of the Church. Blessed Pope Paul states this truth so simply: ‘The purpose of evangelisation is therefore precisely this interior change, and if it be expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelises when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the Message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities they engage and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs.’ (Evangelii Nuntiandi par. 18). In other words when we cease to aim at conversion we cease to do the work of evangelisation. The Legion must surely resonate with those words of Blessed Pope Paul.
But what do we mean by conversion? There are two essential aspects to conversion: turning away from sin and turning to Christ. Sin is basically living apart from God in our thoughts, words, deeds and omissions or living a life with life in Christ. Conversion involves facing up to the reality of sin in our lives, sin in all its heavy disguises, degrees and depths. But it is important to remember that our Christian faith is not primarily about sin but about grace as Saint Paul puts it: Where sin abounds grace abounds even more. We must give the absolute primacy to the infinite love, mercy and forgiveness of God. Yes, there is total incompatibility between sin and God but a special relationship between God and the sinner. We must say categorically with Sacred Scripture that the precise purpose of the Incarnation is the salvation of sinners. God sent his son into the world to show his love for the sinner. Mercy is the revealed name of God for the sinner. And it has been said so wisely and truthfully: ‘The Church refuses to make sin the centre of religion. The focus of Christianity is not on sin but on Christ who conquered sin and death.’ St. Paul puts it pithily: ‘for me to live is Christ.’ Or as Frank Duff put it in regard to the essential spirit of the Legion: ‘The Legion is pure Christocentrism.’
We know that conversion is always a grace, indeed a very great grace, so ultimately we must pray for it both for ourselves and for others. But we must also cooperate with the grace although it remains first and always a grace. This is where we remember the role of Mary in the gift of conversion. She is the refuge of sinners and is also sometimes called the Mother of conversions. It is noteworthy that at Fatima and Lourdes she constantly asked us to pray for poor sinners especially those most in need of God’s mercy. She desires that we participate in her continuous maternal intercession for sinners. She is the mediatrix of all graces because in God’s design and will it is through her that Jesus comes into the world, not just to the world in general but to each one of us. There can be no conversions without her special intervention. The focus is on Christ, but we need the help of Mary to give us this focus.
Let me make one last point. Lent is not just a search for personal renewal and conversion but it concerns every family, parish, diocese, indeed the whole Church and even the whole world. In God’s plan Lent must be a time of immense grace for the whole Church. We are all called to put Christ back in our local area, our societies, our country and our world.
Lent too is call to the world wide Legion as a time of grace, mutual forgiveness and mutual reconciliation in Christ. However, it must obviously start with every individual legionary. We can sometimes give so much time and effort to prayer and planning for the work for the work of conversion of others that we can neglect the primacy of our own conversion. We can give so much attention to our apostolates for others that we can neglect the task of our own sanctification and daily on-going conversion. This can happen especially when legionaries have heavy responsibilities for administration and the guidance of other legionaries alongside many other commitments. I sometimes think that where there is a serious breakdown in the harmony and loving mutual support of the members of a praesidium, Curia, or higher council, it is due to the neglect ultimately of personal sanctification and on-going conversion. May this Lent be a great celebration of encountering Jesus through Mary and turning away from all that may divide us from each other. Amen.