John Paul II and the Legion

Recently I searched through the Handbook for some reflection on death and dying. There is no reference to either death or dying in the Index but there is a profound section on the meaning of suffering in the life of the Legionary. Still, preparation for death is of maximum importance for every human person and that includes us Legionaries. Then as I reflected on the Last Will and Testament of Pope John Paul 11 and slowly reread the Homily Cardinal Ratzinger delivered at the Funeral Mass, a great secret of the Legion dawned on me. Everything the Legion has to say on dying and death is contained in the practice of the True Devotion to Mary. Let me try and illustrate this by showing how John Paul 11 understood and lived to the very end, this consecration to Mary as taught by St. Louis Marie de Montfort.

Cardinal Ratzinger said “Divine Mercy: the Holy Father found the purest reflection of God’s mercy in the Mother of God. He, who at an early age had lost his own mother, loved his divine mother all the more. He heard the words of the crucified Lord as addressed personally to him: “Behold your Mother.” And so he did as the beloved disciple did: “he took her into his own home” (John 19:27) - “Totus Tuus.” And from the mother he learned to conform himself to Christ.” True devotion to Mary surely begins by hearing in the deepest and most sensitive centre of our hearts the words spoken by Christ on the cross to each one of us personally: “Behold your Mother.” Legion devotion to Mary is rooted not only in her Divine Maternity but in her maternity of each one of us. We spend our whole lives trying to deepen our understanding of that relationship to Mary as Mother and living according to it. It is Mary our Mother in union with the Holy Spirit who forms and nurtures us in the likeness of Jesus. We are His brothers and sisters through Mary. Deep personal friendship with Mary our Mother is the life blood of each one us because in it we infallibly find Jesus.

Let me quote just two passages from the Last Will and Testament of Pope John Paul 11: “Watch, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (cf. Matt 24:42) - these words remind me of the last call, which will occur at the moment the Lord wills it. I want to follow Him and I want all that forms part of my earthly life to prepare me for this moment. I do not know when it will occur, but like everything, I also place this moment in the hands of the Mother of my Master: “Totus Tuus”. I leave everything in the same maternal hands, and all those who have been connected to my life and my vocation. Above all, I leave the Church in these hands, and also my Nation and the whole of humanity. I thank all. I ask all for forgiveness. I also ask for prayer, so that God’s Mercy will show itself greater than my weakness and unworthiness.” The meaning is clear. Just as we legionaries have tried to live the True Devotion to Mary as set forth in the Handbook so we continue to live it in our dying and death. We give absolutely everything to Mary especially our declining years and our dying and death whatever form it may take in God’s loving Providence. We therefore lose our right to worry or be afraid of the future. We are in good hands and cared for by the maternal heart of Mary. That’s enough for us legionaries. It is unthinkable for us Legionaries to prepare for death and dying, to meet Jesus face to face, without Mary his Mother and ours. It is in her and with her that we come into the presence of the Trinity to be judged. She is our Advocate, our Mediatrix, our Mother and Queen. We spend our lives in total dependence on her and we entrust our dying and death to her too.

Each year during his annual Retreat John Paul 11 reread his Will and sometimes added a few words. So in 1980 he wrote: “Today I only want to add this to it that everyone should have present the prospect of death and must be ready to present himself before the Lord and Judge - and, contemporaneously, Redeemer and Father. I also take this into consideration continually, entrusting that decisive moment to the Mother of Christ and of the Church—to the Mother of my hope.”

I realise that some of you may have heard many times about the meaning and importance of the “Totus Tuus” the motto of John Paul 11. But remember he was the Pope and he was giving a message to the universal Church through his motto. He wanted to teach us about the place of Mary in his own life and what her place should be in our life. It is a key message of his pontificate. On his Coat of Arms there is a Cross and beside the Cross there is the simple letter “M” standing for Mary. On his coffin there was written only one letter and you can easily guess what it was -“M”. In life and in death he was totally belonging to Mary in order to be totally belonging to Jesus. He belongs to our Legion tradition now because he has shown us how to live and die in the spirit of our consecration to Mary as Legionaries: “I am all yours my Queen and my Mother and all that I have is Yours.”