September 2018 Allocutio
By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P. Spiritual Director to the Concilium
Our Lady of Sorrows
After many years of constant reading of the published works of the Servant of God, Frank Duff and the transcripts of hundreds of his talks to legionaries on various occasions, I have come to realise that apart from certain types of letters he wrote there is hardly any of his writings that do not have a reference to Mary. So gradually I think I have some understanding of his vision of the Legion of Mary. He himself writes: ‘I get down to the bedrock of the Legion – the question of motive. I am going to dwell particularly on that part of the motive which concerns her whose name the Legion bears. Mary is a principal motive in the Legion and, as the Legion sees things, is completely essential.’
He has written on all the biblical texts explicitly referring to Our Lady. He has dwelt on the four great Marian dogmas. He constantly puts before us the teaching of the magisterium about Mary down through the centuries and especially illuminating are his insightful reflections on the Mariology of the 11 Vatican Council. Of course all legionaries know that the decisive and major influence in his discovery of Mary were the writings of St. Louis Marie de Montfort. In addition to these pivotal writings of de Montfort he read everything he could lay his hands on, in English or in French about Mary, by many other saints and countless spiritual writers. There are more than 100 different authors quoted on Mary in the Handbook alone. However, from a pastoral point of view, I have found especially helpful his writings on the feasts of Our Lady celebrated in the liturgy.
Yesterday we celebrated the memory of Our Lady of Sorrows so I would like to offer you some brief reflections mostly based on two articles of Frank Duff found in his book Virgo Predicanda: ‘And Thy own soul a sword shall pierce’ and ‘I have suffered with Him whom I saw suffer.’ Let us start by noting two basic principles in everything Frank Duff writes about Mary. First there is the inseparability of Jesus and Mary not only in time but in eternity. Everything about Mary points us and leads us to God, the creature to the creator, the Mother to the Son. To put it in the celebrated expression: ‘To Jesus through Mary.’ In God’s plan if there is no Mary there will be no Jesus and our redemption would not have taken place. At his birth Jesus is placed in the heart and total care of Mary his Mother and in death he is once more placed in her lap. To Christian faith it is impossible to separate Jesus and Mary.
A second basic conviction and principle for Frank Duff is that everything about Mary has very practical implications and application to the lives of each one of us. So the memory of Our Lady of Sorrows exemplifies for us the co-redemptive meaning of our own pains and sufferings, be they great or small. Of course, Mary plays a sublime role in the work of our redemption but we too are called, each in his or her own way, to share in the co-redemption of the world.
In earlier centuries this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows was called Our Lady of Com passion. The word compassion is used in many societies today as a motive for performing some of the most horrendous evils. Let me quote Frank Duff in the context of this lovely feast: ‘The technical term which is applied to Mary’s sufferings is her Compassion. Many words have suffered modification of meaning through the passage of time, and that word is one of them.
Compassion thus applied to her has not its present conventional meaning, which is only to feel pity. Similarly the word ‘passion’ which designates Our Lord’s ordeal of suffering means only anger today. Our Lord was not in a rage. Neither was Our Lady merely pitying him in His agony. Her compassion meant her suffering His Passion along with Him. ‘I have suffered with Him whom I saw suffer.’ His very pains were transferred to her through her eyes and her exquisitely sensitive nervous system, so that she endured His sufferings along with Him for our sakes.’
The idea of her Compassion is an essential one in Christianity. It was the plan that she was to share in a real in the mission of Our Lord. She would initiate it. She would be brought into it in such a pivotal way that, even though dependent on Our Lord, she would help to earn Redemption, and afterwards share in His administration of Grace. The Church has accorded to her the designation of Co-Redemptrix and she is the mediatrix of all graces in the sense they are not given without her.’
The truth of our faith did not remain simply as intellectual convictions for Frank Duff, but animated his daily life. They became part of his prayer life. In this case of Our Lady of Sorrows by praying the Rosary of the Seven Dolours every day of his long life. But also they came into play in many of the most testing times of his life. So for instance he writes of one momentous occasion concerning the Regina Coeli Hostel: ‘What faced us was the abomination that 250 of the most helpless and vulnerable of the population were to be cast to destruction. In one minute the work, which had taken 33 years of desperate striving and devotion on the part of many to build up, was going to be hurled to the winds. So that it was not a question of only the 250 but all the multitudes who would in the future be subjected to shipwreck by taking away of the ark which could have saved them. The prospect was beyond bearing. I cannot think about it even at the present moment without quivering with pain…. I sought to bury myself and my torment in Mary, to stand upright in her at the foot of her Son’s Cross and her own – merging my pain in hers. I found it almost easy to do that by reason of the fact that it brought visible physical relief. It reduced my own position to proper perspective; my torture lessened; I held control. Eventually the crisis was surmounted. We may suppose that the underlying graces of the situation far exceeded in their worth the benefits which were made evident.’
There are two powerful quotations from Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson in the Handbook. Let me add a third that you might find helpful in understanding the mystery of Our Lady of Sorrows: ‘A religion that presented to us Mary with her living child in her arms, and had no Mary with her dead Son across her knees, could not have been the religion we should turn in utter confidence when all else had failed.
More, she could not have been our Mother in any but an adopted sense, if her bearing of us had not been without pain. But, as it is, she who brought forth her un-fallen firstborn painlessly brought forth the rest of her fallen human family in agony and darkness.
Indeed, she is the Mother of the redeemed, because she was the Mother of the Redemption: she stood by the Cross of Jesus, as she had knelt by his cradle; and she is our mother, then, by that very blood by which both she and we are alike redeemed. The ‘Mother of Sorrows’ must always be nearer to the human race than even the ‘Cause of our Joy.’
Let me conclude with the magnificent text from the Gospel of St. John. ‘By the cross of Jesus stood his Mother.’ She stands by the cross of all her children in Christ. Each month Concilium listens to reports of how fellow-legionaries in different parts of the world must live their Legion vocation in extremely difficult circumstances. Some live in war zones where life is very cheap, some live under militant atheistic regimes, some live as tiny minorities in huge populations, some have to flee their homelands, some live in situations of extreme socio- economic deprivation. There are massive problems of so many kinds. Let us invoke Our Lady of Sorrows on their behalf and pray every day.