The Legion and the Priest
One of the most striking facts about the history of the Legion of Mary is that so many men and women of all ages have discovered their vocation in and through the Legion. So many legionaries have become priests and religious. And this continues to be a fact. So many have discerned their vocation to marriage and life in the domestic church through the Legion and this too continues to be a fact. And literally millions of lay people have been brought to a realisation that they are called to be saints and to the lay apostolate through membership of the Legion. And this also continues to be a fact. I mention these things because this is a year dedicated to the promotion of vocations - priestly, religious, marriage, and the vocation and mission of all the laity. During this vocation year, I will try to speak a little about all the vocations, but today I would like to speak about the vocation of the priest and the role of the Legion in this particular vocation.
The Universal Catechism writing on the meaning of the priesthood quotes the Cure of Ars: ‘The priest continues the work of redemption here on earth. If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die, not of fright but of love. The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.’ The priest is the servant of the real presence of Jesus on earth. The whole meaning of his personal existence is to give Jesus to others. What a desolation the world would be if there was no Eucharist, if there was no sacrament of the nearness and total accessibility of Jesus to each one of us. How full of despair and discouragement the world would be if there was no Sacrament of reconciliation, that Sacrament of God’s infinite affirmation of the sinner and tender encouragement. The Sacrament in which Our Lord personally proclaims his love of the sinner no matter what he may have done and whatever he may think about himself. ‘I came to call sinners’ is the central cry of Christ in the Gospels. How sad it would be if the sick and the dying were never to meet the healing Christ in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. There are so many ways in which Christ comes into our lives and in God’s providential plan he comes especially in and through the priest.
At ordination the priest receives the priestly character. This means he is changed in the core of his being, his very soul is branded by the power to always and everywhere act in the person of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of his mystical Body, the Church. The priest does not say at the consecration: ‘This is the Body of Christ’ no he says ‘This is my Body.’ And at the absolution in Confession he does not say ‘Christ absolves you’ but ‘I absolve you.’ The priest is not a substitute for Christ like one teacher may substitute for another or a doctor do locum for another or even as Our Lord’s ambassador or representative. By the priestly character at ordination the priest is configured to Christ the priest so that it is Christ Himself who acts in and through the priest. The Cure of Ars was right when he said that if we really understood the gift of the priesthood to the Church and the world, we would die of love. No one will ever be able to do justice to the vocation of the priest.
But when we say that the role of the priest is to make Jesus present in our world, who does this remind us of? It reminds us of Mary whose specific vocation is always to bring Jesus into our world and to each one of us personally. Mary and the priest have exactly the same goal although they bring it about in very different ways. Because of this identity of purpose, the priest must turn to Mary if he is to be truly a priest and fulfil his vocation. No one brings Jesus into the world more effectively than Mary. Only she can teach us how to be one with Jesus and how to bring Him to others. The life of the priest will be profoundly impoverished if it neglects its Marian dimension, that is, Mary’s maternity of every priest and her special role in his inner life and his entire ministry.
And where does the Legion come into this picture of the vocation of the priest? Well the Legion has the same purpose as the priest although it too fulfils this purpose in a different way. The reason for the existence of the Legion is simply to bring Jesus into the world in, through and with Mary. The Legion seeks to share in Mary’s maternity of mankind. It would be difficult to exaggerate the intimacy that should exist between the Legion and the priest. It is Mary who joins them together because they both seek to bring Jesus to the world through Mary.
Finally, the Legion knows well that the priest lives out his vocation amidst many personal limitations and personal sin. He carries his treasure in an earthen vessel and so the Legion has a great ministry to priests. Legionaries are called to intercede incessantly for priests especially through adoration of the Eucharist that comes to us through the hands of a priest. In this year dedicated to promoting vocations, may the Legion worldwide seek to renew its understanding and love of the priest and encourage them in their work as spiritual directors in the Legion. The Legion needs to be a place where the priest can experience the joy of the Gospel, where he can be encouraged by the apostolic realism and commitment of the laity, and especially experience the presence of Mary among us. In the absence of this true spirit of the Legion, the priest will gradually but inevitably abandon the Legion and so both the Legion and himself will be deprived of many graces. Let us hope that nothing will undermine the profound bonds between the priest and the Legion.