The Visitation and the Legion
Recently we celebrated the feast of the Visitation. This led me on to thinking about the place of home visitation in the vision and apostolic life of the Legion. The Handbook has much to say about home visitation. It begins by saying: ‘Though not its initial venture, the visitation of homes has been traditionally the preferred work of the Legion, its special occupation everywhere and its avenue of greatest good. It is a characteristic of the Legion. Through this visitation, personal contact can be made with a great many people and the Church’s concern for every person and every family can be shown.’
In his letters Frank Duff points out on numerous occasions the centrality of home visitation in the Legion scheme of things. So for instance he writes to Fr. Wesseley, the first Spiritual Director of the Legion in Austria and whose cause for beatification has been introduced, as follows: ‘We see that the basic work of the Praesidium will be the visitation of homes in the parish of St. Charles. This is good, for visitation is the principal work of the Legion, the foundation of all other things, which grow out of it. You will find it a remarkable way of bringing souls to God. In fact I am sure that you will be astonished by the fruits of grace, which you will observe to proceed rapidly from this work. I trust that the Parish Priest will thus be rewarded for his goodness and his enterprise in permitting the Legion to take its first roots in his territory.’ Recently we had the good news that the book ‘Mary Shall Reign’ has been reprinted and there you will find the chapter on the ‘The Spirit of Home Visitation’. It really is a masterpiece of insight and presentation. Every Legionary should read it again and again.
The importance of the home is so obvious and yet so neglected. The overwhelming number of those who have given up the practice of the faith have passed through Catholic schools and been given some kind of religious education. But they have come from prayerless homes. I will quote just one paragraph from our Founder on his view of the matter. ‘So I voice two ideas: First, religion taught in a cold, official way has no higher place in the children’s minds than any other school subject. Second, even religion admirably taught in the school has too much to contend with in the world to be able to stand unaided. Here is the tale of a heroic experiment. In France during the last century, faith was pinned on the schools as the means of bringing back the nation to the Church. Prodigious effort and sacrifice were thrown into the building and running of Catholic schools. Calculation showed that by pouring out each year so many children who would marry and multiply, the Catholicising of the country would inevitably be accomplished. It did not work out thus. Great good was done, but the total theory was found to be a delusion. The children lived in their Godless homes, and it was the homes that decided the issue. And so I talk to you about the Home, the fortress of society, and the privilege you have of being able to enter it.’
But let me go back to the feast of the Visitation because it gives us an example of how Mary herself made a home visitation and after all we legionaries do our visitation in the spirit of Mary and with her. First she goes simply to be of help in whatever way is possible. Then she brings Jesus into the home of Zachary and Elizabeth, this is the greatest blessing of all to the home. Isn’t this what every legionary wants ultimately to do as well, namely bring our Lord to homes together with Mary? It is while meditating on the Visitation that John Paul II refers to Mary as the First Evangeliser. No sooner has she received God into her womb and heart at the Annunciation than she begins the work of bringing Him to others. The visitation of the Legionary is not simply a social visit although its immediate object is to establish friendship and trust. Ultimately the legionary must bring Jesus into the home. He must talk religion at some stage. He is in the business of saving souls.
At the Visitation we see an example of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces. It is the Child Jesus who is the source of the grace that brings joy to John in the womb of Elizabeth but Our Lord uses Mary as his instrument. It is at the sound of her voice that the child leaps in the womb of Elizabeth. As legionaries we must allow Mary to use us as her instrument in the visitation of homes.
Finally, I want to stress that it is at the Visitation that we have the revelation that the dominant characteristic of Mary is her faith: ‘Blessed are you who has believed’. As the Legion of brothers and sisters who work with Mary and through her, faith must be the hallmark of our lives and apostolate too. But it must be a faith inseparable from charity. As we pray in the concluding prayers of the Tessera for ‘a lively faith animated by charity that will enable us to perform all our actions from the motive of pure love of you, and ever to see you and serve you in our neighbour’. Dear legionaries make sure that at least some members of every praesidium are doing home visitation in the spirit of Our Lady of the Visitation. There is so much at stake in this apostolate.