Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reflections on the First Allocutio in Legion History

Concilium Allocutio October 2011
By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P.
Spiritual Director to the Legion of Mary

Reflections on the First Allocutio in Legion History

During the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Legion of Mary we have been reflecting on various aspects of the very first meeting of the Legion. That first meeting is very special in many ways because it sets the pattern and spirit of every other meeting that takes place in the Legion. We have already meditated long and deeply on the indissoluble connection and influence of the True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis Marie de Montfort on the first meeting. There would probably have been no first meeting and no Legion if the 'first nighters' had not been exposed beforehand to de Montfort by the talk and explanation given by our Founder Frank Duff. The spirit and teaching of de Montfort has been branded on the very soul of the Legion. But there were others things at least as important as the True Devotion to Mary that dominated the spirit and motives of that first night and every moment of the existence of the Legion ever since. These were the spiritual reading and the first allocutio and the discussion that took place on them.

There was, of course, no Handbook from which to pick the spiritual reading at that time. That became more or less customary much later. So Fr. Michael Toher, the local curate, read the 25th Chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel and then commented on it by way of an allocutio and then the whole little group discussed it at length. They fastened on the key words: 'Whatever you did to the least of my brethren you did to Me.' Those words provided the motive and method of every Legion apostolate. They express the doctrine of the mystical Body of Christ in the clearest and most practical way. There is no Legion without the doctrine of the mystical Body of Christ. From the very first meeting the Holy Spirit made sure that the Legion would be properly centred and rooted in this Gospel teaching. Frank Duff vividly recalls how the first young legionaries vied with each other to visit the very poor in the Cancer Ward of the old Union Hospital and the joy they brought to this apostolate because they firmly believed that they were meeting and caring for Our Lord in these hopeless patients.

Again in an Address to a group of Quakers on the work of the Morning Star Hostel he said: 'How is the work of the Morning Star possible? There is one way only - it comes from the realisation of the Christian truth that in our neighbour we must see Christ Our Lord and that not as a mere sentimental expression, but in a manner which though supernatural and beyond our power of understanding is nevertheless in the order of reality. The 25th Chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew "As often as you did it to some of these my least brethren, you did it to Me". These words are the charter of the Morning Star; they are its moral foundation stone, its motive-power, and its guarantee of its success. Without that motive power, the work would not go far. It is too thankless, too arduous, too grim, too much above mere human striving and thoughts.'

One would have to add that this pivotal attitude of seeing Christ in our neighbour is not only activated in our formal Legion work but should be present in every personal contact. It provides a deeper meaning to the Legion saying that the legionary is never off duty. Certainly in his writings, his letters, his audio tapes, the Handbook, one comes across familiar passages like the following: 'The rich, the poor, the respected or those who, for various reasons, are not respected - the Legionary approaches all with the same respectful manner. This is not a business manner, assumed for the purpose of ingratiating themselves. It is a consequence of the Mystical Body of Christ. "So often as you did it unto one of these my least brethren, you did it to me." Even the unthankful, the evil, and the greatest objects of natural repulsion, are to be viewed in this light, and to be rendered a reverential and princely service.'

This doctrine of the mystical Body of Christ developed and deepened gradually in the thought and life of our Founder. He certainly learned about the application of the Gospel text in Matthew from his years in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which he joined in 1913. He wrote about seeing Christ in our neighbour in his pre-Legion classic 'Can we be Saints?' He rejoiced that this doctrine was central to the first meeting of the Legion and it was incorporated into all the editions of the Handbook. Finally, lest it should ever be neglected or overlooked it was placed in the Standing Instruction to be read at the first meeting of every month. 'Every legionary binds himself to the performance of a substantial active legionary work, in the spirit of faith and in union with Mary, in such fashion that in those worked for and in one's fellow members, the Person of Our Lord is once again seen and served by Mary, his Mother.' From time to time I think it would be a very helpful exercise if every praesidium were to ask itself whether it is really living the doctrine of the mystical Body of Christ in its meetings. If it is not being lived there, it is hard to see how it can be lived in our apostolates and other personal contacts.

By way of conclusion let me add that in one of the interviews recorded on video tape the interviewer, the late Father Al Norrell, asked Frank what he thought of the Legion as a maker of saints. Frank found this designation absolutely justified. 'The Legion of Mary,' he said, 'put into the legionary mind the capacity for understanding the great Catholic doctrines: the doctrine of the Mystical Body, the Motherhood of Our Lady, and the extraordinary influence of Our Lady with the Holy Spirit. These things are holy and sanctifying,' he added, 'and they make saints by the bushel.' The Legion is not a pious association of men and women with a deep but sentimental devotion to Our Lady and a fussy desire to do all kind of useful little things for the Church. From its very first meeting it resolved to live the great doctrines of the Church especially the teaching on the Mystical Body of Christ and the Motherhood of Mary and it specialised in heroic forms of the apostolate and was willing to undertake what humanly speaking seemed to be impossible.

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Quote of the Day
We all agree that there is a pressing need to try and disseminate the Word of God and to get people to open their ears and hearts to another voice, the voice of God, a voice that speaks of peace and that gives life.

We are challenged to find methods to help people attune to this Word of God.
Fr. Paul Churchill, Archdiocese of Dublin