Religious orders each have their Rules which define their charisms and their unique characteristics. Every country has its constitution against which all other laws, and the actions of all citizens are measured. The Handbook is like our Rule and our constitution. And it's a document we should be proud of.
To one who said to me, "How can I be a really good Legionary?" I would reply: "Begin by studying the Handbook in a reasonable appreciative way. That is the first requirement. If you want to do good through the Legion, first of all know the Legion. You cannot work the system unless you understand it. The Handbook is a comparatively short document. You could get through it very quickly. There is no profession in the world which summarises into so few pages - about 300 - all that is really necessary to know about the organization. Imagine any student being told he can learn all the essentials of his science in about 300 pages! In one week he would have it off by heart. Imbibe not only the doctrine but what is the outcome of it the mentality of the Legion, it's characteristics, methods, worlds. If you are in earnest, this going through the Handbook should occupy you only a short time.
- Francis Canon Ripley, Jubilee Talks to Legionaries.
Canon Ripley says we should read the Handbook because
1) it is our rule
2) it is a fine manual of spiritual direction
3) it is a splendid guide to the technique and method of apostolate
4) it is a book for prayer and meditation
5) it is already sanctified by its association with the Legion all over the world
6) it is a fount of sound doctrine
7) it is a manual of devotion to Our Lady
So much treasure in between those two red covers!
If we love the Legion, we should want to know more about it. Very importantly, we are warned not to allow the Legion system to be tampered with. Deviation would lead to failure and we can no longer legitimately bear the name Legion of Mary. How would we know if we are tampering with the system if we do not know what the system is in the first place?
For example, the Handbook prescribes the length of the Legion meeting. And Canon Ripley tells us that allowing the praesidium meetings to last about two hours is "flagrantly against what is clearly laid down. It must not be tolerated." (we must work on this ok? ;))
Now the meeting duration is something we know about. And it's still hard to follow. But there's the strictest requirement to do so. There are probably many other such requirements that we are not even aware of.
In fact, the President of Curia, Brother Endang just mailed us this:
Handbook pg. 165:He realized this last week when the passage was part of the Spiritual Reading for the Senatus meeting. So the Handbook has a lot of important stuff hidden inside it!
"14. An agenda for the meeting shall be prepared beforehand by the Secretary in consultation with the President, and circulated to each Spiritual Director and each President previous to the praesidium meeting immediately before the Curia meeting.
Fervour and enthusiasm can keep us going for a a while. We can work because it satisfies us and we love what we're doing. But when, for some reason, that fervour dies off, and we aren't imbibed with Legionary values and principals, we'll either leave the Legion or - perhaps worse - sink into lukewarmness. On the other hand, if we are steeped in the values that the Handbook offers us, if we understand and value the Legion system, our service will continue (difficult though it may be) through the dry periods, because we'll know it's right, even though it won't feel good at that time.
That's how the saints endured their dark nights of the soul - by clinging to the basic doctrines of their faith because feelings were no longer there to aid them.
Probably the most common complaint about the Handbook is that it's too dense and complex. Some people might legitimately put forth this complaint (though it is still not a valid excuse: they should at least try). But we at NUS cannot dare hide behind this. As university students we read academic literature far more complex and mind-boggling than the Legion Handbook.
Also,who, if not us, should be expected to read and assimilate the Handbook? The junior Legionaries? Elderly Legionaries? Not even working Legionaries with families actually because their time is much more limited than ours. So we have no excuse.
Finally, can't we be certain of the aid of the Holy Spirit (after all He inspired the Handbook) and our Lady, the Seat of Wisdom to help us?
So, if we love the Legion and are serious about our commitment to the System, let's determine to read our Handbook. Just one or two pages a day would suffice.
"The more we know it, the more we love it and the more effective our work will be"