I think these holidays are the perfect time to pause and examine our praesidium. The coming matriculation fair will be a crucial one, and so will the new semester. It would be good if we could spend these few months, in preparation, trying to find specific areas to improve. Hopefully we can devise concrete steps on how we can better live out Legionary duties as a Praesidium.
In today’s allocutio I’ll touch very briefly on a few broad ideas of Legionary service which might be useful to ponder upon with regard to our own Praesidium.
Some weeks ago, Ferdinand talked about Marian devotion, I’ll touch on the topic a bit too.
Our Praesidium is like Her body. Our duty is to provide Her with a foothold to act in the world, a channel through which She can distribute the graces the Lord has entrusted to Her.
We know that we must never approach any work or any person except through and with Our Blessed Mother. How do we live that in reality? It must be something conscious, at the forefront of our thoughts when we carry out our apostolic work. It’s not just a theory at the back of our mind, something to feel good about. She must be at the top of our minds, always on our lips, and never leave our hearts, because it is through Her that we bring Jesus Christ to the world and the world to Jesus Christ.
Our priorities must be in line with our Queens. “She was consumed with love for Her Son in Himself, in His Church, in His earthly Vicar, in His priests, in all His members. The centre of Her life after His ascension was surely in the Blessed Sacrament.” (Jubilee Talks, 61). This must the the case for each of us too.
This brings us to a second theme: that of our interior life.
Our apostolate, and indeed our entire lives must revolve around Holy Mass. Do we go regularly for weekday Mass, and invite other Catholics to join us too? We can offer our apostolic efforts to God during Mass and ask Him to make them fruitful.
We must also never forget the Holy Spirit, Whose Spouse Mary is. Fr Marin told us at our retreat to be open to the Holy Spirit, to be generous – do whatever He prompts us to do.
It is to the Holy Spirit that our Legion is dedicated and it is to Him that we promise our faithful service. He’s also the Giver of Life, the dynamic power of God. He gets things done!
At yesterday’s Legion meeting, Daniel reminded us of the theme chosen for last year’s WYD: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses ” (Acts 1:8).
Prayer and the apostolate are extremely interconnected. Each depends on the other and each makes the other more fruitful. A healthy prayer life is the vital energy behind our apostolate. It is through prayer that we realise how to improve on our apostolic efforts. Likewise, a vigorous apostolate provides much material to take to our prayer – our contacts, our methods of reaching out, our own demeanour and actions all can be taken to our Lord in prayer.
Related to this, I think we should be very concerned about our auxiliaries. They are like the interior life of our praesidium.
We must also pray earnestly and seriously for out Praesidium and the Legion worldwide.
In addition to a strong interior life, we also must be filled with zeal for the Legion apostolate. Do we realise that the cause we are fighting for is worth our efforts; that we are on a mission that is greater than our own whims and feelings? Or is the Legion just a way to do a bit of good work, so that we can feel satisfied with ourselves? Is it one of many projects? Or is it something more? Are we on Legionary duty all the time?
We must be on fire! Look how enthusiastic the forces of the world are! See how active the devil is in today’s world! Can we afford to be lukewarm?
A zealous spirit encourages our fellow Legionaries and attracts Catholics to the Legion. A zeal for the Legion perhaps especially includes a zeal for doing work through the Legion. The purpose of the Legion is to weld its members together into one body (Handbook, 74). This should be reflected in our reports. Are we too often involved only in our own personal contacts? Do we do enough work as a praesidium? This is another feature that could affect our ability to recruit. If all we do is of a personal nature, a non-Legionary might come to the conclusion that he can do similar work on his own. He would see no need to join the Legion and attend its meetings. The idea of doing heroic work as a group – work that an individual cannot do on his own – is attractive.
One sure way to keep our zeal high is to read the Handbook. Read the Maria Legionis. The Maria Legionis is not meant as a piece of leisure reading. Francis Canon Ripley (Jubilee Talks) says it should be a source of inspiration, a source of ideas for work done and the subject of our allocutios.
Officers: keep us informed about what’s going on in Curia, in other Praesidia in Singapore and in the Legion worldwide. That way we can realise that we’re fighting a worldwide battle. It also should help us keep in mind something Ferdinand mentioned last week: that our efforts might bear fruit, not in our own praesidium, but in some other praesidium, in another part of the world, at some other time.
Also conversely, when we are lukewarm, lacking zeal, the entire Legion suffers.
“The Legion will be what the sum total of the efforts of the individual members make it. Each individual has an irreplaceable part to play. At the Praesidium level this means that the ordinary members should be treated as precious people, as other Marys, other Christs. Everybody should be courageous enough to initiate frank discussion in all charity to promote zeal, enterprise, enthusiasm and a true Marian spirit.” (Jubilee Talks, 38)
This zeal requires a spirit of sacrifice from the Legionaries. You don’t lose anything when you work for Christ and His kingdom: “Just as the Paschal Candle suffers no loss when the other lights are taken from it, so our Christ-likeness gives itself to the world without suffering any loss in the process.” (Jubilee Talks, 33).
It’s worth remembering here the words of our Holy Father during his Inauguration Mass:
“And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return.”
Last Thursday I attended a meditation at Opus Dei. Fr Lebano mentioned the need to cultivate of human perfections and human virtues. He said that the current Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria, is very keen on increasing the number of vocations to Opus Dei. When someone asked him what more they should do to achieve this , he replied that one thing they must do is to be more attractive. Each of us Legionaries, and the Praesidium as a whole too, must strive to be more attractive. To be Christ-like is to be cheerful, caring, peaceful, loving. Sometimes we tend to underestimate the power of a simple “how are you?” or a message of encouragement. It is this love that draws members to the Praesidium.
Of course “charity begins at home.” “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35). We shouldn’t only be cheerful and polite to contacts. Let this praesidium be a true family brimming with love and friendship.
Fr Lebano gave our dear Pope as an example of being Christ-like through little gestures. Upon being elected to the See of Peter as he was leaving his former residences in Rome, he took the time to go to each of his neighours to bid them farewell (and tell them that they could now find him a short distance away, at the Apostolic Palace :))
I find this passage from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (12: 9-12) very beautiful:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Finally I’ll touch a bit on the perils of routine and the idea of renewal. I quote a passage from Canon Ripley’s allocutios. I think it’s useful that we think about this especially when we plan our work for next semester:
Has your Council of Praesidium settled down into a happy routine, doing the same works,, visiting the same people in the same way, reporting always in the identical, matter-of-fact fashion? Have you, personally, tried to infuse new ideas, stimulate the Praesidium to tackle new works, vary its approach or really face up to the problems which confront it?
If the Legion in its Councils, Praesidia or members is not working to the maximum capacity, the mother-love of Mary is being frustrated. She wants to reach out to multitudes of souls through Her Legion, but Her Legionaries are too set in their ways, fail to recruit new members, refuse to widen their horizons or shy at the prospect of heroic work.
We must realise that the aim of the Legion of Mary is to mobilize the whole community to apostleship. At the moment I doubt if the Legion is working to one tenth of its capacity in some of the places where it exists.
We have a duty to try to bring everybody into the ranks of active membership. Do not object that we cannot include non-practicing Catholics or those outside the Church. We cannot include them in their present state: BUT WE MUST TRY TO CHANGE THAT STATE. We are not even making enough effort to recruit Mass-going Catholics into the Legion. The death knell of the Legion has sounded in any place in which the Legionaries are regarded as super-Catholics, an exclusive company of selected souls amongst whom more ordinary people are not welcome. Such an idea is contrary to the spirit and the constitution of the Legion of Mary. Read your Handbook: THE LEGION OF MARY IS OPEN TO ALL CATHOLICS WHO, LEAD EDIFYING LIVES, ARE ANIMATED BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LEGION (OR AT LEASR DESIRE TO FOSTER THAT SPIRIT IN THEMSELVES) AND ARE PREPARED TO FULFULL EACH AND EVERY DUTY WHICH MEMBERSHIP IN THE LEGION INVOLVES. If people think they are being excluded from the Legion, they will develop antagonism to it...
Recruiting is a first Legionary principle. Perhaps one of the reasons why our recruiting figure is so low or why certain admittedly weak Praesidia fail to grow, is that the work has settled down to routine...
The important thing about our work is to be quite definite about the end-product. What are we aiming at? Are we taking all possible means to that end? Can we not enlarge our productive capacity?...There is no limit to what could be done – and it is easy to see that if it were being done, all dominated by the spirit of Mary, new members would come to the Legion, new interest would be created by the varied reports and immense good would result in the Church.”
(Jubilee Talks, 48-50)
Finally, let us be hopeful, and let us expect miracles. Since we trust that we are fighting God’s battle, with Mary as our General, we should be confident – because God does not lose battles.
Let us ask our dear Mother to always protect our Praesidium and make it fruitful.
May the love you bore your Son teach us to love God with all our heart, strength and soul. May the Almighty show us his mercy, strengthen us with his power, and fill us with every good thing (cf. Lk 1:46-56). Amen
(Pope Benedict XVI, Address at Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem, May 13, 2009.)