I am very pleased to be here today as I have so many grateful memories of the Legion and the many very fine people I’ve met over the years. I greet Mary Murphy, President of the Legion and those who have come here from abroad, especially those from Brazil and Cina. I’m sure there are many others here too and you are very welcome.
As a seminarian I was given a pastoral placement as spiritual director to a Legion Praesidium that used to meet in Dominick Street in Dublin (the Assumpta Praesidium). It was a great experience. A very fond memory for me is that of working with the Legion of Mary for the great meeting of ecclesial movements in 1999 where I got to know the late Tommy McCabe who I admired so greatly, Lord, rest his soul.
In Clonliffe College our spiritual director was Fr. Tom Flynn CM who was Spiritual Director to the Concilium. He knew Frank Duff so well. I recall with gratitude being present with so many, many others at Frank Duff’s funeral.
Over the years I have met with people from all over the world who speak highly of the Legion. In many ways, the Legion is under appreciated for its role in the world as a kind of agency promoting Ireland. I recall speaking to the Venerable Van Thuan from Vietnam who spoke so enthusiastically about the great good the Legion does worldwide. And I see others here today that I know and value their contribution.
So dear sisters and brothers, what does the Gospel say to us today? Jesus couldn’t be clearer. In the Parable he tells the Pharisees, he puts before us three points.
First. There are great injustices going on in the world right under our eyes. The rich man who was living it up could hardly say he didn’t know about Lazarus. Lazarus was lying at his door eating the scraps from his table. Today around us there are many like Lazarus.
A second point. The injustices of the world will eventually face a reckoning. In the next life, the imbalances due to the original sin that fractures relationships and leads to greed, will be re-adjusted by Jesus in terms of truth and justice.
A third point. We already have the code for good living. Moses and the prophets represent the teachings of God. Jesus came to fulfill them. We have his words and example. Extravagant apparitions or occult practices aren’t needed. It’s enough to heed the Good News that has been given to us to lead a good life.
So, how are we to apply these three points to our life today?
First. We need to notice and name those who are in situations of dire need of our help. Pope Francis is forever telling us to beware of spiritual worldliness, that is, where we think we are building the Church but really we are doing so on the basis of our own ideas and needs and worldly categories. We might even be very efficient but we forget Jesus in our neighbour, especially Jesus in the poor whereas Jesus himself said: “whatever you do to the least you do to me”.
There are so many suffering right under our eyes – homeless children, migrants (today is Migrant Sunday), people of all ages and social classes suffering from additions of all sorts, so many young people with anxiety issues. It’s not as if we can’t notice them. They are there. We see them in our streets. We see and hear about them in media outlets. We come across them in our workplace, schools and social clubs. But we can somehow become indifferent, letting the scraps that fall from the tables of our prosperity do them. We forget to meet them, see them, hear them, act for them.
We hear all about statistics; homelessness, anxiety, suicide, self-harm yet our efforts at dealing with them are falling so short that they are exacerbating the crisis week by week, month by month, year by year. It’s not a crisis of economy, that we don’t have the capacity to deal with it. It’s a crisis of humanity. It’s a crisis of priority. Our priorities, from a purely human perspective, moral perspective, social perspective are too easily blind towards the dreadful morass that exists in far too many places in our society.
A second point about applying today’s Gospel to our lives. All of us will die. There is a next life. There will be a time of reckoning. It has been said that we build a house on earth to live in in the next life. In other words, we are creating our next life now. The choices we make, the deeds we do, the lifestyle we lead has a value and impact that goes well beyond the immediate. What we do now matters. We need to make good decisions.
Forty years ago this week, Pope John Paul was in Ireland. Speaking in Limerick at a Mass with over 300.000 present he said, “Ireland must choose. You the present generation of Irish people must decide; your choice must be clear and your decision firm…: "What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his life?" (Mt 16 :26). What would it profit Ireland to go the easy way of the world and suffer the loss of her own soul?” We have choices to make regarding what we do with prosperity, how we treat migrants, how we create communities where people feel they belong.
A third point. The Irish people have received a great gift - the Code of Life presented by the Gospel. There is so much wisdom in the Gospel to direct our choices in economics and healthcare, in politics and education, in strategies to do with prisoners, migrants and the environment. We need to get the message out about the Gospel Code of Best Practice that we already have. Jesus is clear – weird apparitions or occult are not the way. Frank Duff too was very wary of strange phenomena. What we need is to make Evangelisation a priority.
Pope Francis quotes Pope Benedict to remind us that Evangelisation is not proselytism. The Church grows not by proselytism but by attraction. It has to be the witness of our own personal lives that first wins people over to Christ. I don’t need to remind you of how much Frank Duff spoke of the centrality of charity in all our activities.
But we also need to speak and share the message. At times we can feel a little discouraged. The Church has too often been found wanting. We feel disheartened because at times it can seem that there aren’t many who believe the Church has Good News to communicate. But being few, as Pope Francis often repeats, is not a shame. Indeed, when we are just a few we can be like yeast leavening the bread or salt seasoning a meal. There might be a few of us but, despite our limitations, we have a great mission – to share with others the Good News that has made a difference in the lives of millions and millions around the world.
There is a risk we can be reduced by a subtle pressure to a form of “mutism” as Frank Duff called it. But what we want to do and share is positive. Frank Duff talked about the Legion as a channel of grace serving the nation. To witness to the Gospel and share it is a great service. We keep the fire of the Holy Spirit enkindled among people.
Frank Duff had a particular sensitivity for those who suffered anxiety. Sadly, it is a feature of our times that there is an increasing number of people suffering from anxieties of all types. While there are many great vibrant young people, we have to recognise there are too many living abnormal degrees of anxiety. There are many causes. There’s a competitive culture that is promoted in social media in terms of “likes” and “shares” and “friends”. There’s fear of the future in terms of environment. There is an insecurity among young people and we must ask how much of it is because they have not had the anchor of a solid reference point in their lives that in the past was so readily available but today is not so much because of their parents’ busy lives.
A teacher told me recently of a young student who came to him and said, “you know the difference between your generation and mind. We have no discipline”. She was not bemoaning the absence of some authoritarian harsh rule but rather a life that has boundaries and limits and a belief that not everything that is possible to do is good to do. We need to promote a culture that helps young people reflect and discern what is true and good and just. And that starts with young people recognising God’s immense love for them as they are and his unique plan for each one of them. Each one is valuable and so worthy of living a good life.
We need to ultimately promote a culture where it is ok to say ‘no’. It’s what we are learning with our new consciousness of environmental issues – we need to say ‘no’ in areas of our lifestyle if we want to protect our common home. But we need to create a culture across the board where it is right to say no – no to drugs, no to sexual openness, no to excess alcohol. No to excess. No to abandon and social freedom. And no to those who bully, online or offline. No to just going along without thinking with whatever others are saying is the right way of thinking. If we do that, we will help reduce the anxiety factor for young people. Saying no at the right time is empowering. It strengthens resolve, builds character, defies wrong. But today, it seems so hard for young people to say no and we must help build that resolve.
It’s not gadgets and activities alone that form children. It has to be something deeper. That depth is available, it’s available in religious spirituality.
And this is where you come in with what you as Legion in your outreach to people in distress and in your youth praesidia and meetings. Maybe there’s only a few of you doing it. But don’t be discouraged. What you are doing is important.
One final point. We know that in and through the Legion, Our Lady is at work. She needs our hands and hearts and minds to bring peace to those in anxiety. Today at the annual Legion of Mary Knock Pilgrimage let’s make a new resolution to give a hand to Our Lady in doing the many household chores she needs us to do.
There are so many waiting for a consoling word, an inspiring thought, a nudge in the right direction. In doing this, we’re doing good work. We are looking around us and seeing in the faces of those who resemble Lazarus the face of Jesus who is saying to us “I am here waiting for you to draw near to me. Do not be afraid. You can console me like my mother did. You can now be a presence of my Mother to those who are in need”.