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Answers to Anticipated Objections to Starting a Legion of Mary Groups 

1. “No need for the Legion here”

Zealous persons desirous of starting the Legion in a new area may expect the objection that the Legion is not required in that particular place. As the Legion is not an organisation for the doing of any one special type of work, but is primarily for the development of Catholic zeal and spirit (which can then be applied to the doing of any work desired), such an objection usually amounts to a statement that there is no local need for Catholic zeal—an assertion which sufficiently confutes itself. According to Père Raoul Plus’ compressed definition, “a Christian is one to whom God has entrusted his fellowmen.”

In every place, without exception, there is vital need for such an intense apostolate, and this for many reasons — Firstly, because those members of the flock, who are capable of it, should be given an effective opportunity of living the apostolic life. Secondly, because the stirrings of such an apostolate in the general populace are necessary in these days, if religion is to be prevented from settling down into routine or materialism. Thirdly, the patient and intensive labours of such workers are required for the shepherding of those whose lives are frustrated or of those whose tendency is to stray.

On all superiors rests responsibility for developing to the full the spiritual capacity of those in their charge. What then, of apostleship, that distinctive and essential ingredient of the Christian character? Therefore, the call to the apostolate must be made. But to call, without providing the means for responding, is little better than silence, for few of those who hear will have the ability to work out the means for themselves. Thus, machinery, in the shape of an apostolic organisation, must be set up.

2. “Persons suitable for membership are not available”

As this objection usually proceeds from a misconception as to the type of worker required, it may in general be stated that every office, shop, and place of work holds potential legionaries.

Those potential legionaries may be learned or unlettered, labourers or leisured, or in the ranks of the unemployed. They are not the monopoly of any particular colour, race, or class, but can be found in all. The Legion has the special gift of being able to enlist in the service of the Church this hidden force, this undeveloped loveliness of character. Mgr. Alfred O’Rahilly, as the result of a study of Legion activity, was moved to write as follows: “I made a great discovery, or rather I found that the discovery had been made, that there is a latent heroism in seemingly ordinary men and women; unknown sources of energy had been tapped.”

Standards for membership should not go beyond those which the Popes have had in mind when they declared that in any class whatever an elite could be formed and trained to the apostolate.

In this connection, paragraph 3 (b) of chapter 31, Extension and Recruiting should be read most carefully; also chapter 40, section 6, “The Legion as the complement of the Missionary,” which urges the wide extension of legionary membership among the newly-won Christian communities.

A genuine difficulty in finding members would indicate an extraordinarily low spiritual standard in that locality, and so far from proving the need for inaction, would demonstrate conclusively the paramount need for a branch of the Legion to play the part of a good leaven. Mentally digest the fact that the leaven is our Lord’s prescription for raising standards. (Mt 13:33) Let it be remembered that a praesidium can be formed with as few as four or five or six members. When these apply themselves to the work and understand its requirements, they will quickly find and introduce other suitable members.

3. “The Legion visitation would be resented”

Were such indeed to be the case, the conclusion indicated is that other work should be selected, not that the idea of the Legion (with all its possibilities of good to members and community) should be abandoned. Be it stated, however, that nowhere so far, has the Legion experienced a permanent or general difficulty in this matter of its visitation. Assuming that the visitation is being undertaken in the true spirit of the Legion apostolate, it may ordinarily be taken that a coldness towards the legionaries testifies to the existence of religious indifference or worse, so that, just where the legionaries are least desired, exists the greatest need for their labours. Initial difficulties of this description do not justify the discontinuance of the visitation. Almost invariably, have the legionaries who braved these icy barriers, been able to thaw them, and to remove as well the graver underlying causes. Full weight should be given to the fact that the home is spiritually the strategic point. To hold the home is to capture society. To win the home one must go to it.

4. “Young people have to work hard during the day and require their free time for rest”

How reasonable this sounds, yet if acted upon, it would leave the world a religious wilderness, for it is not by the leisured that the Church’s work is done. Moreover, is it not true that the high spirited young give their free hours to more or less disordered amusement than to genuine rest? In such an alternation between a day of toil and an evening of pleasure, it is very easy to drift into a practical materialism, which, after a few years, leaves hearts without an ideal, eating themselves out for the youth which has prematurely fled, taking with it the only things they had been taught to prize. And things may end even more unhappily. Does not St. John Chrysostom say that he had never succeeded in persuading himself that anyone could achieve salvation who had never done anything for the salvation of his neighbour?

Infinitely wiser would it be to urge young people to give to the Lord, in a legionary membership, the first fruits of that free time. Those first fruits will inspire the whole life and keep the heart, and face too, serene and young. And there is still left an abundance of time for recreation, doubly enjoyed because doubly earned.

5. “The Legion is only one among many organisations with the same ideals and programme”

It is true that idealism abounds and, likewise, that a programme of desirable works can be drawn up in a few minutes by any one possessing pen and paper. It is, therefore, true that the Legion is only one among ten thousand! organisations which propose a noble warfare for souls and a programme of important works. But it is also true that it is one of the few which make their apostolate definite. A vague idealism, with general appeals to members to do good in their surroundings, will always be attended by the vaguest performance. The Legion reduces its warfare to a definite spirituality, a definite programme of prayer, a definite weekly task, a definite weekly report and, it will be found, to definite accomplishment. Last, but not least, it bases this methodical system on the dynamic principle of union with Mary.

6. “The Legion works are already being done by other agencies. The Legion might clash with them”

How strange to hear these words spoken of places where high proportions of the population are non-practising or non- Catholic, and where progress is negligible! How sad if anyone should reconcile himself to such a status quo, which means that in that place Herod is to occupy the throne of men’s hearts while the Lord and his dear mother are to remain permanently relegated to the miserable stable! Often, too, those words, which deny admittance to the Legion, are used in the interest of organisations which represent a name without performance, armies which may exist, but never conquer any enemy.

Moreover, work is not being done except it is being adequately done. Therefore, work is not being done which is engaging dozens of apostolic workers where, properly, there should be hundreds or even thousands; and unhappily this is ordinarily the case. Frequently, too, the lack of organisation, which the small numbers show, means corresponding lack of spirit and method.

Surely, it would be wise to put the Legion to the test by assigning to it even a limited sphere of action. The sequel may be convincing, and the members of a single little branch may, like the five barley loaves, be multiplied so that they fill all the needs, and over and above. (cf Mt 14:16-21)

The Legion has no particular programme of works. It does not presuppose new works, but rather a new setting for existing works not already sufficiently systematised, with effects analogous to those which would follow upon the application of electric power to a work previously done by hand.

7. “There are already too many organisations. The proper course is to revive the existing societies or to extend their functions so as to cover the works proposed to be done by the Legion”

This may be a reactionary argument. The words “too many” can be applied with truth to every department of life around. Yet the new is not rejected because it is new, and from time to time a great advance is made. So, too, the Legion claims the opportunity to prove itself. If it is not “just another,” but from God, what loss to turn it from one’s door! Moreover, the above objection supposes that the work in question is not at present being done. In such circumstances, it is neither sensible nor the common practice to reject new machinery which has elsewhere demonstrated its capacity to do that work. How quaint would sound the same objection, put as follows: “There is no need to import the aeroplane. There is already too much mechanism in this place. Let us, instead, develop the motor-car so that it will fly!”

8. “This is a small place. There is no room for the Legion here”

It is no uncommon experience to find these words spoken of places which, though not large, yet have an unenviable notoriety. Again, a village may possess a routine goodness and yet be stagnant: stagnant in moral qualities, and stagnant in human interests, so that the young fly from it to the populous centres,where they lack moral support.

The trouble arises from the absence of religious idealism, following upon the spectacle of none doing more than their essential duties. With religious idealism gone, a religious desert remains (and villages are not the only such deserts). To make that desert bloom again, reverse the process: create a little apostolic band which will cast abroad its own spirit and set up new headlines of conduct. Works suitable to the place will be undertaken, life brightened, the exodus stemmed.

9. “Certain of the works of the Legion consist in spiritual activities which, from their very nature, belong to the priest, and which should only be allotted to the laity when the clergy cannot undertake them. As it is, I am able to visit my flock several times in the year with satisfactory results”  

This objection is answered generally in chapter 10, The Legion Apostolate, also more particularly in what follows, but in advance, it is pointed out that no work deemed undesirable need be undertaken.

The intimate knowledge of what is unquestionably one of the holiest cities in the world, reveals there vast multitudes sick with sin and worldliness, and seething with the terrible problems of modern civilisation. For it or any other citycommunity the feeling that all is safeguarded by a visitation — however fruitful — once, twice, four times in the year is not justified. If all is well, for instance, many will be approaching the altar daily, more weekly, and all at least once monthly.  Why then do four or five hours a week in the Confessional so often suffice? Whence the dreadful disproportion?

Again, what degree of intimacy, or at least of personal touch, is required to satisfy the pastoral obligation towards each soul under its care: that soul which, as St. Charles Borromeo used to say, was diocese enough for a bishop? A simple calculation will show what even half-an-hour a year for each would mean in all. And would that half-an-hour be sufficient contribution? St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, in addition to countless interviews, wrote 200 letters to one difficult soul. How many legionary pursuits have lasted ten years and more, and are still in progress! Yet, if the harassed priest cannot spare even that half-hour; and if (as is claimed) the Legion will supply him with zealous representatives: many where he is one: obedient to his every word: of solid discretion: as capable (with his help) as he of gaining access to individuals and families: of irresistible gifts to entice souls to higher things: affording him the opportunity of giving souls more than a routine service; is it fair to his work and to himself to refuse that help?

“The Legion of Mary brings to the priest two blessings of equal value: first, an instrument of conquest which bears the authentic mark of the Divine Spirit — and I shall ask myself the question: Have I the right to neglect such a providential weapon? Secondly, a spring of living water capable of renewing our whole interior life — and I shall be brought naturally to a further question: If this pure and deep spring of life is offered to me, is it not my duty to drink of it?” (Canon Guynot)

10. “I fear possible indiscretions on the part of members”

There is lack here of a sense of the realities of the position. As well refuse to reap a harvest because some ears may be spoiled by clumsy handling! The harvest at stake is souls.