Legion of Mary - 80 Years of Service in Tasmania

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To Be Saints
Legion of Mary: 80 Years of Service in Tasmania

Today as we recall the establishing of the Legion at this Cathedral Parish in 1934, it is appropriate that the Mass be in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, anticipating the feast of the Immaculate Conception next Monday. The Legion has devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the heart of its spirituality. It is thus fitting that we invoke the patronage of the Virgin Mary at this anniversary Mass. We honour her in her Immaculate Conception and we ask her continued intercession for the work of the Legion.

It was only some twelve or so years after the Legion was established in Dublin that it arrived here in Tasmania. While various praesidia have been formed over the years, today there are praesidia in the Cathedral Parish, in Kingston, Moonah, Glenorchy, Bridgewater, Bellerive, Ulverstone and Invermay. Today I wish to encourage all who have been faithful legionaries to continue on your path of personal spiritual growth and apostolic endeavour through the Legion of Mary.

Today I would like to reflect a little on the founder, Frank Duff, a remarkable layman. Frank was first stirred in apostolic fervour through his experience in the St Vincent de Paul Society where he was exposed to the real poverty of Dublin of that time. He saw many who lived in tenement squalor and were forced to attend soup kitchens for sustenance. He saw some of the consequences of grinding poverty: alcoholism and prostitution.

In 1916, aged just 27, Duff published his first pamphlet, Can we be Saints?, in which he expressed the conviction that all without exception are called to be saints, and that through Christian faith all persons have available the means necessary to attain such sainthood.

His insight and teaching here was ratified in the Second Vatican Council where the Document on the Church spoke of the Universal call to holiness.

This pamphlet gives insight into the spirituality that was unfolding in Frank Duff. He writes in his pamphlet:
We must read the lives of the saints. God’s purpose in bringing about the canonization of saints was to provide a headline which would draw us on to goodness and heroism.  Saints are the doctrines and practices of holiness made visible.  If we frequent their company, we will soon imitate their qualities.

In Frank Duff’s mind everyone, without exception, is called to be a saint and the means are readily accessible to all in the everyday living of the Catholic life. The way he saw it: the first job of every Catholic was to try to be a saint.  If we are not really trying to be saints then to that extent we are wasting the gift of our lives.  It is no good, he used to say, to ask men and women to be good, you have to ask them to be heroic.  He founded the Legion of Mary as a school of sanctity.

Another important element in his spirituality was his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1917 he read the Treatise of  St Louis de Montfort, entitled True Devotion to Mary, and this fostered his conviction of the place of Mary in the life of all Catholics. Thus, when he established a new lay movement in the Church in September 1921 he called it the Legion of Mary. The movement was singularly oriented around devotion to and faithful imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

His other great contribution to the church was his insight into the role of the lay faithful in the mission of the Church through the local parish. Legionaries were to work with their parish priest and be extensions of his pastoral ministry. In this he was a forerunner to much of what has evolved in the Church in the time since the Second Vatican Council. He was indeed a man ahead of his time and his vision of the Christian life has been strongly ratified in the direction that Church has taken in our time.

For nearly all his life, Frank lived in close, daily contact with the men and women who lived in the hostels he founded.  He cared for their material needs and tried to ease the profound pain in their lives.  But above all he wanted each one of them to go to Heaven and so he provided them with access to all the means that the Church offers them. 

Frank sought to bring all souls to Heaven or at least as many as possible.  I think it could be argued that his desire for the salvation of souls was the deepest thrust in his spirituality.

The salvation of souls dominates the life of every saint.  Frank found it difficult to imagine how you could save your own soul without seeking to save the souls of others. The desire to save souls also defines the reason why he founded the Legion of Mary.  He adapted the prayer attributed to St. Francis Xavier for the Conversion of the Whole World as follows:
O Lord all hearts are in Your hands.  You can bend as it pleases You the most obdurate and soften the most hardened.  Do that honour this day to the blood, merits, wounds, names and inflamed hearts of Your beloved Son and His most Holy Mother by granting the conversion of the whole world.  Nothing less, my God, nothing less, because of Mary, their Mother; because of your might and Your mercy.

The Legion of Mary continues today carrying on the vision of this servant of God. As we commemorate the establishing of the Legion in Hobart, eighty years ago, it is fitting to recall the vision of the founder and to be renewed in dedication to the ideals he presented.

The legion does wonderful apostolic work, yet I believe Frank Duff would be interested firstly in the interior life of each legionary.

Let me end with a quote from Frank Duff’s book, Can we be saints:
Every person that is born is called to be a Saint. Take it as most certain that you -- no matter how unfitted your life may seem for holiness -- are being given graces sufficient, if corresponded with, to bring you to sanctity. We have already seen that nothing beyond our strength is expected; neither is sanctity the exclusive property of any grade or manner of life. Among the Saints canonised by the Church are kings and beggars, and representatives of every trade, slaves, hermits, city people, mothers of families, invalids, soldiers, and persons of every race and colour.

As a canonised Saint is a pattern provided by God, it is evident that an invitation to become Saints is extended to men and women of every type. It is equally a fact that to those who seriously try to respond to His invitation, He gives help sufficient to carry them to the goal.

Archbishop Julian Porteous