Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam and Custodian of the Marian Shrine, delivered the homily below at Mass on September 27, 2020, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock, Co Mayo, Archdiocese of Tuam. The Legion of Mary which will celebrate its centenary in 2021
I welcome you all as we celebrate the National Pilgrimage of the Legion of Mary to Our Lady’s Shrine here at Knock. I greet the President of the Legion of Mary, Mary Murphy, and the Officers of the Legion. I am delighted to be joined by the concelebrants, Father Bede McGregor OP, who is the Spiritual Director to the Concilium, and by Father Delcan Lohan, Spiritual Director of the Galway Curia.
Long before the Church began to emphasize the role laypeople and the importance of various ministries, the Legion of Mary was active and in many ways was way ahead of its time. Founded in Dublin by a group of fifteen women under the leadership of Frank Duff, the Legion of Mary was deeply rooted in the Gospel. During his earthly ministry, Jesus invited and encouraged people and sent His disciples out in twos to visit the sick and the needy. There is something intrinsically biblical with regard to the Legion of Mary who conduct their visitation in twos. Prayer and apostolic work find an ideal combination among Legionaries.
When Our Lady received the message from the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation that she would be the one who would bring Jesus into the world, we remember the first recorded instant after the Annunciation in the Bible was her visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Visitation preceded by prayer is one of the great strengths of the Legion of Mary. Those who have been away from the Church or have distanced themselves from the Sacraments may be more open towards an approach by laypeople like the members of the Legion of Mary, who are convinced of God’s love and forgiveness and approach gently to share their experience with others. Here in Ireland, there are 22,000 members of the Legion of Mary; across the world, the Legion of Mary has ten million members. On the occasion this national pilgrimage, I greet all Legion of Mary members here in Ireland, in the neighboring island of England, Scotland, and Wales, in Europe and across the world.
During the recent pandemic, we recognized the way in which we could be preoccupied with a very busy world and neglect the more important areas of making time for each other, visiting the sick and those who are lonely. Admittedly this will be difficult in the present circumstances as we cope with the pandemic. The object however of the Legion of Mary remains constant, namely the glory of God through the holiness of its members, developed by prayer and active co-operation in the work of Jesus Christ.
As we celebrate this pilgrimage I am reminded of what Pope Francis emphasized, namely that holiness is courage, hope, and daily conversion. In his Apostolic Exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world, Gaudete et Exsultate, ‘Rejoice and Be Glad’, the Holy Father underlines the importance of the call to holiness for all. He acknowledges that his purpose is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities. In his exhortation, the Holy Father draws attention to what he calls “signs of holiness in today’s world”. Among those signs, he emphasizes characteristics that are present in Legionaries, perseverance, patience, and meekness. Perseverance, he goes on to state, does not desert others in bad times but rather accompanies them in their anxiety and distress, even though doing so may not bring immediate satisfaction. He could be speaking about Legionaries when he makes that statement. Other signs of holiness mentioned by Pope Francis are “joy and a sense of humor”. The Legionary will inevitably encounter opposition, rejection, and maybe insults, but because of the joy of knowing that they are doing God’s work they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. Frank Duff, the Founder of the Legion of Mary, once said that “the Legion makes saints and makes them by the bushel”.
Saint Pope Paul VI was deeply impressed by the humility of the members of the Legion of Mary and he stated that the Legion empowers the little people to become apostles. Saint Pope John XXIII stated that the Legion represents the true face of the Catholic Church in countries throughout the world.
Next year on the 7 September the Legion will celebrate its centenary. Founded in Dublin it now has members in each of the five continents and is particularly strong in South Korea, the Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, and the African countries. Its Founder, Frank Duff, envisaged the Legion as an opportunity for Catholic laypeople to fulfill their baptismal promises to be able to live their dedication to the Church in an organized structure which would be supported by fraternity and prayer. One could not mention the Legion without referring to the wonderful work of Venerable Edel Quinn and her heroic ministry in Africa in the 1930s and ’40s. All Legionaries are familiar with the work of Alfie Lambe in Latin America, particularly in Argentina. At times perhaps we are guilty of not extending a challenge to others, informing them about the work which the Legion of Mary does, and inviting them to become involved, I am very conscious of the leadership that can be provided at the local level. A legionary known to me exercised an extraordinary influence on young people, invited them to become involved in the work of the Legion of Mary. These young people were enthusiastic, energetic, and enjoyed the work, visiting nursing homes in the area, praying with the residents, playing music for them, listening to their stories, and their history. During holiday time many of them accompanied that legionary on Peregrinatio Pro Christo. I am sure that many Legionaries will be able to speak of similar experiences. Only the Lord can tell what goodness may come of the contact which these young people had with others and which will bear fruit into the future. I am convinced that there are young people who are searching for opportunities to share with others but find it difficult to know how best to find a suitable structure. I believe that the Legion of Mary can be a powerful support to those young people and help them to harness their generosity and joy in the service of people in need.
I pray that as we prepare to celebrate the centenary of the Legion of Mary next year that we will be inspired and encouraged by the wonderful work which the Legion of Mary has done in 170 countries across the world. A few months before Frank Duff died Pope John Paul II addressed him saying “remember victory will come through Mary”. At a time of uncertainty, fear, and confusion we need to reflect on that prophetic statement of Saint Pope John Paul II: “Victory through Mary” – a message of hope and reassurance for us today.