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We are celebrating this Mass of the Holy Spirit for the opening of the Extraordinary General Chapter, for which we have been preparing for about three and a half years, with a precise mandate from the Holy Father Benedict XVI. It is an event of faith, which we can celebrate only under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It comes about at the end of a long journey, whose path was marked out for us by the Holy Father; therefore it can only be understood in the light of the journey already made. These two events are closely connected. The preparation’s goal was the Chapter, together with the specific commitments it entails; namely, the appointment of the new government of the congregation, and the approval of the constitutions, which, with the efforts of all involved, the congregation of the Legionaries has reviewed profoundly.
It has been repeatedly stressed that the revision of the constitutions cannot simply be considered a technical effort, but should be accompanied by a process of examination of life, of review and of spiritual renewal for the institute. Thus far, we have only completed the process of preparation.
We are holding this celebration in view of the Chapter that is about to open: it is an invocation to the Spirit of God to enlighten our hearts; to instill confidence, grace and strength; to reconcile our hearts with God and with one another; and to unite us in love for God, the Church and the Congregation. We expect the miracle of Pentecost to be renewed, the miracle of tongues of fire. While each of us speaks his own language and expresses his own ideas and convictions, with the light of the Spirit and his strength, we are called to understand one another’s language, since each of us is equally moved by the same love, the Holy Spirit. This miracle of unity in language and love, within the richness of the plurality of languages and ideas accompanies us.
The constitutions that you give yourselves will therefore not be simply a code of laws that unites you only externally in discipline, but the text will be an expression of a common vocation, a common ideal, a common mission, a common path to healing, an impulse to strive in common striving for the fulfillment of God’s plan for the congregation and for each of you, for the glory of God and service to the Church and to the Legion. The heart of the constitutions is the charism, or spiritual patrimony, of the Institute. The Pope, although he showed us that the main purpose of the journey undertaken and the Chapter should be the review and approval of the constitutions, also stressed that in such a work, the very charism of the Institute should be examined in depth. In fact, the constitutions must contain the vocation and identity of the Institute (that is, its charism or spiritual patrimony) and the fundamental norms for its protection, advancement and progress. This has been the concern in drafting the text, and the Chapter should have the same concern when approving the new text to be submitted to the Holy Father.
But even if the main purpose of the Chapter is the approval of the constitutions, no less important is the appointment of the government of the Institute. The primary task, in fact, of the superiors is to preserve and promote the Institute’s charism; the charism is only guaranteed when authority is exercised as service, in the spirit of the Gospel and in fidelity to the norms of the Church. It is a point which should always be given special attention, especially for you, who have a history of suffering in this regard. It is important not to forget that. And this has been a topic about which the new constitutional text has been careful and vigilant. However, as you know, well-made laws are important, but not enough, if there is not a new spirit. And it is this new spirit that you are called to foster and cultivate inside of you when you are called upon to give yourselves new superiors. You really have to have a new heart, both on the part of those electing and those elected. To the degree that it depends on you, have present only God and the good of the Church and the Legion, and choose those whom you deem most worthy and suitable for the ministry of authority. For this, it is necessary to free your hearts from resentment, jealousy and envy, and to free your memory so as not to feel burdened by memories that blind and cause suffering.
You are actually reaching this event after a long journey, not without suffering, but which today looks rather calm and hopeful. For this, we have to thank the Lord. The same Lord who has accomplished this work in you is the guarantor who will accompany you even further along the path you are called to follow. What the Lord has done during this time of preparation is like the memory to which you are called to return, so as to regain confidence, serenity and hope: hope in the Lord who has preserved your vocation; hope in the Legion, which, thanks to you, presents itself to this chapter with new strength and new horizons; and hope in the Church, which has accompanied you, particularly through Pope Benedict XVI—who, in the most tragic moment in your history, has had confidence in you and has believed in your capacity for renewal and faithfulness to the Lord—and in the current Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis—who wanted to be present at this important moment in your history. It is also time to thank all those who have shared with me the work of accompanying the Legion on behalf of the Church, especially my councilors, Bishop Brian Farrell, Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, Father Agostino Montan and Monsignor Mario Marchesi.
In conclusion, I am pleased to recall all that I told you at the beginning of my mandate. In my first homily addressing everyone from this same altar, I expressed my awareness of the vocational difficulty in which you might have found yourselves. I invited you to have trust and to be faithful, to wait for light and peace to return before deciding. In the first letter I wrote you, I also expressed my confidence about the success of the journey that we were called to take together, emphasizing in particular your fidelity and obedience to the Church as a guarantee of success. The vast majority have remained faithful to their vocation as Legionaries. In particular, you are the ones who have gathered today for the Chapter and who want to begin the first stage of the new Legion, with the appointment of new superiors and the approval of the new text to which you are called to conform your life.
I think you are glad to have reaffirmed your “yes” to the Lord. You have suffered much, both internally and externally. You have suffered the shame of being accused, viewed with suspicion and of being exposed to public opinion, even within the Church. You have been able to accept this suffering out of love for your vocation, and out of love for the Church and for the Legion. Suffering has purified you, matured you and made you experience God’s grace and love, who has called you to share in the mystery of redemption through the cross and through sorrow. You have participated in the pain of those who have suffered because of some members of the Legion. You have chosen the only way the Gospel knows for the redemption of evil: not escape, not rejection, not the condemnation of others, but participation, solidarity, and love that enters into sin and sorrow so as to redeem them from the inside. Today we are pleased to participate in this liturgy of the Eucharist, made sharers of the mystery of Christ, who gives up his life for love. Together with him, you renew the offering of your lives.
Let us close with a passage from the letter to the Hebews, regarding the redeeming sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered the one perfect sacrifice: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9 : 14). The same eternal Spirit has moved your hearts to offer your lives to cooperate with Christ’s redeeming sacrifice for the salvation of your congregation. May that same Spirit always work in your hearts. This same Spirit is always ready to wipe away the tears of your hearts and turn them into precious pearls in the eyes of God.
Rome, January 8, 2014
Velasio Cardinal De Paolis, C.S.