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LIVING AN AUTHENTIC LEGIONARY SPIRITUALITY JOHNMARY ATEP

INTRODUCTION Does the Legion of Mary have a spirituality of its own, that is, a spirituality that can be universally adopted and theologically sound? If so, where is this spirituality to be found? It is to be found chiefly in the Legion Handbook. The New Dictionary of Theology sees spirituality this way, it means ones entire life as understood, felt, imagined, and decided upon in relationship to God, in Christ Jesus, empowered by the Spirit.1 Spirituality is a gift that expresses the way we live our Christian life. It is the result of faith exemplified in devotional practices. Again, our spirituality confirms us as spiritual persons hence the need to live a spiritual life. By the way, what is the spiritual life? It is a life of Gal 2:20, where St. Paul says, It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me Thus, this is a life that experiences the indwelling of the Holy Trinity through the presence of Christ. A life with a strong yearning for God and rooted in Him. A life of total dependence on God for every breath we take, every thought we have. Expressed differently, the spiritual life is the interior life where ones thoughts, desires and affections converge on our Lord.2 It is a life seeking for holiness (avoidance of sin-purity and stabilizing in the love of God-perfection). This is a life that is completely determined to do the will of God according to the word of Jesus, My food is to do the will of the one who sent me (Jn 4:34). Moreover, Mary our proximate guide and end is also a disciple of the will of God, listen to her, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word (will) (Lk 1:38). The question that follows is this, am I living or leading a spiritual life? Is my participation at Holy Mass, reception of sacraments, attendance at Legion meetings and the doing of my Legion work, my relationship with people, in accordance with the will of God? Or put differently, are they enough indicators of whether I am living for God? Further, is it possible to evaluate ones level of nearness to God? These are pertinent questions to guide this write-up. THE SPIRITUAL FORMATION AND PROGRESS OF A LEGIONARY The spiritual formation of a legionary and its continuity is anchored in the praesidium. Nevertheless, such formation is collective. But it must also be personal for it to impress more on the individual by building a strong sense of consciousness about the presence of God. In any case the object of formation still remain the same as it is beautifully enunciated by the Legion Handbook as the glory of God through the holiness of its members developed by prayer and active co-operation, under ecclesiastical guidance, in Marys and the churchs work of crushing the head of the serpent and advancing the reign of Christ.3 The object of the Legion of Mary obviously offers certain conditions to foster an authentic legionary spirituality (spiritual life or interior life). These include: prayer, active co-operation,
1 2

The New Dictionary of Theology, (2006), s.v. Theological Publications in India. The Official Handbook of The Legion of Mary, new revised edition 1993, De Montfort House, Dublin 7, Ireland. 3 Ibid, p.11

spiritual guidance, and Mary as a model. By inference, others are sacraments, mortification, listening to the word of God and the church, etc. Let us now discuss some of those elements that facilitate the spiritual life of a legionary. PRAYER So intimate is the connection between God and each one of us. St. Augustine says it all; God is more intimate to me than I am to myself4 Even so, we are encouraged to keep that bond alive through the activity of prayer. To pray is to speak the language of God hence, the Pauline counsel, pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1Thess 5:17 &18). Sometimes, we interpret this advice as an impossible task. We imagine prayer as a herculean task and say, I cant be always praying. Anyway, must we pray? We have this popular saying: Behind every great man, there is a great woman! In the context of the spiritual life and its progress, a legionary could as well say: Behind a great spiritual life, there is a great deal of prayer. Saints who are the doctrines and practices of holiness made visible5 would never have been icons of our faith today if they had not persevered in the act of prayer. Jesus, who is Lord and God with all the powers of heaven and earth in His hands, worked assiduously during the day and at night He withdrew to lonely places to pray, cf Lk 6:12, 5:16, Mk 1:35. What else are we to say? Prayer is sine qua non (prayer is essential) to the legionarys spiritual life and progress. Listen to the Weekday preface 1V in Ordinary Time of the churchs liturgical calendar, it goes thus: You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in your grace,6 It is reasonable to infer that prayer provides graces to cope with the challenges of the spiritual life, prayer itself is a transformative process (prayer takes away from us woundedness, our bitterness and hatred, and all negative energies), more so, it instills peace of mind because it offers hope and makes us calm. It is not the case of, it is impossible to lead a prayerful life, remember there are men and women of our age who are designated as men and women of prayer. Examples abound, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, and Blessed Pope John Paul 11, etc. Lets reflect on this statement of St. Vincent de Paul, A man of prayer is capable of everything; therefore, it is of great importance that (Legionaries) should give themselves to this exercise with particular earnestness; and as without it they will gain little or no fruit, so with its help they will become much more able to move hearts and convert souls to their Creator, than by learning and oratorical skill.7

4 5

Augustine, Confessions, III.6.11. Ibid, p.205 6 The Weekday Missal, A New Edition 1982, CollinsLiturgical, London, p. 1348 7 A Year with the Saints, Twelve Christian Virtues in the Lives and Writings of the Saints, 1988, s.v. A Member of the Order of Mercy, Tan Books and Publishers, INC., P. 255.

St. Vincent de Paul further avers that there is certainly, nothing more useful than prayer. Therefore, we ought to entertain great esteem and love for it, and employ every effort to make it well.8 Above all, prayer is a spiritual longing of the finite being to return to its origin, God. Having demonstrated the indispensability of prayer in our spiritual life, then we may ask how are we to pray? Actually, this is a difficult question to answer. Nonetheless, we need to cultivate the virtue of prayer via praying for the grace to be prayerful and cultivate and habituate in what the Masters of prayer call the tripod of prayer, that is, to pray as an individual when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. (Mt 6:6). Secondly, is to pray as a group- All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, (Acts 1:14, example, Legion Meeting) and for the third, it is to pray as a community (Holy Mass) Mt 26: 26-30, Lk 4: 16ff. MORTIFICATION In our world today, we are surrounded with myriads of means to celebrate, enjoy, derive satisfaction and seek pleasure in the highest degree. The media aggravates the mode in us and therefore fosters an enticement to rampant consumption and enjoyment as a fruit of our economy. Sometimes, the foregoing has led us to become engrossed in hedonistic lifestyle. With this lifestyle in vogue, it becomes obviously difficult to appreciate concepts like sacrifice, selfdiscipline or self-control, asceticism, self denial and renunciation. Worse still, we dont want to hear of crosses, suffering, failure and disappointments. It is a subject that is not very popular today and perhaps it has always been a topic we shy away from. It means denying ourselves something in order to be and to do something more worthwhile. It means giving up anything that hinders or diminishes our personal friendship with Christ. It also points to a denying of oneself lawful pleasure in order to check ones flesh and general conduct. The Handbook tells us, mortification is self-discipline in order to love God and others for the sake of God.9 It is necessary because of original sin, which darkens our minds and weakens our will and inclines us easily to sin. What does this mean in the daily spiritual struggle of the Legionary? We need to give some simple and concrete examples to illustrate what we are talking about. For instance we have discussed about the subject of prayer, its value and necessity, whether it is personal, group or community; we live in a world that is activity oriented, consequently, we need to occasionally withdraw from such activities (like browsing the internet, watching television, playing, and visitation. Others are eating and drinking, extensive conversations, and engagements in economic activities, etc) in order to attend to prayer. Being mortified means being ruthless in giving time for the personal prayer of friendship with Jesus, or with Mary, our Mother or to the angels and saints. We believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist but how often do we actually visit him to say thanks or to ask for the graces we need for those we meet and serve. Being mortified means going out of our way to be with the Lord in the Eucharist. Or during Liturgical seasons like Lent, fasting, going to daily Mass and frequenting Holy Communion may involve all kinds of little and big acts of self-denial. We know that through grace the Blessed Trinity dwells within us and yet how often do we practice the presence of God during an average day. This too requires self-discipline. The same is true about maintaining a
8 9

Ibid, p. 253. The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary, p.205

healthy sexuality. That means we need to check sexual fantasies, harassments, enticement, and promiscuity, we need to censor the type of movies we watch, regulate the quantity of alcohol we consume, assess the kind of friends we make, keep and associate with, evaluate the conversation we engage in and examine our clothing. Furthermore, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, counsels on how to guard the senses by applying the principle of courtesy of the senses. He says, To live a serious interior lifeit is necessary to prevent the outside world from entering the soul and filling it with distractions and noise; it is necessary, therefore, to guard its doors assiduously.10 This being so, we have to screen what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. That degree of mortification is not principally meant for those in cloisters because we all need a holistic concentration on seeking God and His will. The truth is this; whatever will retard our relationship with God is to be done away with! Accordingly, Jesus instructs, if your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away! It is better for you to lose a part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell. (Mt 5:20ff) Again, we need mortification to carry out our personal apostolate. We need to squeeze out time to doing our work of directing souls to God. Every Legionary ought to know that infinite patience and sweetness must be lavished on a priceless soul but are we really prepared to go to endless trouble for the salvation of a single soul? Our praesidium meetings and meetings of higher councils can involve a great deal of self-denial or sacrifice. Cultivating fidelity, perseverance, and the litany of virtues that defines the spirituality of Mary and that of the Legion of Mary cannot come to light if mortification is not applied in our spiritual life. As a result, the Legion Handbook states, Mortification also involves the overcoming of laziness, moods and selfish attitudes11 At this juncture, it is reasonable to rest our persuasions on the person of Christ and His spirit of mortification. To this end, the Legion Handbook excellently encapsulates a treasured teaching which we hold in a high esteem and it is worth quoting, If Christ the Head suffered on account of our sins, it is only right that we should be in solidarity with him; if Christ the innocent one paid for us the guilty, surely we the guilty have to do something ourselves. Every fresh evidence of sin inspires generous Christians to make positive acts of reparation.12 There is no gainsaying that the whole Legion system gives us a valuable training in mortification and the opportunity to embark on reparation for our sins and those of the world. It becomes completely clear that there is need to fast, abstain from some law pleasure, do penance and apply moderation in all we do. SACRAMENTS According to Pope Benedict XVI, God is not simply Word. In the sacraments he gives Himself to us in person, through physical realities.13 His presence in us through the sacraments leaves in us the abundance of His graces, thus, sacraments are outward signs that instill inward
10 11

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, Divine Intimacy, 2005, Tan Books and Publishers, INC., Rockford, Illinois, p.47 Ibid, p.205. 12 Ibid, p.206. 13 Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to the Seminarians

graces. Meanwhile, we could never have had the spiritual life save the sacraments, especially, baptism that ushered us into it. Confirmation strengthens our baptismal grace and imprints a spiritual seal of the Holy Spirit in our souls. Also, the Eucharist is the spiritual food for our soul and it consequently nourishes us to grow in the faith we had received at our baptism. Equally, through the sacrament of penance or confession Christ continues to exercise His merciful forgiveness through one who acts in His person- a Catholic Priest.14 That sacrament enable us to know how incapacitated we are and it further strengthen our resolutions to advance in Christian virtues and maturity by checking sin and its vices. While the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick restores health or gives the recipient the grace to cope with the challenges of sickness in general; the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony provide the graces to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of our state of calling that is as priest or married people. From the foregoing, there is a strong connection between our spiritual life and the sacraments. How? Jerome F. Coniker opines that The very foundation of our supernatural (spiritual) life is the sacraments, which confer on us the Holy Spirit and His gifts and charisms and the infused virtues, beginning with the theological virtues and the cardinal virtues.15 It is pertinent to note that our Legionary spiritual life is Christ centred (Christocentric) and at the same time centred on the Holy Spirit. This being so, life for a Catholic Christian and a Legionary of Mary in particular is Christ. Then a firm devotion to the sacraments is necessary to give us the opportunity to uniquely encounter Christ. What is that sign that explains the presence of Christ in a soul as a result of the sacramental effect? It is sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace we will remember is that marvelous supernatural life, that sharing-in-Gods-own-life that is the result of Gods love, the Holy Spirit, indwelling in the soul.16 Next to sanctifying grace is actual grace which enables a recipient of sacraments to distinguish good from evil or virtues from vices. Again, the seven sacraments are categorized into two: sacraments of the dead (Baptism and Penance) and sacraments of the living (Confirmation, Eucharist, Anointing of the sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony). But the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the greatest sacrament and to say so is to state the obvious, Baptism of course is the most necessary sacrament; without baptism we cannot get to heaven. Yet, despite all the wonderful things that Baptism and other five sacraments accomplish in the soul, they still are but instruments of God for the giving of grace; while in the Holy Eucharist we have not merely an instrument for the giving of grace-we have the actual Giver of grace Himself, Jesus Christ our Lord, truly and personally present17 If we truly appreciate the statement above, then attending Mass (the Lambs Supper) ought to be our primary spiritual exercise, for the Eucharist is the core devotional doctrine of our Catholic faith. There is no gainsaying that Christianity expects us to become conformed to Christ and Christ knew the challenges ahead of us, so He goes ahead of us to offer Himself as spiritual food
14 15

The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary, p.206. Apostolate For Family Consecration, Preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary for Families, p.211. 16 Leo J. Trese, The Faith Explained, 2007, Criterion Publishers, Lagos, p.322. 17 Ibid, Pp. 377-378

to bring about that conformity demanded of us. Our responsibility is to obediently respond to His clarion call! To sum it up, the Legion Handbook states, How inexcusable are those Catholics who believe, but do not practice that belief. That Jesus whom others admire, Catholics possess ever living in the Eucharist. They have free access to Him and can, and should, receive Him even daily as the food of their souls.18 It follows that the Eucharist is a precious gift by Christ to His faithful and it must be guarded jealously, it must be appreciated by a worthy reception, sincere devotion that is characterized by a high sense of consistency. Nothing on earth is equal to this priceless gift; therefore the need for husband and wife, children, job and breakthrough in life cannot equate the Eucharist. My dear, apart from receiving the Eucharist in order to conform to the image of Christ, we need the Eucharist also for a successful resurrection and for eternal life. Mind you, the Eucharist is food for the Angels but with the Psalmist I ask, what are humans that you (God) are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them little less than a god (Ps 8: 56). I hope you can easily grasp how Gods love for us is inestimable? Because of the absolute necessity of the Eucharist, Jesus did not spare His Apostles on the indispensability of the Eucharist; He says, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. But the Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? And they walked away. Jesus then turned to the twelve and said, Do you also want to leave? Fortunately, Simon Peter answered Him, Master, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life (Cf Jn 6: 22-71). Fr. John Odeyemi exclaims, To give up your faith in which you were baptized and where you were given the gift of the body and blood of Christ for the love of a man is always hard for me to understand. I feel it is a betrayal of the only one whose love can never fade.19 Jesus says, at the resurrection, the dead neither marry nor are given to marriage, but they are like Angels in heaven, Mk 12:25. Please dont misunderstand or misquote what I am driving at and conclude that our discussion does not promote the importance of marriage. No! Marriage is important and was it not on the occasion of the wedding feast at Cana that Jesus performed His first miraculous sign? So, what are we saying? It is the Jesus that perfected marriage and raised it to the state of a sacrament at the wedding feast at Cana that we should reject for marriage? If we do so, then we are chasing form instead of substance. Jesus is the author of marriage, so seek His face for direction about your marriage, otherwise you may move ahead and marry somebody who is not your husband or wife. Remember the Samaritan woman whom Jesus told, For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. Gods time is always the best and will always remain the best.

TOTAL CONSECRATION AND OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE To begin with, here is a striking expression that is worth quoting from the Legion Handbook, It is desirable that the practice of the legionary devotion to Mary should be rounded off and given the distinctive character which has been taught by St. Louis-Marie de Montfort under the titles of
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The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary, p.50 John Odeyemi, Friendship, Dating, Courtship And Engagement, (2010), The Ambassador Publications, Iperu Remo, p. 61.

The True Devotion or the Slavery of Mary, and which is enshrined in his two books, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the Secret of Mary. It is pertinent to note that the foregoing spiritual exercise defines the root of the Legionary devotion. Accordingly, Frank Duff is humble enough to declare St. Louis-Marie de Montfort as the tutor of the Legion because the Handbook is full of his spirit, therefore the need to invoke his guidance and direction on how to build and live the Legionary spiritual life. Sometimes, there is this controversy of the necessity of undertaking Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary after one has taken his/her solemn Legionary promise. The answer is not far fetch as the Handbook has also excellently provided multifarious reasons for the inauguration of True devotion to Mary which culminate in a Total consecration to Jesus Christ. It states, If the sum of the experience of those who teach, and understand, and practice the True Devotion is of value, it seems unquestionable that it deepens the interior life, sealing it with the special character of unselfishness and purity of intention. There is a sense of guidance and protection: a joyful certainty that now ones life is being employed to the best advantage. There is a supernatural outlook, a definite courage, a firmer faith, which make one a mainstay of any enterprise. There is tenderness and a wisdom which keep strength in its proper place. There is, too, the protectress of them all, a sweet humility. Graces come which one cannot but realize are out of the common. Frequently, there is a call to a great work, which is patently beyond ones merits and natural capacity. Yet with it come such helps as enable that glorious but heavy burden to be borne without faltering. In a word, in exchange for the splendid sacrifice which is made in the True Devotion by selling oneself into this species of slavery, there is gained the hundredfold which is promised to those who despoil themselves for the greater glory of God. When we serve, we rule; when we give, we have; when we surrender ourselves we are victors. 20 No doubt, the above quotation is the fruits of undertaking Total consecration to Jesus through the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary and it points out the fact that the interior life is boosted and made firmer, so what are we waiting for? We are disciples in the school of our Lady and she who is the catechist of the Catechist (Jesus Christ) of all catechists has instructed many in the spiritual life. Fortunately for us the graduands of her school are encouraging us to thread their path and attain holiness with ease. MARY OUR MODEL OF THE LEGIONARYS SPIRITUAL LIFE The spirit of the spiritual life of the Legionary is that of Mary and the Legion Handbook declares, The spirit of the Legion of Mary is that of Mary herself 21 What are the ingredients of that spiritual life? The ingredients of the spiritual life are the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the Legionary is to aspire to, such as, her profound humility, blind obedience, her angelical sweetness, her continual prayer, her universal mortification, her altogether spotless purity, her heroic patience, her heavenly wisdom, her self-sacrificing courageous love of God, and above all

20 21

The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary, p.19. Ibid, p.12

her faith, that virtue which has in her alone been found in its utmost extent and never equaled.22 The foregoing is a demonstration of Mary as the first disciple and Legionary of Christ that has exemplified the requirements of the spiritual life. What do we do with the reality before us? It is simply to imitate her. Note she remains a perfect model for us not because she was not faced with challenges of the spiritual and material life. But because she faithfully resisted and surmounted those setbacks that keeps many back from spiritual progress. So, she was able to face the difficulties and supply the labour essential for her spiritual progress and today she is eulogized as Queen of All Saints! She is our proximate end to look up to and ascend the ladder of the spiritual life. CONCLUSION By and large, we have seen that our main purpose on earth is to serve God and humanity, but for us to do so successfully, we need to inaugurate and nurture a special lifestyle- the spiritual life. This is a life centred on the Blessed Trinity through the direction of The Blessed Virgin Mary. A life bent on doing the will of God and nothing else, nothing more and nothing less. To be sincere, we cannot establish this life not to talk of sustaining it if we rely on our whims and caprices. Which implies that, we have to apply some significant instruments, such as prayer, mortification, sacraments, see Mary as our model and practicing true devotion to her.

22

Ibid, p.12