Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady for the celebration of the Legion of Mary National Pilgrimage to Knock
26 September 2010
Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady for the celebration of the Legion of Mary National Pilgrimage to Knock
“Frank Duff was ahead of his time. He opened the way for the Legion of Mary. He did so at a time when the role of the lay faithful still had to struggle for full recognition … Frank Duff’s message has much to teach us in our present situation. His genius was to translate doctrine into action” – Cardinal Brady
I welcome you all here this afternoon to the National Pilgrimage of the Legion of Mary. It is good for us all to be here at this lovely shrine of Our Lady in Knock. For Knock is Our Lady’s very personal gift to the people of Ireland. Here she has given us a place of pilgrimage – a place of prayer and of peace, of repentance and of renewal and a place of encouragement and hope. Here she gives us a message to sustain us in our Christian faith and to nourish us on the journey of life. That message is clear –‘Do whatever He tells you’.
It is a great joy for me to be here with all of you. You, who love Mary so dearly and who know you are loved by Mary, our Mother. It is good to be here with you who appreciate so clearly the part Mary plays in our journey through life. Mary leads us to Jesus.
It is a delight for me to be here in Knock in the company of the Legion of Mary, that great and dedicated army of Mary’s faithful and loving servants – you who serve the Church – the Body of Christ – the son of Mary – in almost every country of the world.
- What a joy to be here with you – you whose object is the glory of God and not the glory of self.
- What a grace to stand on this holy ground with you who strive through holiness and prayer to promote active co-operation, in Mary’s and Christ’s work.
- Long may you continue to see, as your priority, the spiritual and social welfare of each individual.
I thank you for your participation in the life of the parish. It is something wonderful and much appreciated.
Today we are here to plead, through the intercession of Mary, for a special blessing on your visitation of families, and of the sick – especially of the lonely, the terminally ill and those in their last agony – both at home and in hospital. Long may your co-operation in every apostolic work and missionary undertaking, sponsored by the parish, continue to flourish and bear fruit and be blessed by the Lord. Long may the message of the Servants of God, Frank Duff, Edel Quinn and Alfie Lambe sustain you and implore you. May the day of their beatification soon draw near.
Many years ago I made the long journey to Korea. The occasion was the ordination to the priesthood, of one of the students of the Irish College in Rome. It was a wonderful experience – a great experience of the faith and devotion of the Korean people.
When I came to Seoul Airport to fly home, I met there the President of the Legion of Mary in Korea. She had come there to greet me and say farewell simply because of the fact that I was from Ireland – the land of the Servant of God, Frank Duff – the country which had given to her, and her country, the great gift of the Legion of Mary.
I thought it was powerful proof of the stature of the Servant of God, Frank Duff in all continents of the world. It was a wonderful tribute on her part to the work and worth of the Legion of Mary. We are in Knock on a day when the Readings evoke so many of the same concerns as those raised by Pope Benedict in England and Scotland last week:
- What is true religion really all about?
- Is there anything more important than practical compassion of the poor?
The parable of Jesus – of the rich man and Lazarus – is surely a wake-up call. It challenges us all to examine our own lifestyle. The Readings are about those who ensconce themselves in luxury while totally neglecting the poor. Surely this is a practical denial of a God who hears the cry of the poor.
If we read Luke’s account of the blessings and woes we see that Lazarus – poor, hungry, weeping with sores, rejected, insulted, licked only by dogs and despised, is the personification of the Beatitudes – but the rich man, dressed in the best, living in the lap of luxury, popular and pampered personifies those for whom a terrible future is foretold. There is a vast abyss between them already here on this earth. There is also an abyss in the next world and guess which side God is on? In a sense, the treatment of the poor man Lazarus by the rich is still widespread in many ways but perhaps it may not be so blatantly paraded as in the parable
Of course it was the genius of Frank Duff that he saw clearly that the Church is the Body of Christ. He talked about it all the time but he did not just talk – he translated his words into action!
“Christ lives through us” he said. “The life of the Church is the Life of the Christ continued. We poor, weak creatures are only able to reproduce that life in parts. The face of the Church depends on us. Only through us can religion be shown forth as the dominant captivating thing it is. Religion is Christ, so each one must show some line or part or feature of Christ so that together, like a cinema projector, you may cast that radiant thing onto the screen of life”.
Clearly the mindset and attitude of Frank Duff and indeed of Edel Quinn and Alfie Lambe was totally different to that of the rich man in today’s Gospel. Today we are confronted by a question: It is not “Are you rich or are you poor?” as if one or the other would make us morally better. The question is not “How much do you own?” but “How much do you care?”
Like St Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio, Francis Duff cared. He cared a lot. He cared enough to want to do his utmost to share the compassion of Jesus Christ with all – but especially with the poor.
The late Cardinal Suenens of Belgium was a great admirer of the Servant of God, Frank Duff. He once imagined the interview which Frank would give from his place in Heaven to a journalist putting questions to him about renewal in the context of today.
He says: “I think he would be telling us that the struggle must go on.
The struggle is to convince every Christian that he or she is required to be an apostle by virtue of Baptism
- That we must proclaim the Gospel in words and deeds everywhere and always.
- That the lay faithful must assume his or her personal responsibility.
Recently the diocese of Armagh adopted the following Aim. It goes like this:
‘As a diocese we aim to become the Body of Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit so that we can live like Jesus in our time and place, sharing his compassionate love with all.’
Of course Frank Duff was saying the same thing 100 years ago. Frank Duff was ahead of his time. He opened the way for the Legion of Mary.
He did so at a time when the role of the lay faithful still had to struggle for full recognition. Many would say that this is still the case – that lay people have still not been given their proper place in the Church.
I think it is time to reassess the life and message of the Servant of God, Frank Duff. I think his message has much to teach us in our present situation. His genius was to translate doctrine into action.
“Christ – the Head depends on His followers” he would say. “If they do not lend themselves to Him his purposes are frustrated”.
Frank Duff has been described as a pioneer of the new evangelisation.
His methods of reflection, prayer and action in small groups, have been tried and found trustworthy.
Remember two of the great themes of the Second Vatican Council were:
- The universal call to holiness – in other words, we are all called to be saints, and,
- The universal call to mission and evangelisation – we are all called to proclaim the Gospel by our words and our deeds.
This twofold call, to every member of the Church, was central to the life and conviction of the servant of God, Frank Duff. His first published work, written while he was still in his twenties, was called Can we be Saints?. Of course his answer was a resounding ‘yes’. We are all called, without exception to be saints.
Several Popes have written to, and about, the Legion. Frank Duff’s favourite papal statement was that of Paul VI who said: “What I like most about the Legion is that it empowers the little people to become apostles”. I would say it empowers not just the little people – but all the people who care to try.
Of course, the apostle must first strive for holiness of life to be a saint. Pope Benedict, echoing Paul VI, repeatedly calls to young
people: “Don’t be afraid to be saints”.
Speaking to young people at St Mary’s University, Twickenham last Friday, Pope Benedict said the same. “It is not often that a Pope or indeed anyone else, has the opportunity to speak to the students of all the Catholic schools of England and Wales at the same time – and since I have the chance now” – the Pope continued: “there is something I very much want to say to you. I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the 21st century. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy”. This applies not only to the young but to all of us, whatever our age or occupation may be. How Ireland needs saints today!! Mary has an indispensable role in helping us to be saints.
Last week I had the great joy of being present at the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. I know the seminal influence that Blessed John Henry Newman had on Frank Duff and the Legion of Mary. In his Angelus address, the Holy Father quotes a passage from Newman. It could readily be taken to sum up a great part of the Legion’s spirituality.
“Who can estimate the holiness and perfection of her, who was chosen to be the Mother of Christ? What must have been her gifts, who was chosen to be the only near earthly relative of the Son of God, the only one whom He was bound by nature to revere and look up to; the one appointed to train and educate Him, to instruct Him day by day, as He grew in wisdom and in stature?”
We remember here, especially today, how Mary evangelised little people of Knock and through them – the rest of us.
On one occasion, Pope Benedict, addressing the Cardinals residing in Rome, encouraged them to “keep an eye on eternity”. This is the deepest message of today’s Gospel. It is possible to live a life-style and acquire attitudes that are radically opposed to the Gospel and this will have eternal and irreparable consequences. The gap between Heaven and Hell cannot be crossed.
The Legion of Mary has no other reason for existing but to help people to reach their final destiny – to help people into Heaven – or to use the older phraseology: the salvation of souls. They are called to have Mary’s maternity of souls: to work in the spirit of Mary, in communion with her.
Knock is an ideal place in which to remember the Legion. The Legion is surely at home here. Let us thank Mary for the great graces of the past and ask her to intercede and be especially with us for the present and for the future. We remember the countless bands of Legionaries who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, especially those Legionaries who have died since our pilgrimage last year. We pray for an increase of membership for the Legion. We ask that more and more people discover the joys of belonging to it.
There was another person beatified in Seville, Spain last weekend. Maria Isabel Romero Salvat was born in Madrid in Spain in 1926. She died in 1998 and was declared Blessed last Sunday – less than 12 years after her death. I wondered what was the secret of her amazingly fast promotion to being declared Blessed – I was told that she used to beg on the streets to feed the poor – especially the ex-prisoners – the elderly poor but especially the suffering and the dying. She made their food, she did their washing and she kept the toughest and most painful jobs for herself. What a wonderful inspiration for us all.
Notes to editors:
- Cardinal Seán Brady is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
- www.catholicbishops.ie is hosting a dedicated feature on the visit of Pope Benedict to Britain; the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman; and, it includes a video interview with Cardinal Brady where he discusses the value of the visit of Pope Benedict as pastor to the flock of Catholics in Britain; the beatification of Cardinal Newman; renewal in the Church; role of young people, woman and lay theologians; how the Church is implementing procedures to safeguard children and reaching out to survivors; the promotion of vocations and the importance of parish.