Homily of Bishop Fintan Monahan for the Legion of Mary Pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine, Knock

25 Sep 2017


“The history of a nation is not in parliaments and battlefields, but in what people say to each other on fair days and high days, and how they farm and quarrel and go on pilgrimage.”

The words of W.B. Yeats – in Stories from Carelton.

Legion Pilgrimage being Fair Day

This religious event today at Knock is all of that and perhaps more.  What we are doing now is a bit like the National Ploughing Championships during the week.  This National Pilgrimage of the Legion of Mary is a “fair day” and a “high day”, a day in which we “plough the furrow” and “make hay” in religious terms.  It is a day, as Yeats says in which many of us may “quarrel” and most certainly we are here “on pilgrimage” and in so doing make history as we make our annual Legion of Mary trip to this Holy Shrine of Our Lady under the Legion banner.

The Parable of the Vineyard

The Gospel today of the workers in the vineyard is a challenging one.  While on the one hand it gives a sense of the hugely generous kindness of our God – from the logical point of view it doesn’t fit into our sense of fair play that a worker who would arrive at the end of the day should get the same wage as one who laboured in the heat of the whole day!

God’s ways not our ways

However, the first reading reminds us that our ways are not God’s ways and we often struggle to cope with that!

Justice and Grace – Manikon Eros

Justice and grace do not always fit well together in the vision of our God.  The parable of today’s Gospel shows that the reign of God is based on the latter, not the former.  Mark Patrick Hederman, once Abbot of Glenstal, had an interesting book some years ago entitled Manikon Eros, the Greek description of God with crazy, mad, even lunatic, love.  The love and mercy of God is beyond our human sense of limitations and description and definition and understanding.

No God at the check-out!

Joseph Cassidy, the former Archbishop of Tuam, God be good to him, in his book These Might Help – has an interesting reflection on this Gospel entitled “No God at the check-out”.  The whole point of this parable, according to Archbishop Joe is the immensity of God’s generosity.  There is no end to it.  No limit to it!  It’s bountifully there!  And freely given!  There’s no God with a calculator at the entrance to the vineyard, he says.  And there’s no God at the check-out in the supermarket either!  If you were really in need of his generosity, if you were really hungry for his forgiveness, he’d give you everything in the shop!

Attractive image of God

I find this image of God most attractive!  As the students in school would say: “bring this on”!  This is the type of God who inspires, enlivens and attracts and sustains us with magnetic allure, love and grace!

Association with the Legion of Mary

For a long number of years I have had the privilege of being associated with the Legion of Mary in varying capacities.  A number of times I went on Perigrinatio Pro Christo (PPC) as a seminarian and as a young priest.  I also had the privilege of assisting in various capacities the wonderful and outstanding John B. McLoughlin who dedicated much of his life, energy and expertise to the Legion of Mary in Saint Jarlath’s College, Tuam, and further afield.  I am so glad to be able to support the Legion in whatever way I can in the diocese of Killaloe and look forward to the annual gathering with Mass and a meal in Ennis again this Autumn!

Legion of Mary

I always loved the poetic, musical, spiritual and theological antiphon that is said so often at the Legion prayers: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array”.  In that apocalyptic text there is so much to ponder, so much that gives a clear picture and insight into the mother of God in whose house we are on pilgrimage to today.

Mary as Morning Star

What a great hope filled image of Mary as morning star in “who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising”.  Mary our hope, our mother, our protector in times of darkness and need.

Fair as the moon, bright as the sun

The beauty and attractiveness and motherly quality of Mary is captured in the fairness, the brightness, the glow the light that she brings to our lives as the morning star and beyond.

Pieta – Article

A number of years ago I read an article in which the author gave a reflection on what is one of the most famous statues in the world, Michelangelo’s Pieta.  He pointed out that the young Michelangelo who was only 24 when he sculpted the masterpiece and was often criticized for the almost serene, calm look on the face of Mary at that moment of intense suffering with her crucified Son in her arms.  Many, however have defended him, down through the ages pointing out it portrayed a deep and mature understanding of the Christian confidence that the sufferings of life can be mitigated and that death is not the final event.  The Pieta is a statement of hope with an Easter dimension.

As terrible as an army set in battle array

There is also something very appealing in the tough image of Mary being as “terrible as an army set in battle array”.  The scriptural mother of God is no shrinking violet, but is strong, resilient, well able to cope with adversity and all that life throws at her.  I love the Evie Hone window of Manresa House, the Jesuit Centre for Prayer and spirituality in Dollymount.  In that Pentecost image the disciples are fearful, distressed, lacking courage, but Mary is strong, encouraging, rock like, a courageous leader!

Coat of Arms

This time last year – I was giving a presentation in Killaloe diocese and was explaining the detail of my then recently designed episcopal Coat of Arms that was designed for me.  During question time a man from the audience queried the usefulness and relevance in this day and age of a Coat of Arms.  In explaining the symbolic importance of it the Legion symbolism and imagery was most helpful.  The Legion uses the imagery of the Roman Legion Army going into battle, the symbols of the Standard and the Vexillum – that we are called to do spiritual battle against the darkness of life and the world around us.  As followers of Jesus Christ we are no longer mere creatures of this world and we need to be on our guard against the forces that work against us.  Pope Francis, being a disciple of St. Ignatius talks a lot about the dark forces of the world (the enemy of human nature – Saint Ignatius) and our constant battle against this in our “Christian warfare”.  In that important context a Coat of Arms has great relevance.

A climate of Moral Relativism

One of the sad features of modern life is that the distinction between good and bad, between sin and grace has been blurred and some would even deny the existence of evil.  The loss of this sense of sin is concerning and can in a subliminal way work against encouraging people towards faith.  From the moral perspective there are many broad issues of concern in the world we live in at present – the threat of international warfare, the challenge we are going to have nationally in the Springtime to protect and maintain the right to life of the unborn, the ongoing struggle it is going to be to maintain a religious presence in education, the right to have a religious voice in the public sphere.  Yet in all of this the “Pentecost Mary”, the “Morning Star” is with us, inspiring us, leading us, guiding us in response to our prayer.  “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array”!

Why the success of the Legion?

So how and why has the Legion been such a great success for so many years?

No doubt it’s because of the legacy of many stars and heroes, saintly, holy and virtuous people like Frank Duff, Alfie Lamb, Edel Quinn, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, Our Lady herself.

Another reason of course is that the Legion of Mary is intensely practical.  It is a great combination of prayer and action, Mary and Martha.

The Legion is also evangelical or missionary at its core. Just look at the many PPC and Maria et Patria, journeying for Christ projects at home and abroad.

The Legion is not introspective, overly concerned with its own image.  Just this week I noticed the Legion was prominent at the National Ploughing Championships. There they were at the heart of the market as good as the biggest and best business with a stall “selling” the Gospel to the many hundreds of thousands who attended.  Well done to all involved!  Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) calls us to move from maintenance to missionary mode.  The Legion captures the spirit of that in their many projects and efforts.

Promotion of Vocations

Recent analysis of a survey of priests shows that over one third said they had first had experience of prayer and devotion and encouragement towards priesthood through the Legion of Mary.  Other devotional groups like Focolare, Youth 2000, Taizé, Divine Mercy, Medjugorje, Fatima and Lourdes prayer groups, Eucharistic Adoration, Net and Focus Youth Ministries, Pope John Paul II Awards are also a great help in this important quest to foster and develop vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Prayer for continued success of the Legion

While nationally the Legion of Mary, like many religious organizations may not be as strong as it once was – it continues to grow and thrive and expand in some of the developing countries.  Long may the Legion of Mary continue to be a great leaven and force for the good in our society and in our Church.  It’s never too late to come on board and join in on the good work, even if it is at the 9th hour like the workers in today’s Gospel.  With Mary, the mother of God on our side who can be against us?

“Who is she that cometh forth, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array”.  Amen!


  • Bishop Fintan Monahan is Bishop of Killaloe. This homily was preached yesterday, 24 September, during Mass at Our Lady of Knock Basilica, Co Mayo.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444