"Faith must strain after all men with inextinguishable ardour.Sometimes that essential note is missing.People are not sought after,neither in the fold nor those outside it.But if the Ascension commandment(Go preach the Gospel to every Creature) be disregarded,it will be at a price.....the price of loss of grace,of diminution and decay even to the extinction of faith.Look round and see how many places have already paid that awful price."
(Handbook of The Legion of Mary).
As a young catholic,I understood that the great mission of the church was evangelization. That it was our duty if not our joy, to spread the words of our salvation to those around us and beyond.Most converts are fired up by zeal to begin with. I was no exception and wanted to share the pearl of great price with everyone.In those days The Legion Of Mary existed in most parishes in this area,all having a very healthy mixed membership and all as the name suggests, dedicated to Our Lady under a particular title.My local praesidium or unit (the Legion is organized on the model of the Roman army)was called "Our Lady of Grace",and I joined it a few months after my baptism.
The work undertaken was as the Parish priest prescribed.He attended every meeting ,led the Rosary and gave the allocutio or homily.One of the first assignments given to me and my fellow Legionary was to visit the local bowling alley.There the young gathered,their own meeting place.It was easy to strike up conversations there.They were my generation,and I was not afraid to ask them their thoughts on life and death.Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion, once said that if a man stops you in the street, and asks you for a light for his cigarette,within a few minutes he will be asking you for God.I think that that is true whatever veil covers the request.
Census work was undertaken,census of the whole parish.We knocked on every door,every mansion,every council house,every mobile home.Any dwelling where a lapsed catholic might be found(.It seems to me these days, that there are many lapsed Catholics waiting to be found....that no one searches for the lost).Hospitals and nursing homes were visited ,catholics and non catholics conversed with if they were well enough and always, always a prayer said before departure.The most lovely work undertaken was the taking of a statue of Our Lady to catholic families in the parish.The statue would be left with the family for a whole week,on the understanding that every day the rosary was prayed before her ,all the family together if possible.I loved transporting the statue and seeing the place made for her in their homes.A place usually decked out with the flowers of the season for Our Lady's honour.
Christmas day was not exempt from work for the Legionary.The old and the lonely were visited on that most holy day.Looking back I guess it required some level of commitment to be a Legionary.The weekly meeting was one and half hours more or less, and the work assigned at least two.Added to which the Legionary prayer had to be prayed daily,and you were required to attend the next level meeting,where all the local Praesidia from Parishes round about, would meet,usually once a month.
"The object of the Legion is the sanctification of its members by prayer and active co-operation,under ecclesiastical guidance,in Mary's and the Church's work of crushing the head of the serpent,and advancing the reign of Christ".(LegionHandbook).
I know that the Legion survives still in other parts of the country....I mourn its loss here.It seems that "Lay ministry" has taken the place of the lay apostolate ,that this" ministry" as applied here, has the effect of turning a parish community inward looking,instead of outward,making it exclusive instead of inclusive, of forgetting those outside the church gates who but for them, may never know the loving Christ.