“Legionary Renewal” Begins with a Renewed Interior Life

P. Martin Connor, LC

  

fathermartinThe years of crisis with our founder brought us to our knees in prayer – to Christ our “only strength and our only treasure” (CG 84) – creating a great thirst to ponder the mysteries of God’s plan over our lives through the cross, above all this particular cross.1 The 2014 General Chapter document dedicates almost 40 numbers (83-120) to the spiritual life of the Legionary community. Some of the detected “weaknesses” in the spiritual life of the community were referenced: “the sense of formalism in prayer in the fulfillment of simply what is asked without going deep, secularized atmosphere and a superficial culture typified by what is only temporary.2 More specifically the invitation to grow in our love for the Word of God, relation with the Holy Spirit, familiarity with diverse methods of prayer, a clearer integration of the affective and emotive dimension of the spiritual life, and a better knowledge of the great masters of the spiritual life.3 It is clear to most that there will be no renewal in the Legion and Movement if it does not first come from a spiritual renewal.

This “going deep” spiritually, as #87 of the document says, can be difficult for any person who leads an active life in this excessive “busy” culture but it becomes a particular concern for a person consecrated to the work of God. An excessive active life will naturally have its “interior” effects. Any faithful religious would like to avoid the pitfall of the saying: “beware of the person who speak a lot about God but very little with him”. Much of our typical busyness comes from the means of communication at our disposal. There is much good to be had with such new means of communication and there isn’t a single Legionary that has not been affected in some way by the world of internet – above all in the way he works apostolically. However it can be equally said there is much negative – every “full time apostle” has felt the effects of this new world within himself – above all his interior and exterior silence and his capacity for concentration and reflection both in prayer and study. The prominence of seeking holiness is at the center of the life of any religious community. Therefore, it is urgent for Legionaries, as religious and priests, who work in the world but are not of the world to be honest with ourselves about this fact: there is no holiness without interior life. For any Christian the height of his day and source of his action flows from his identification with Christ4 . The secular noise and active pace of this world is not going to change tomorrow. It is here to stay. The “game-changer” for any apostle will always be vigilance – the very last command of our Lord to his Apostles – “watch and pray”. Given the cultural immersion we experience with so many possible avenues of distraction, now more than ever we need to be truly vigilant in the discernment of what we expose ourselves to on so many levels.

The primacy of the interior over the exterior

The call of holiness demands more than just putting aside some moments of the day to pray more or less, but allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us – making our very existence into

 


1 CG 2014, Rome, 84.

2 CG 2014, Rome, 87.

3 CG 2014, Rome, 88.

4 Cf Documents of Vatican II, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, December 4, 1963, #10.


 

a perennial liturgy – in the words of our Patron St Paul – “by offering our living bodies as a holy sacrifice”5.                             The General Chapter was a renewed call to the primacy of our union with God which “must permeate all elements of our existence. If a legionary does not encounter in this the foundation of his life and his action, it will be very easy for him to fall into dissipation and activism6 – something experienced not infrequently in our past history. Pope Francis speaks of this common danger for all Christians in Evangelii Gaudium: “the great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others….God’s voice is no longer heard, quiet joy of his love is no longer felt and the desire to do good fades.7 Those called to religious life – really are expected to be “professionals” in the areas of prayer and interior life. What we give to others is what we receive from Christ in prayer

– as the saying goes “You can’t give what you don’t got”. The beauty of CLC #4 is that it shows clearly the mystery that each legionary community makes present – through the charism – the calling of Christ to “be with him so that he may reveal his love to us”. This is experienced first in prayer and no other place. The strength of our community renewal will be based on the dedication we give to our interior renewal.

Community life centered on God

The Chapter states that “fraternal life in community is an expression of charity8 – and where does this charity come from – does it flow from our own selfish selves? Of course not, it is only possible in relationship with God and to the extent that each member strives to live that relationship, Christ becomes the heart of community life.9 This is why the chapel, where the Eucharistic Christ is present, is truly center of all Legionary communities – where we gather for morning prayers, for the Eucharistic celebration, for all significant moments. It is in the chapel where all Truth flows: “to him and from him, we say goodbye when we come and go from the community, from Him we gain the strength to communicate with each other all those spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and material goods”10 in our life. The joy, the serenity, the ability “feel at home” and to be there for each other – it is in this atmosphere that the religious forms the heart of a son, of a brother, of a father that helps so much in his priestly ministry.11 It is having Christ at the center of our religious community that the members feel the co-responsibility of building up the community and of making the other members grow – knowing how to confront inevitable tensions and resolving them with maturity. With the presence of Christ – almost palpable working in each member – this atmosphere makes it all the more easy to work on the weaknesses of community life that the Chapter reported: growing in our love for the Word of God, relation with the Holy Spirit, familiarity with diverse methods of prayer, a clearer integration of the affective and emotive dimension of the spiritual life, and a better knowledge of the great masters of the spiritual life.

 


6 Cfr. CG 2014, Rome, 111.5 Rm 12, 1.

7 Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis, #76.

8 CG, 2014 Rome, 51.

9 CG, 2014 Rome, 52.

10 CG, 2014 Rome, 52

11 CG, 2014 Rome, 53.


From a strong unity, a strong Mission

With Christ at the center, this unity will naturally provide an excellent platform to collaborate in the mission. More than just one or two individuals and their apostolates, it is the entire community participating in the one common mission of the Legion – “to form apostles, Christian leaders at the service of the Church”12. Therefore, it is critical that Legionary communities make the primacy of the spiritual life THE one common priority, a subject of continual conversation and examination because it strikes at the center of our strength as a religious a family united in one mission. The community is the “sign” that makes each religious a “sign” in the world of a divine reality: “a religious community has its origin in the love of God diffused in hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, and through Him it becomes a true family united in the name of the Lord”.13 This solid spiritual life makes each legionary a “sign” – and the faithful living out of our consecration the condition for apostolic fruitfulness.

Legionary Poverty

During the years of community reflection regarding the new Constitutions (2010-2013), the subject of legionary poverty came up among many Legionaries. This is reflected in the 2014 document of the General Chapter which dedicates some significant numbers to the subject of Administration and Poverty (#218-241). In light of the Chapters reflection of our recent history, it states that our charism which brings us “to work on occasion with people and in atmosphere of particular financial abundance and this can imply for some a certain risk in the living of the vow and virtue of poverty.”14 Perhaps the principle concern, specifically regarding poverty, could be summed up as – given our charism to form apostles in Christian leadership and the frequency of an ever more secularized environment that this entails – what is the most faithful expression of Christian poverty as a religious in legionary life? To borrow a phrase from Perfectae Caritatis, how can the living of our poverty be that esteemed sign in an economically driven world of a life consecrated to following Christ. What attracted us most to the Legionary vocation was in fact its radicalness – that life in the Legion was going to challenge us to surrender everything to Christ – literally everything including material realities. The fact that the Chapter invites each Legionary to touch on this subject both in spiritual direction and personal dialogue15 gives the sense that this reflection on poverty needs to continue beginning with each Legionary. With the pontificate of Pope Francis and his personal example of poverty in so many aspects- the subject of legionary poverty takes on even more value. Perhaps there are things the Holy Spirit wants to show us as a community so we can more perfectly fulfill the calling to be that radical sign in the world – of another world! The following considerations might foster more reflection on this subject of Christian poverty.

“The Common Life”

American author Fr Thomas Dubay, CM in his book Happy are the Poor states that “poverty in the New Testament deals with a sparing-sharing lifestyle, a way of life that promotes apostolic credibility and offers the world a pilgrim witness.”16   This assertion seems to provide a

 


13 Cf. Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life, Fraternal Life in Community, (Feb 2, 1994), 8.12 CLC, 4.

14 CG, Rome 2014, 225.

15 CG, Rome, 224.

16 Happy are the Poor, Thomas Dubay, p. 133


 

good starting point to begin a reflection on Christian poverty. Religious life deals with a

sparing-sharing lifestyle – what we might call a “common life”. The Acts of the Apostles speaks of the dedication to community closeness, to the Eucharist, and to prayer (Acts 2:42) likewise to the sharing of material goods in common (Act 2:44-46 and 4:32-35).   Religious life tries to make this ideal concrete in a vowed community. The numbers in our Constitutions dedicated to the vow of poverty (#19-26) open with: “a legionary professes voluntary poverty for the love of Christ”. Our poverty is voluntary – we freely choose it and desire to live this way. We give over to a general fund all we earn or receive, having our needs cared for by the same fund.17

We desire that our brothers share our gifts and all contributions we receive. This common life is rooted in love. The “urging and checking up” –so to speak – on this principle of religious life is necessary only because we are weak human beings prone to selfishness. As Christians we do profess to be “our brothers keepers” (Gen 4, 9), for the love of Christ. Fr.

Dubay rightly says that permissions in religious life are not “bureaucratic red tape”, rather they are based on the idea that what I use does not belong to me as an individual but to the community and hence I depend on the “community will” and this will must be articulated by someone who speaks in the community’s name (Superior). The Superior articulates the “community’s will” and grants permissions according to the officially blessed “rule of life” or constitution, not according to private opinion. Of course there is need at times for “discretionary power” in particular situations. The General Chapter encourages the superiors of the community in (CG 199) to be confident and proceed, according to the right given to them, to help the their religious be faithful but always in a spirit of fortitude, rectitude, and charity. All Legionaries are called to make a conscious, voluntary choice for poverty – careful not to reduce poverty to obedience – obtaining permission does make it always in accord with a spirit of poverty.18 When is it comes to understanding the weakness of human nature in this regard, Fr Dubay sums it up well: “We all have something of the squirrel in us, and until we are stripped of all selfishness we want to keep at least something of our gifts, if not our salary, and we want some of our needs to be met by families and friends –especially when the community is unwilling or unable to care for them.

And our human talent for rationalization reaches awesome proportions in our justifications of monetary desires.”19

 

Apostolic Credibility

Legionary poverty should give us “apostolic credibility”. We are what we profess to be – his apostles. This calling to apostolic credibility comes out in the gospel passage (Mk 6:6-10) where Christ is sending out his disciples – early on in his formation of the twelve – he is teaching them above all a total trust in Providence20, even if what is asked might appear extreme. We read “then he summoned them and began to send them out in pairs giving them authority over unclean spirits. And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, and no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added “do not take a spare tunic.” Christ says take nothing except a staff –not even “viatico” (coppers) for the journey. The “staff” perhaps signifies his teaching, the Good news, this is all that people will need from his apostles; it was like he was saying to them -“remember what I taught you, now go

 


18 CG, 223.17 CG, 236.

19 Happy are the Poor, Thomas Dubay, p. 133

20 CLC, 19.


 

and give the same to the many who need it”; to go and preach in poverty. To the simplicity of this “sending” and to its demands – there might be some natural skepticism in the apostles (and in us!) like “times are different today – I need to get around, I need a car”. Christ does make an exception for transportation – “wear sandals”. The point is that we need very little to teach the Gospel. We need to spend time with Christ, to listen to him, to assimilate his teaching, and then we need to give it others. (Cfr CLC 4) However above all we need to trust Him. We need to be humble enough to trust his indications. Fr Alvaro writes that it is “humility that helps us put our confidence in God and abandon into His hands our worries and difficulties”21. Religious poverty is just that – having the simplicity of heart and trust in His plans over our plans, to trust Him more than the “means” we use in our apostolate. The story of Gideon in the Old Testament seems to echo what Christ is doing with the apostles. God tells Gideon to reduce the number of soldiers from thousands to 300 who will fight the powerful army of Midian- something which seems completely irrational. His divine “reasonableness” was to avoid the temptation that “Israel might claim credit for themselves at my expense, they might say, my own hand has rescued me” (Judges 7:2). To be sent with only a staff, a pair of sandals, and one tunic, truly the apostles were called to a “lifestyle” of a pilgrim which only added to their apostolic credibility.

The New Testament speaks of a specific “pilgrim lifestyle” that the first followers of Christ adhered to. In Hebrews 11: 13-16 speaking of the great men and women of faith that have preceded us we read: “All these died in faith….before receiving any of the things that had been promised….they recognized that they were only strangers and nomads on earth”. St Peter writes something similar in his first letter warning the first believers of temptation: “I urge you, my dear people, while you are visitors and pilgrims to keep yourselves free from the selfish passions that attack the soul” (1Pet 2:11). Followers of Christ are called to be radical witnesses in the world of a poor pilgrim – the cutting edge – that we have no lasting city here. St Paul motivates one of the first bishops – Timothy – to be content with basics of life and weary of wealth: “we brought nothing into this world, we can take nothing out of it but as long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are prey to temptation” (1 Tim 6:7). There will always be the constant battle in the human heart between what I want vs. what I need.

Ultimately all our needs are found in God whether we take a vow or not. In his Lenten letter of 2011, Fr Alvaro reminds us of the same – “Many spiritual authors propose the image of man as a traveler that has his origin and final end in God. To advance towards the transforming encounter with Him, that is revealed to us in Christ, is something that each one of us has to realize personally”. (9 March, 2011)

If we return to the Gospel of Mark, Christ “sending out” goes on: “if you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district. If any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them. So they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them” (Mk 10:10-13) Christ does something here with the apostles that is common and recommended in all our apostolates – it is called “aligning expectations”. He is very clear with them: “Listen up, some people are going to accept you and some are going to reject you”. The words “stay there till you leave” are encouraging his disciples not to be “waiting outside” the lives of the people we serve, so to speak, rather to be part of their daily struggles and worries, accompanying them on this pilgrimage through life.

 


21 Letter of Fr Alvaro Corcuera, November 20, 2011,


 

Such an idea of accompaniment is found in Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium –“we need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness”22. The possibility of rejection is always real – be it with the first apostles or with anyone called to preach the Gospel. Faith and conversion cannot be imposed – only proposed. Pope Francis continues -“The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed”23. After Christ gave his instructions, “they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them”(Mk 6: 12-13). What the apostles give is Christ and his power to forgive and to heal – body and soul. It is here where true poverty – being those empty instruments- is so necessary to reach the many that need Christ. The General Chapter exhorts all Legionaries to be “conscious that in the present moment of the Church and society, there is a particular urgency of giving witness to true evangelical poverty…and from this arises the necessity of a permanent community and personal vigilance to be in the world but not of the world, to distinguish between what is really necessary, or at least appropriate, for the apostolate and for personal and community life”.24 The challenge that confronts us is to safeguard our identity as religious, consecrated to Christ amidst the world but without being absorbed by it”. (15 Dec 2010, Fr Alvaro)

 


22 Evangelii Gaudium, # 425-425.

23 Ibid, 272-277.22 Evangelii Gaudium, # 425-425.

24 CG, 226, 228.