Tuesday 6 October 2009

True Devotion to the Nation

The season of political party conferences here in the UK prompted me to look at a style of (potentially political) engagement envisaged by a project of the Legion of Mary called "True Devotion to the Nation". There are a couple of contemporary projects that I know of that reflect the principles underlying this Legion idea. One is the movement for unity in politics of the Focolare, the other London Citizens.

Spiritual Reading: Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary pp.76-77

The Legion has a compelling motive for that service of the community. It is that Jesus and Mary were citizens of Nazareth. They loved that town and their country with a religious devotion, for to the Jews faith and fatherland were so divinely intertwined as to be but one. Jesus and Mary lived the common life of their locality with perfection. Every person and thing there was an object of deepest interest to them. It would be impossible to conceive them as indifferent or neglectful in any respect.

Today the world is their country and each place is their Nazareth. In a baptised community they are bound more intensely to the people than they were to their own blood-kindred. But their love has now to issue through the Mystical Body. If its members exert themselves in this spirit to serve the place in which they live Jesus and Mary will move through that place shedding their beneficial influences not only on souls but on the surroundings. There will be material betterment; problems will shrink. Nor is true betterment to be gained from any other source.

This attention to Christian duty in each locality would add up to patriotism for the nation. This word denotes uncharted territory, for what is true patriotism? There is no map or model of it in the world. An approximation is the devotion and self-sacrifice which develop during a war. But this is motivated by hate more than by love, and appropriately it is directed towards destroying. So it is imperative that a correct pattern of peaceful patriotism be provided. It is this spiritualised service of the community which the Legion has been urging under the title: True Devotion to the Nation. Not only is that service to be undertaken out of the spiritual motive but it and all the contacts arising from it must be used to promote the spiritual. Operations which produced advance but only on the material plane would falsify the whole idea of True Devotion to the Nation. Cardinal Newman perfectly expresses that basic idea when he says that a material advance unaccompanied by a corresponding moral manifestation is almost too awful to consider. The correct balance must be preserved.


The Legion of Mary has a clear rule that there is “no politics in the Legion”[1]; a rule whose relevance can be seen in the historical context of Ireland at the time the Legion began[2] and whose relevance continues for most circumstances in which the Legion operates today. The Legion needs to be able to bring to membership Catholics who might in their political allegiances have great differences between them, and the “no politics in the Legion” rule enables this unification in the society of the Legion. In a similar way, the giving of material relief and the collection of funds for the giving of material relief, are prohibited by the Legion system.[3]

And yet the Legion does, in the idea of “True Devotion to the Nation”, propose a type of engagement that might be called “social” or “economic” and might, in some situations, be called “political” - with a small “s”, and small “e” and a small “p”.

“We must not for a moment lose sight of the soul.”[4] The first point in understanding the idea of True Devotion to the Nation lies in recognising what is primary and what is secondary. What is, and must be, primary is the religious motivation and the religious object of the work undertaken. Where those who are the object of the work do not have a religious belief, then the primary object becomes that of their spiritual and moral betterment. Frank Duff was strongly critical of the tendency to rule out this motive and to reduce Christian action to only the material. He argues, however, that this should not be viewed too narrowly, because all of those specific initiatives that are considered secondary are in reality related to what is primary, related to the spiritual. “If we have to distinguish between what is primary and secondary, it should not result in the neglecting of either”[5].

“Mary’s own outlook must be ours”[6]. The model or criterion that we can use to judge a correct course of action with respect to True Devotion to the Nation is that of the Virgin Mary. As our spiritual reading suggests, this model combines an immediate concern for the spiritual with a real concern for the betterment of the things of every day life; a real concern for Jesus present as our neighbour and a real concern for his happiness, prosperity etc.[7]

What are the secondary, but still essential, elements envisaged by True Devotion to the Nation? “Included in that process of Christianising must be the making of one’s place more happy, more prosperous, more beautiful, more enlightened; the creating of employment, the stopping of emigration”[8]. The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, a motive power of Legion activity, “obliges us to think in terms of every person in each place and of all aspects of life there, cultural, economic, recreational, and of development in every sense”[9]. Frank Duff cites an un-named successful example of this activity, which turned round a village that was previously dying out in every respect: “The place had put itself on the tourist map. Early vegetables were being profitably grown. A knitting industry had been launched. Every aspect of its defect had shown striking amelioration. The revival has taken in all sections of life, the spiritual, the economic, marriages, culture”[10].

The successful engagement with these secondary elements envisaged by the programme of True Devotion to the Nation is achieved by members of the local community being enlivened to take responsibility for them. This is something that has both a political implication and an ecclesial implication. “This is doubly necessary having regard to the way in which the modern state tends to widen its functions … It moves more and more towards thinking for each one, arranging his life in detail. By a creeping process it is appropriating to itself rights which Christianity has always regarded as belonging to the individual …. That tendency towards taking over by the State is largely due to the passivity of the citizens. Having been taught no sense of responsibility in respect of the defects around them, they do nothing towards remedying them. So it is inevitable that the state is forced to intervene in regard to the greater evils. Then the intervention and the inertia are both progressive…. If the people had shown a proper sense of responsibility much of this would have been avoided and healthy communities would be the result. Most of the graver problems are due to maladjustment of some kind, and would yield to principles of self-help and Christian living. So there is no need for the individual to forfeit his rights to the State in order to be able to live”.[11]

The ecclesial implication arises from the consideration that a Legion of Mary praesidium, or some equivalent structure of the apostolate, is the ideal mechanism needed to do the “enlivening” needed by the idea of True Devotion to the Nation[12]. It is a programme that needs to be led by a well formed laity, well formed both spiritually and in the methods of the apostolate; a praesidium achieves both of these. The praesidium structure also contains the correct balance between the part to be played by the lay faithful and the part to be played by the priest. Whilst the spiritual director guides and forms the praesidium, he does not do its work for it. Expertise in economic, social and cultural spheres is proper to the laity, and is part of the mission of the Mystical Body which is rightly theirs. [13]


Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary (2005 edition).

“True Devotion to the Nation” in Frank Duff Virgo Praedicanda pp.214-230

Second Vatican Council Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem on the Apostolate of the Laity

Pope John Paul II Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici

Pope Benedict XVI Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est

Pope Benedict XVI Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate

[1] “No legionary body shall allow its influence or its premises to be used for any political purpose or to aid any political party”, Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.293.
[2] ie, the civil war that followed independence from Britain.
[3] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary pp.291-293.
[4] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.217; cf spiritual reading above.
[5] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.217.
[6] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.218.
[7] cf Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” pp.216-218.
[8] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.218. The reference to emigration has a particularly specific reference to the situation in Ireland.
[9] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” pp.223-224.
[10] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.227.
[11] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” pp.218-220; cf “the spontaneity of charity” described in Pope Benedict XVI Deus Caritas Est n.28 (b); cf also the idea of an “economy of gratuitousness and fraternity” as expressed in Pope Benedict XVI Caritas in Veritate n.38
[12] cf Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” pp.223-226.
[13] cf the account of the “secular character” of the lay vocation in John Paul II Christifideles Laici n.15; cf Apostolicam Actuositatem n.7, which describes the part to be played by lay people in renewing the temporal order, and includes a paragraph illustrating the part to be played by pastors in relation to that to be played by the lay faithful.

No comments: