What it means to be a Pioneer – Some perspectives:
Fr. Joe Dargan, SJ
Many will ask how a person of the 21st century can still remain or become a Pioneer ?The reply to such a question can only be the very personal one of each Pioneer.
I would simply like to give my own reply to that question.
I am very conscious of and grateful for the gift of Faith I received in Baptism. I have always felt I wanted to live that gift as fully as possible. Through that gift I entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through whom I experienced the love of God for me and all people. I was touched by the love expressed through the Heart of Jesus. And that love was for all people who were called to live fully human and Christian lives.
Throughout my life I have experienced the struggles people had in overcoming the abuse of alcohol and drugs. And, I have seen so many people ruining their lives, experiencing self-hatred and despair. Many have contemplated suicide.
I have also seen so many heroic people struggling through groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, falling and getting up again, giving support to others, keeping in contact with people many times a day. I have been inspired by such heroism.
I continue being a Pioneer, motivated by the total love of Christ, the needs of people who need my non-judgemental support and prayer to accept God’s gifts as they should be used with respect so as to enhance the quality of peoples’ lives.
Fr. Bernard McGuckian, SJ
"Why did you become a Pioneer?" This is a fair question. It is virtually unavoidable when you are wearing a Pioneer pin or have indicated politely that you would be happy with a soft drink. The answers are as varied as there are Pioneers:
I decided to keep up my Confirmation pledge for life; there was a Pioneer tradition in my family; I was so hurt by the abuse of drink in my family that I decided never to touch it; the Pioneer ideal was very well explained to us in school; I believed that it was a way to help a member of my family who was seriously addicted to drink; I was impressed by some Pioneers I knew, etc., etc....
With the passage of time, a more relevant and searching question is worth asking. "Why did you stay a Pioneer?" It is hard to think of an organisation that it is easier to get out of than the Pioneer Association. One little sip of wine! The image of glass comes to mind. It is more durable than iron and if protected will last for centuries. But unlike iron, glass can be broken very easily. Some Egyptian glass however, has survived intact for thousands of years.
When anyone told Fr. Joseph Flinn, SJ, the second Central Director of the Association, that they had broken the pledge, he asked one question with a wry smile. "When did you last say the prayer?" For him, prayer was the protection of the Pioneer pledge. The one who said, "Without Me, you can do nothing" will always empower those who call to Him for help. Prayer ensures a right understanding of the high missionary ideal involved, perseverance in the total abstinence entailed and courage in giving public witness to the healing power in the Heart of Christ, symbolised in the emblem.
The protection of the Pioneer pledge comes from within. It is not a question of flight from the real world or retreat into some kind of Pioneer ghetto. The Pioneer, through prayer, will receive from the Heart of Christ all the graces necessary to remain steadfast.
Michael O Muircheartaigh
I joined the Pioneers while still in Primary School in Kerry. I was one of the many youngsters at the time who became Pioneers as an extension of the Confirmation Pledge. There were so many people of all ages around wearing the Pioneer Pin that it seemed a very natural thing to do.
I have never felt in any way disadvantaged by my membership nor by wearing the Pioneer Pin. Some people seem to imagine that there will be difficulties. My experience has been that none ever actually arise. People allow you your own space in life. Jim Bolger and Aidan O’Brien, two of the world’s top racehorse trainers have no trouble always wearing their Pioneer Pins. There are plenty of alternative drinks and they should always be made available.
We must help young people avoid the pitfalls of alcohol abuse and drug addiction. Because they are young and as yet inexperienced they need to be challenged and encouraged to do things. Indeed I think that we don’t ask young people enough. They would surprise us with their idealism and generosity. There is no point in simply telling them not to do something. This is why explaining the thinking behind the Pioneer work is so important.
(Taken from an interview with Fr Bernard McGuckian S.J. Feb 2009)
My decision to become a Pioneer was not an easy one. The choice to abstain for life from alcohol was and is challenging as I would have enjoyed the occasional glass of wine or pint of beer around Christmas and special occasions. My motivation in making this commitment for life was based upon my desire to help those suffering from alcohol and drug addiction.
My faith and belief in the power of prayer and sacrifice impacting in some mysterious and supernatural way upon the lives of others resides at the core of my decision. Giving up something good (alcohol) for selfless reasons only makes sense when one offers that sacrifice up for a greater good (the potential healing of an addiction). The inspiration to do so is based upon God’s own example of love for humanity and out of compassion for the plight of the addicted person and their suffering families.
The power to heal comes from God alone but Pioneers participate and co-operate in this Divine action through their sacrifice and self-denial. The blessings and graces that are bestowed upon those who need it the most makes the sacrifice worthwhile. To be part of something that helps an addicted person move from slavery to freedom is possibly one of the greatest joys one can experience when realising that you have, in some small way, contributed to it.
Joining the ranks of the Pioneers at 17 years of age was a life enhancing decision which gave great freedom and a clear mind in decision making in the exigencies of life. As a parent it was invaluable as example is the best sermon.
Wearing the Pioneer emblem is an honour particularly in the present secular society as a witness and perhaps as an encouragement to others. It is a way of saying “credo”
The image of the Sacred Heart is a constant reminder of the everlasting love of Christ for each one of us and of His abiding Presence. “Behold, I am with you always even to the end of time”
The Pioneer Association has something very special to offer to the world.
Carpe diem, quam minimum postero creare.
Daniel Dargan, SJ:
As Pioneers we are trying to follow in the steps of Jesus Christ.
If He was anything, He was a man of caring and compassion. His heart went out to the sick and suffering, the have-nots and oppressed, the handicapped and the discriminated against. They were told that they were nobodies, with no one to support them. They were even told that God had no time for them; that they were sinners.
Jesus, however, told them that God loved them dearly and was very close to them. Jesus gave them kindness and understanding and lifted up their hearts. He freed them from their illnesses and gave them a sense of their human dignity. Our Pioneer emblem reminds us that we are here to proclaim the love of Christ, to bring His love to a world so often cold, hard, selfish. In the light of this, I see a Pioneer as a person of caring Christian love, ready to give unselfish service to bring hope and encouragement.
Thankfully, it has always been the tradition of the Association that our members give help and support to those who need it. They do this by being kind to those less fortunate, those with debilitating illnesses, by assisting an elderly neighbour, by caring for the sick or bereaved, by listening with understanding to the troubled and the heavily burdened.
Many Pioneers, as members of charitable organisations, willingly give generous help to others. Many Pioneer groups organise events for the benefit of the blind, the sick, the poor, the victims of alcoholism. This is only right. It would be strange to reduce ourselves to a group that prays, but has not practical concern for the problems, needs, difficulties of others, no awareness of opportunities for action. A love for Jesus that does not find expression in love for people, is not the charity of Christ and is sadly lacking.
John Canon Hayes, Founder of Muintir na Tire:
Today, in a world that seeks indulgence, we raise our flag. Intemperance, by its destruction of human reason, its opening of a door to immorality and dishonesty and lack of responsibility attacks the very foundation of our faith. It leads to weakening of the Faith. Like the setting sun that gilds the sky and sea and cloud with its own glory, so the Heroic Offering lends a supernatural glory to temperance. Through it we glorify and bring consolation to the Heart of Christ, the symbol of His love.
It is good to be alive today, for the privilege to fight and suffer for Christ is beyond all reckoning. We Pioneers prepare for a fight where eternal issues are at stake; we undertake a work for a King who died for us, a King who cannot fail. Whose cause can never die; whose kingdom is eternal and all-enfolding, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. To Him we pledge our loyalty.
The years of the Pioneer movement have seen many changes in the world. We have seen ideals destroyed and youth endangered as never before. The temptations to which they are exposed are being multiplied. We think of the few first Pioneers with their truly great leader, Fr. James Cullen. They had courage to preach and practice self-denial as a way of temperance and of love. The Pioneer Association asks of us that we base our actions on our Faith.
The Pioneer movement began like a tiny stream, and today flows on – a great river of sacrifice and love, ever-increasing and never-ceasing – flowing into the ocean of God's Eternity. We are the members of the Church, the living Body of Christ and we cannot preach a Faith of sacrifice and love unless we are prepared to live it.
Rev Sean McCarron, SJ:
The trouble, as Father Cullen could so clearly see, was this – the victim of drink, if he were to be successful in his fight against intemperance, must be strengthened to self-denial, but self-denial could only be got through constant prayer. The drunkard needed self-denial but had none; and so instead of appealing to the drunkard, Father Cullen turned his appeal to others – to persons who themselves did not need a pledge but who were generous enough and strong enough to take it for the sake of others. From them he asked a complete sacrifice of their very right to drink, that they might make up for the self-denial that the drunkard lacked. He knew that he was asking a lot, but he asked only of the generous. From them he asked even more than the taking and keeping the pledge. He asked for prayer. Prayer – constant, persevering prayer – was seldom found in the life of the man or woman given to excessive drinking, and yet, without such prayer, which would win for them the strengthening grace of God, there would be no lasting conversion from sin, and so Father Cullen asked of the generous ones who would undertake to fight with him a real apostolate of prayer, of constant and persevering prayer, such prayer was backed by their own generous self-denial, must win from God the grace that the drunkard needed to free him from his addiction.
It was on such a foundation that Father Cullen built; yet even now he was not satisfied. The personal love of Our Lord, expressed in a very real devotion to the Sacred Heart was an outstanding feature of his own spiritual life, and was the inspiration of all his apostolic work. To him the tragedy of sin was more than the misery that it brought to the sinner; there was in every sin the sorrow that it caused to the loving Heart of Christ. In the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with its boundless love for sinners, Pioneers must find the fullness of their motives. "For Thy greater glory and consolation, O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for Thy sake to give good example..." Thus he taught them to pray.