Homily of Bishop Michael Smith at Knock Shrine
There are many forms of pilgrimage such as those demanding physical exercise like climbing Croagh Patrick here in Mayo or walking the Camino de Compostela in Spain. All these give witness to faith. However the shrines of Mary have a different intent. They are all places inviting reflection and prayer. They invite us to ponder on the message that is central to the shrine. In Lourdes and Fatima a few words were spoken with a profound message. No words were spoken at Knock. But the silence that enveloped the Apparition here at Knock is deeply expressive. Its focus on silence and its pointing to the Eucharist touch central elements of our faith and the living of that faith.
A variety of reasons inspires people to come on pilgrimage. It is a public affirmation of faith. Many bring their own pains and sorrows seeking comfort and support, responding to the words of Jesus ‘come to me all you who labour and are overburdened’. Those burdens take many forms, some touching life at the deepest level of darkness and pain, often a pain and sorrow that is too deep for words.
It is natural in human terms to seek the alleviation of pain and sorrow. We do well however to remember those words spoken by Blessed John Paul II on his final pilgrimage, which was to Lourdes. To the sick he said ‘with you I share a time of life marked by physical suffering, yet not for that reason any less fruitful in God’s wondrous plan’. He echoed those words of the psalm that no matter how burdened with years or broken in life we might be, in the sight of God we are ‘still bearing fruit, still full of sap, still green’.
Age does not take from us the capacity to commune with God, the capacity for prayer and reflection. The vocation of those advanced in years is the vocation of prayer, the vocation of a supportive presence journeying with the different generations, reflecting the experience of life.
The Gospel today begins with the oft repeated words of Jesus ‘There is no need to be afraid’. The same theme is expressed in different ways by Jesus such as ‘why are you frightened, you men of little faith’? or, in a more positive vein, ‘Trust in God still, trust in Me’. These are words that we need constantly to hear and absorb.
Faith is always tried and tested. He knew that the events which were to unfold in His own life with his arrest and death would shake the faith of His disciples. He also told them, that those who have faith in Him would suffer rejection, ridicule and even death in bearing witness to His name.
Jesus knew that the Apostles would struggle, would abandon Him, would deny Him. Yet the door to His heart, to His forgiveness was open to them and is open to us. Over recent times our Church has been the object of sustained attack and ridicule, It is interesting that it is only the Catholic Church that seems to be the object of this attack. Sadly politicians have jumped on the bandwagon. If they are looking for cheap publicity or sometimes trying to divert attention from a difficult problem they know that a compliant media is only too happy to join in the fun. Balance, fairness, engagement with the real issues involved are so often absent. Truth sadly is also too often absent in such public discussion.
On his visit to Britain in 2009, Pope Benedict gave a major address to the assembled politicians in Westminster Hall. It is a profound and challenging address that they found uncomfortable and largely ignored. Needless to say it received minimal coverage in these parts and even less engagement with the issues he raised. At the heart of his address was a question ‘if we abandon those values that our Christian heritage has bequeathed to Europe where do we find the ethical foundations on which moral judgements are to be made?’ Where do we find a foundation for truth, for justice, for respect for life, for fairness, for honesty? Is it solely to be found in newspaper headlines, in passing and rapidly changing fashions? Are personal convenience and self-interest to be the arbiters of action in which one’s conscience is no longer deemed to have a place? Will such shifting foundations bring cohesion and stability to society, to relationships, to individual lives?
If we throw aside the values expressed in the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes with what do we replace them? None seem willing to respond to such questions. There is surely a lesson to be learned in how easily greed, self-interest and corruption took hold in the lives of so many and left our country with its enormous debts, impacting on the lives of all, especially families. Ethical principles too were notably absent.
Faith is never lived in a vacuum. It must give witness before all. Putting into practice the words of today’s Gospel, we must be constantly ready to ‘open the door as soon as he comes and knocks’. In life, in our dealings with others, we are constantly called to make choices, to make decisions. In these times making choices that reflect the ethical values rooted in faith often demand courage and conviction. It also demands a knowledge and understanding of our faith. Learn to know the Lord, learn to give witness by word and action to that faith.
May we always find the humility and grace to invite Mary, especially through the Rosary, to accompany us on our own individual journey of faith. May visit here on pilgrimage strengthen and encourage us in our journey of faith.