Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock
‘And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them.
was taken up into heaven:
There, at the right hand of God, he took his place’.
Today, Ascension Day, is a day of great joy for all Christians.
‘The Ascension of Christ is our uplifting’, St Leo the Great said in the 7th Century, ‘and whither the glory of our head shall go’, he went on, ‘thither the hope of our body is called….for on this day, not alone are we made sure heirs of paradise, but in Christ we have already breached the heights of heaven…’
Another of the great saints a few centuries earlier, St Augustine, tells us: ‘Just as he ascended without leaving us, so too we are already with him in heaven, although his promises have not yet been fulfilled in our bodies’.
You and I are followers of Jesus the Christ. We take our stand with Augustine and Leo, with Patrick and Brigid, Nathy and Laurence O’Toole, and the countless hosts of men and women who, in a world that is often a valley of tears for us, kept their sights fixed firmly on Jesus; fixed firmly on the pilgrimage that was Jesus’ life’s journey, culminating in the moment we celebrate today: the Ascension, when he was ‘taken up into heaven’.
We have come here to Knock on pilgrimage. We come to take our stand with the 15 witnesses, men and women like ourselves, who stood in the pouring rain for two hours at the church gable here on the evening of the 21st of August 1879, captivated by the vision, silent in prayer as the vision itself was silent.
[If I might digress a moment: today is also World Communications Day, and in his message this year, Pope Benedict reminds us of how critical a part of true communications silence is…. Our words need to be founded on silent, interior, listening if they are to be truly good and fruitful.]
But back to 1879 in this little village. It was a time of great distress and famine stalked the land again. The vision of Ausust 21 that year gave comfort and undying hope to the people who witnessed it and to all who heard about it. And fundamentally the vision of Knock is a vision of the Holy Eucharist, for at its heart is the innocent Lamb on the altar of sacrifice.
Coming here, we take our stand alongside that innocent victim, along with Mary, Joseph and John: it is to the Eucharist Mary calls us at Knock and nowhere else: to stand with Jesus at Calvary as she and John did.
Those 15 people not only prayed the Mysteries of Jesus’ pilgrimage on earth in the rosary, but were themselves living those same mysteries of Joy, Sorrow, and Glory. The same is true today. Isn’t that what brings us here? We come not to get away, to escape from life as we experience it, but to enter more fully into it. And to know we are not alone, but that our pilgrimage through life now is with Jesus, and with him in the Body, the Church, the people who are all around us today. To be here strengthens me for my particular pilgrimage and especially for the moment on that journey that I am living now. Isn’t that what Knock has been about from the beginning?
The vision was one of solidarity and support for the people here in those times of struggle, austerity and profound hardship that was 1879.
May our coming here today be a support for us in our present situation, personally and as a people.
And how right it is that we pray the mass, and celebrate the Eucharist together when we come. Eucharist is what Jesus calls us to and asks us to be. It is the heritage he gave us at the Last Supper. “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said. The Eucharist is his last will and testament, passed on to us that we would have food for the journey, sustaining us as we make our pilgrimage to where He has prepared our place.
It is not by chance that the Eucharist is about receiving bread, the Body of Christ, and wine, the Blood of Christ. Bread and wine are basic food for the journey. It is through these simple, everyday elements, consecrated in the Mass, that Jesus calls us to give not just of our surplus but of our very substance, body and blood, so that the hungry be fed, and so that Jesus’ salvation begins to happen for all people now. That’s the way to proclaim good news to all creation!.
And Jesus, ‘knowing he had come from God , and was going to God’ St. John tells us, ‘got up from the table, took a towel and a basin of water, and began to wash his disciples’ feet’. To wash feet is to make Holy Communion too. We are a people of the Eucharist who serve each other and ‘all creation’ in deepest humility, on our knees before them, as it were. The more menial the service we do the more holy a thing it is, and the more true the Communion that is accomplished.
It is to celebrate these realities and this call that is central to all our lives in Christ that the International Eucharistic Congress will be held in Dublin shortly. The Congress is an opportunity for Christians from all over the world who love the Eucharist and who know its centrality to our lives in Christ Jesus, to come on pilgrimage, to celebrate and to be in solidarity with each other, to be renewed in our determination to be with all who are starved or thirsty, in body or spirit at this time. And so many are, especially in our own culture, starved of spiritual food and nourishment.
The Congress is like a great pilgrimage by the world, to which Jesus sent out his disciples, back to the Eucharist, the source and summit of Communion.
Today, here in Knock, we come to be in Communion with those 15 original witnesses of that Eucharistic Vision. We come to be in Communion with Mary, the greatest and first witness to the entire life of Jesus, with St. Joseph and St. John, and all the saints and true believers down through the ages. We come as part of the Mystical Body of Christ, all those who await until our turn comes to be taken up too, into the unimaginable Joy that He has prepared for us.
We come above all to be in Communion with people who hunger and thirst in our own day, in whatever way.
We come to be in Communion with Christ and with each other, as the theme of the Eucharistic Congress proclaims
The pilgrimage to Mass we engage in every Sunday in our parishes is not for us as fulfilled and satisfied men and women, but for us as men and women who know our need of God and of each other: the poor in spirit who are, Jesus tells us, the ‘blessed’ on Earth. The weekly Sunday pilgrimage to celebrate the Eucharist with our own poor and unfashionable communities is what Mary asks of us, especially at Knock – that we may be strengthened on our pilgrimage to our true destiny, the joy of Paradise, the joy that the Mass always anticipates.
May the Eucharist today truly be a foretaste for us of that Eternal Joy, into which Jesus was taken on this Ascension Day – the final Holy Communion with Christ and with each other that is the Father’s house, the goal of our pilgrimage of Faith and all the deepest longings of our human hearts.