The third Sunday of May has been traditionally the day for our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock Shrine. Earlier today Bishop Brendan led people from the Diocese of Achonry and the Archdiocese of Dublin in the celebration of Eucharist. A large congregation was in attendance. Admiring the work done on the Basilica and noting that at the same time Mass was beginning in Longford to mark the re-dedication of St Mel’s Cathedral, Bishop Brendan told us that these buildings and the work done on them are a sign of hope for our church at this time.
‘Go out to the whole world. Proclaim the Good News to all creation….and they, going out, preached everywhere’
I mentioned the striking re-ordering and renewal of this Basilica at the beginning. And today in Longford the beautifully restored Cathedral is being rededicated. These two major projects fill us with hope and confirm us in faith. We have a future and so does our catholic faith….
The great Feast day on which we gather, the Ascension of the Lord, focusses our minds and hearts too on the future. Where Jesus has gone, we will follow. And in the meantime, we are tasked with leading and inviting the whole world to follow that same path of Jesus into the fullness of life now…
St Mark tells us in the Gospel:
‘Jesus showed himself to the eleven’ It was not 12 anymore. Betrayal and tragic death had depleted them. The arrest, condemnation as criminal, the torture and execution of Jesus had left them in shock, & on top of all that there was their own cowardice and denial of him…
Nevertheless, the Risen Lord has only one message for this shattered and fearful group: ‘Go out to the whole world’…no less!…and ‘proclaim the good news to all creation’.
This is not the world’s way of doing things. Then or now. It is not our way either. We seek out the best, the qualified, the experts. Nothing wrong with that. Only it’s not seemingly the whole story, as the world is inclined to make it.
Mysteriously, Jesus tasks the weak, the sinners, the depleted….with continuing his own work.
St Paul remained awestruck all his life that he himself, a sinner, a persecutor and collaborator in the murder of Stephen the first martyr, was chosen by Jesus to continue his work. ‘Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world…God’s foolishness is wiser that human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger that human strength’.(1 Cor 1, 20, 25) ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’. (1 Cor 1, 27)
This is as true today as it was on the day of the ascension or the day Saul was knocked off his high horse… And he leaves the weak weak.
Jesus continues to rely on those who know their weakness and sin to continue his work. That is something the world never understands. But it is the truth of our Christian faith. It was so from the moment Jesus ascended, and consigned his own work and mission, lock stock and barrel, into the hands of this reduced, fearful and broken remnant of his disciples.
St Mark goes on to tell us – so matter-of-factly- you could miss it – that while Jesus was being taken up to heaven, ‘they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it’ . On Sunday next we will celebrate with Pentecost the Lord’s ‘working with them’ and in them – the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The extraordinary fact is we matter to God. Each and every one of us. Our weakness, difference or inability is no barrier to us doing his work. His Kingdom is founded on forgiven sinners and built by them, beginning with Peter and Paul…and all the rest of them.
The Confessional Chapel here in Knock isn’t underground for nothing. It is foundational to all that happens up here at ground level and everywhere else in this holy place. Without repentance – and the joy of the prodigal’s return – Jesus’ task cannot continue, God’s Kingdom cannot come. And our celebrations in this Basilica will lack all substance. It is from the joy of forgiveness and reconciliation that we become messengers of the Good News…men and women who are capable of communicating the love of God.
Today is also the 49th World Communications Day. Pope Francis has issued a Message for this day in which he invites us all to reflect on the theme: Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love. He reminds us that the Family is the subject of profound reflection at the moment by the church, in a process involving two synods over two years.
The family deserves profound reflection at this time, not least in our own country. The stability of our whole society depends upon it, as does the welfare of all people. ‘It is in the context of the family that we first learn to communicate’, the Holy Father tells us, and that is so true.
He then goes on to ponder the passage in St Luke’s account of the Visitation which tells us that ‘When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant in her womb leaped for joy’… Pope Francis says:
‘The womb which hosts us is the first school of communication, a place of listening and physical contact where we begin to familiarise ourselves with the outside world within a protected environment, with the reassuring sound of our mother’s heartbeat. This encounter between two persons, so intimately related while still distinct from each other, an encounter so full of promise, is our first experience of communication. It is an experience which we all share, since each of us is born of a mother’.
Pope Francis then goes on to say that we move from the mother’s womb to the womb of the family, made up of interrelated persons, ‘where we learn to live with others despite our differences’. And the Church is a further family to which we belong and in which we hear God’s word and become ourselves communicators of his Good News to the world …
The decisions we make around life in the womb and family life are crucial– more critical probably than we can even imagine at this point. That is why we must pray in a particular way today for our own Irish people and the decision our votes will make on Friday next. Family does matter, mothers matter, fathers matter, supporting the best possible environment for the upbringing of children matters. Marriage as the complementary, self-sacrificing union of man and woman matters. It matters for the whole welfare of society, not to mention the future of our race.
Knock is a place where a very profound communication took place 136 years ago.[Like many of the most effective communications we experience,] it was a silent communication. No words, but the picture, the scene that people witnessed on the gable wall of the parish Church on the miserable wet August evening speaks volumes: the entire mystery of our faith is present in the vision. Mary along with St Joseph, her husband, and St John, the Beloved Disciple, stand silently in prayer and contemplation before the Lamb on the altar, their child Jesus, very much at the centre of the vision. Jesus, the Lamb of God ‘who takes away the sins of the world’, the lamb of sacrifice and of Salvation, is all – for Mary and for Joseph… AND for the beloved disciple holding the Book of God’s Word, which is each and every one who is simple and humble enough to believe and accept the Word with joy. John stands for us all.
‘You will be my witnesses’ Jesus said to his disciples in the first reading we had today, ‘indeed to the ends of the earth’. This place was in a way ‘the ends of the earth’ back in 1879. And like at that moment of the Ascension with the eleven, he appeared this time with his family to 15 ordinary parishioners, and it is because of their word, their going out and telling what they saw and experienced, their witness in other words, that we are here today, and countless thousands keep coming here to be reconciled to God and to be built up and made stronger in faith and as family of God.
Work with us too, Lord, that we may be your witnesses today, bringing your Good news to our own world. For the sake of all who are crying out for compassion and love.
Our Lady of Knock pray for us today. Pray with us always. Amen