Homily of Most Rev. Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath,
at Knock Shrine, on 26th April 2015
during Mass of National Pilgrimage of Adorers
- I welcome all who have come here today on pilgrimage, representing the silent army from all parts of our country, who give their time in prayer to the Lord. It is a gift of grace for our Church and for each one personally. We have an opportunity to admire the major refurbishment that is being carried out here at Mary’s Shrine. Compliments to Fr. Richard and all who work and support him on the project. Today is Vocations Sunday – the Lord invited us to pray – make that intention a central part of your prayers before the Lord.
- Like all the major shrines of Mary, Knock draws pilgrims from all strata of society – here there is no distinction – all are one in Christ Jesus, to use those beautiful words of St. Paul.
- Given the context of our pilgrimage – those who spend time in silent and personal prayer before the Lord in the Eucharist – not many words are needed. Pilgrimages take many forms, with walking pilgrimages especially popular in these times, such as the climb up Croagh Patrick or the Camino to Santiago in Spain. Pilgrimages have a long tradition in the Church. Jesus, the Gospels tell us, went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Pope Benedict described the essence of pilgrimage as seeking the face of Christ, a call to reflect, to ponder, to pray, words indeed that sum up the call of Eucharistic adoration.
- Today, we welcome all who, in the quietness of churches all over the country, have accepted the invitation to spend time in personal and silent prayer before Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus speaks in our Gospel of opening the gate to the sheep fold. Those who listen and hear His voice come to spend time with Him. They are comfortable in His presence, they do not feel afraid. There are just three short thoughts that I wish to share with you.
- Several times the Gospels tell us Jesus went apart to pray and to reflect. Those engaged in adoration imitate this action of Jesus. It is especially fitting that we gather in pilgrimage here at Knock. Unlike the other major shrines, such as Lourdes and Fatima, no words were spoken in Knock. It was enveloped in silence. The imagery at Knock draws people to the table of the Lord – the lamb on the altar, the Word that gives life.
- Knock reflects the silence of Mary in the Gospels. We have some of her words from the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Child lost in the temple. Several times we are told she pondered and wondered at the words spoken about her Son and the words, like those of Simeon, addressed to her. As you are aware, her final words were simply ‘do whatever He tells you’, words that the late St. John Paul returned to time and time again, since they are so deeply expressive of the call to faith in Christ Jesus. The final direct reference to her in the New Testament is to tell us she was joined in prayer with the infant Church. It is an image central to pilgrimage here in Knock, as we too join in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus.
- Mary walked the pilgrim’s path of faith. The Gospels emphasise that Mary’s journey was one of pain and suffering. The Annunciation brought its own pain and suffering. She gave birth to her child in an emergency shelter; she must surely have reflected on the words of Simeon at the Presentation, about a sword piercing her own heart too; to save her Son she had to flee to Egypt; the anxious search for her child when lost in Jerusalem; her anxiety and fear for the safety of her Son as the opposition against Him grew stronger; the walk to Calvary and her standing at the foot of the Cross. She was spared nothing.
- Elements of the Cross touch every life – sometimes very heavily. Darkness and emptiness seems to be an increasing experience in the lives of many, while the gurus tell us we should be happy and fulfilled, especially if we have shed our faith. It doesn’t seem to be working out like that. Faith rests of hope and gives us the capacity to cope.
- A third point I would like to share. Those involved in the apostolate are generally on the mature side of life. That is understandable. Recently Pope Francis has spoken several times of the elderly, emphasising particularly the role of grandparents. He has spoken often in the context of the care and respect that they merit – ‘if we do not honour the elderly, the children have no future’. Many countries have ceased to do so and wish them to be removed from the scene. But he has also talked about the vocation of the elderly to be people of prayer – poets of prayer were the words he used.
- You have so much wisdom and experience to impart: able to intercede for the expectations of the younger generations and give dignity to the memory and sacrifices of past generations – so often overlooked or neglected; able to remind the young that life without love is a barren life; able to say to the young who are afraid that anxiety about the future can be overcome; able to teach the young who can be overly absorbed in self that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Your prayer, your witness, your wisdom is a great gift for society and the Church.
- Your presence here today is a witness and an affirmation of that dimension to life that ultimately draws us into the embrace of God. Your apostolate is a mirror image of the apparition at Knock: Eucharist-centred with silent prayer at its heart.