25 May – Armagh Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock
HOMILY GIVEN BY MOST REV GERARD CLIFFORD
Today the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) is an appropriate day to gather here at Knock for our diocesan pilgrimages. We gather here in Mary’s month with resonances of Canon Sydney McEwan’s memorable hymn
“O Mary we crown the with blossoms today,
Queen of the angels and queen of the May”.
It is also the day when in our own dioceses we have the May procession with the boys and girls who have made their First Communion taking a prominent part. In many dioceses it is also cemetery Sunday when we remember those who have gone before us and who have influenced us by their goodness and their wholeness.
130 years ago here at Knock Mary appeared to some fifteen people men, women, young people. For 130 years people have reflected on the image of the apparition on the gable wall. It is an image that speaks of God’s love, of Mary’s intercession and of our redemption. Mary spoke no words. The apparition speaks for itself. It is full of symbolism. It has a clear message. Those who shared the apparition tell of the altar the Cross and the lamb in one tableau and then Mary, Joseph her husband and John the Evangelist forming the other panel. No words are spoken but the apparition brings together images from the Old Testament and from the Gospels central to the history of our belief in the love of God for each and every one and the promise of salvation given by the life, death and Resurrection of Christ. It points to Christ as our redeemer and our saviour.
Let us look at the two tableaux. There is the altar, the Cross and the Lamb at the centre of it all. Christ himself is the Lamb of God. In the Old Testament the sacrificial lamb in the story of the sacrifice of Abraham is a symbol of Christ himself giving his life for our redemption. At Mass we are reminded that Christ is the lamb of God; ‘This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. The altar and the Cross are reminders of Christ’s saving sacrifice every time Mass is offered.
I was in Lourdes last week with the Armagh diocesan pilgrimage and I couldn’t help notice the various tableaux from 20 Marian shrines who have come together to share their own reflection on Mary’s message in her apparitions. There are the well-known shrines like Lourdes, Fatima and others from all over Europe. Prominent among them is the apparition here at Knock. In all of them Mary is not the centre piece of attention. The message she brings whether in words or in symbols points to Jesus Christ as the key person in the message given. He is the one who saves, who continues to save, who brings a message of God’s love and salvation. That is authentic Marian message. The focus is on Christ himself and on God’s love. That is why in the apparition here at Knock the lamb and the altar are at the centre of attention.
Here at Knock the Mass is at the centre of our devotion. We come for the ceremonies. We come to express our thanks to God for his favours and blessings. We come to pray for the sick, for our own needs, the needs of our families and friends, we join in the procession of the Blessed Sacrament as pilgrims together on our journey of life and we receive the absolution of the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in Confession. Our pilgrimage is a truly sacramental one.
When we look at the other panel we see Mary, Joseph and John the Evangelist. It can be interpreted as Mary in Heaven leading the choirs of angels, the saints and all of the faithful in the liturgy of giving adoration, praise and glory to God. St. Joseph, a holy man chosen to be the husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus stands with hands joined in prayer. He stands as if in prayer focussed on the Lamb of God. John the evangelist who introduced Jesus to the crowd in the words; “Behold the Lamb of God” was the one chosen by Jesus to care for Mary. At Calvary Jesus said to Mary ”Woman, behold your son” and to John “Behold your Mother”. John wears the liturgical vestments of a bishop and is seen preaching as if he is drawing attention to Christ the Lamb of God and to Mary the Mother of Jesus.
The message of Knock is the message of God’s love and our redemption by Jesus Christ. The altar is at the centre of the message. It puts the Mass at the very centre of our life as Christians. That challenges all of us. It challenges us to put the Mass at the centre of our daily lives; an opportunity to ask for God’s favours and blessings, to thank him for his favours and to receive Christ himself in the Eucharist. The real question is do we see it that way? Is our Sunday Mass a lived experience of a loving God who cares for us and who invites us to get to know him better. That challenges us as priests and as laity. It challenges us to celebrate our Mass with meaning and with reverence. It challenges us to be involved in the Mass not just as passive spectators but as active participants. That challenges us to be involved.
It is interesting that the apparition at Knock included a six year old boy, an eight year old girl, a 16 year old teenage boy, a 26 year old woman and older men and women. It was an inclusive group. The message is surely that Mary had a message for all. I believe that she had a message for young people as well. We live in a world where there are many pressures on young and on old. In particular young people are challenged by the changing attitudes of their peers. There are enormous pressures to conform to today’s world; the pressure of instant gratification, the pressure to have every dream fulfilled, the pressure to succeed at any cost. Recently Pope Benedict spoke to young people on his visit to Toledo in the North of Italy. He spoke of the generosity of many, their awareness of world problems. He talked of their generosity of spirit and then he talked of the enormous pressure to conform to a way of life at times at variance with the Gospel message. His message was simple. His directions were clear. He said;
“Go against the tide. Do not listen to the voices that would peddle a different way of life. Do not be afraid of seeming different and being criticized for taking a stand on what you really believe. The way forward, he said, is the way of courage”. They are challenging words. They are words that apply to all of us.
Today here at Knock we pray that the message of the apparition of 130 years ago may be heard with a new urgency. We pray that all of us may be challenged by the message of God’s love, his forgiveness and of Mary’s care for all of us. We pray in particular for the sick here today and those who need to hear the message of God’s love and care. We pray that our pilgrimage today may be a lived experience of God’s love and Mary’s care for all. Our Lady of Knock pray for us.
+ Gerard Clifford.