Following Christ in 21 st Century Ireland
A sermon by Archbishop Seán Brady
On the feast of the Queenship of Mary,
Knock Shrine, Wednesday 22nd August 2007
It is a great happiness to be her in Knock and a great blessing to be here at Mary’s Shrine. Today we honour Mary as our Queen and as our Mother – the cause of our joy. Every son and every daughter loves to honour their mother. They love to sing her praises. They were delighted to recall her virtues and to admire her beauty and to salute her success.
What a privilege then to be here on this final night of the wonderful Novena. It began on the Feast of the Assumption – body and soul of Mary into the glory of heaven. Where she has gone we hope to follow.
This Novena included the Feast of Our Lady of Knock which was yesterday. It reminds us that we stand on holy ground – ground made holy by the feet of those fifteen privileged witnesses. On the 21 August 1879 it was their privilege to see the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph and St. John appear on the south gable of the parish church.
We stand on holy ground – ground made holy by the feet of millions of pilgrims – pilgrims who came here for many reasons:
To weep for their sins
To beg for mercy
To give thanks for favours received.
We all have our own reasons for being here. They are known to God alone. Perhaps you have come to say thanks – thanks for a favour received – an exam passed; a job secured; an illness healed; for a return to the practice of the faith and to the sacrament of confession either by yourself or by someone you love. Perhaps you are here begging and imploring Our Lady to come to your aid – to assist you in a return to better health either spiritually or physically. Whatever the reason, we are all here because we love Mar, our Mother and our Queen and we love Jesus Christ. We are here because we have great belief in the power of Mary to intercede for us with her son as she once interceded for a newly wed couple on their wedding day and came to their rescue by asking her son, Jesus to come to their aid.
I have been asked to speak to you today on the theme of ‘Following Christ in 21st century Ireland.’ In a different place, on a different day, this would have been a huge undertaking. The list of issues which face those who seek to follow Christ in the Ireland of today is very long. It includes the challenge of keeping our lives focused on Christ amidst the distractions of increasing prosperity. It includes bearing witness to Christ and his Church in an increasingly secular, sometimes hostile culture. It certainly includes the challenge of declining Church attendance, fewer vocations and the restructuring of Parishes and other Church resources which we all took for granted for so long.
Yet, as we gather here at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, as we celebrate the Queenship of Mary at the end this Solemn Novena, the scale of these challenges seems so much smaller. Before the example of Mary, they become only one – to say yes at every moment, of every day, to following Jesus. To say yes to putting our complete trust in God’s word and in His plan and in His power.
The challenges may change in their detail, the culture in which we live might alter from one generation to the next, but the fundamental call of the Christian disciple remains the same in every age – to say ‘Fiat, voluntas tua’ – ‘Be it done unto me according to thy Word!’
Today we ask Mary to help the Church in Ireland to reach out to those who have lost touch with it. Our great consolation, therefore, that as we face the myriad of challenges of being a disciple in 21st century Ireland, Mary is the perfect disciple today .Mary has always been the perfect disciple through the first two millennia of the Church’s existence. As she aided the Church in its birth, so she remains our Mother and Protector in the trials and tribulations of our own time. She constantly reminds the Church here on earth that ‘nothing is impossible to God’. Mary calls us to trust that, in spite of the twists and turns of human history, ‘God’s promise will be fulfilled.’
Mary reveals to us the essential virtue for those who wish to follow Christ in the Ireland of the 21st century. That virtue is Trust. Trust in the power of God to do all things. Trust that the Word of God is still alive and active in his Church in spite of the many earthly challenges which confront us in human terms.
Trust is the opposite of fear. Trust is the fruit of perfect love, because perfect love casts out all fear. This is why the call of every disciple, begins with the call – ‘do not be afraid!’ ‘Do not be afraid Mary; you have won God’s favour!’
It has been said the land of saints and scholars has become better known as the land of stocks and shares, of financial success and security. We thank God for that success. Tragically it has also become a land of increasing stress and substance abuse. And all of this has occurred as the external practice of faith has declined.
I believe many Irish people have not so much rejected their faith as become distracted from their faith. Some people are seeking to control their future rather than entrust their future to God’s promise and plan. The result is an increasing culture of insecurity and fear. What often appears to be a culture of confidence and certainty, not alone in Ireland but in Europe, is, in reality, a façade. More and more Irish people are becoming stressed out because of their efforts to bring a security to their lives that only trust in God can give. They are trying to control a future that is ultimately in God’s hands.
One of the most subtle but disturbing signs of this underlying fear in Irish life is the increasing reliance of people on practices which falsely claim to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, tarot cards, have recourse to clairvoyance and mediums conceal a desire for power over time and a lack of trust in God’s providence. They are the new Irish superstition. Those who put their trust in them or take them seriously are colluding with an illusion, promoting a fiction. Tragically this has become a whole industry in Ireland – on the internet, on premium telephone lines, on digital television, in the newspapers and even at family parties! The fact is, people who spend money on these pursuits would have more influence on the future if they gave their money to those in need. This would make a real difference to someone’s future instead of wasting money, time and energy on what is at best a dangerous form of entertainment.
In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: ‘All forms of divination are to be rejected…. They contradict the honour, respect and loving fear we owe to God alone… A sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it.’ (n. 2115/6)
Underlying this trend of ‘future telling’, is a fear of the future. It is a symptom of the insecurity that lurks behind the seeming confidence of modern Irish culture and life. It is evidence of the absence of a life without God which would address the deepest needs of the human spirit.
What more and more Irish people are discovering is that a life without God is a heavy burden to bear. This is why Jesus told us that his yoke is easy and his burden light. This is why he invites those who labour and are overburdened to come to him so that he would give us rest.
The big questions of people’s lives still remain: why am I here? What will bring me happiness? What will happen to me when I die? It is the Church which still holds the answer to these questions. The answer is Jesus – the way, the truth and the life! As Saint Peter said when others were walking away from Jesus; ‘Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life!’
This is why Mary always directs us to Christ. She knows that he alone can gives us everything we need. Everything we need as disciples in the Ireland of the 21st century. Everything we need as a Church.
Mary abandoned herself to God’s will. She did not ask the Angel to tell her what the future would hold. She simply trusted God’s promise minute by minute, day by day. She trusted in the midst of the joys and her sufferings. This is the attitude of the Blessed. This is the attitude which every disciple of Christ is called to imitate. It is the attitude of a perfect love, a love sustained by the Eucharist and prayer, a love which casts out all fear. This is the perfect love shown by Mary.
The truth of Jesus remains the same yesterday, today and forever! Our challenge is to bear witness to that truth more authentically, more convincingly, more faithfully. In this, as in all aspects of Christian discipleship, it is Mary who is our example and strength.
On this earth, in this time, we continue as disciples to wait ‘in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ’. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God. (n. 972)
Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.
Mary, cause of our joy
Queen of heaven, pray for us.
Hope and comfort of the pilgrim people of God… pray for us.
In the meantime we try to know Jesus better and we try to embody, in our lives, the values of Jesus. Those values are to be found in the Beatitudes
· The value of putting our trust, not in riches but in His Kingdom
· The value of comforting and healing those who mourn and need healing
· The value of showing mercy.
Last Sunday I was in Milwaukee. We had to get from A to B for a celebration. Nobody knew the way – then someone said: “Follow that white van”. We did that and we got there but we sure kept our eyes on the van!
To get to eternal life and happiness there is only one way – ‘Follow that man Jesus’. That is why tonight’s Gospel is so brief. We will indeed be blessed and happy forever if we can embody in our lives the trust and the mercy of Jesus.
Hail, holy queen….
After their own exile…
Show unto us that man Jesus
I sometimes stay with the Cistercian monks in Collon. The last thing they do at night is to put out all the lights, except the one which lights up the sanctuary. They stand and say the Hail Holy Queen –
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.
After this our exile show unto all of us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus, Amen