HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ARMAGH DIOCESAN PILGRIMAGE TO KNOCK
SUNDAY 28 MAY 2000
I am sure there are many who are mothers here today. You have come as pilgrims from Galway, Clonfert, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora as well as from Armagh, Tyrone, Louth and Derry with the Armagh Diocesan Pilgrimage and I am sure from many other parts of Ireland as well.
The mothers of Ireland always love to come to Knock, the shrine of Mary, the Mother of God. You come here to talk to Mary about the joyful mysteries of your own life – the good news of births and baptisms, first communions and confirmations. You also come to turn to Mary in the sorrowful mysteries of life, to have your faith strengthened by Mary’s faith, to draw fresh hope from the promises of Christ in times of sorrow. You are here to get help for the sick, guidance for those doing exams and consolation for those in the midst of affliction. The sorrowful mysteries of life touch us all.
I am sure you are here also to share with Mary your hopes and joys, for yourselves and for your families, for their successes and their futures. We ask Mary’s son, Jesus, to bring us all to Eternal Life, by the saving power of his resurrection.
Of course there are many here who are not mothers but we all have, or had, mothers. Our mothers gave us life, brought us into the world. They showed us love. All of us owe our lives to a mother who was willing to have us – no matter how difficult it may have been in times of hardship and distress. They looked after us, they sacrificed many things so that we could survive. They did without many of the essentials of life, perhaps, that we might have enough. Mothers reveal to us a God, who is love, by their own love for us.
Love comes from God because God is love. But very often love comes from God through the love of a mother, a mother who gives life, who teaches us about God not so much by her words, but by her actions.
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman. God had spoken many times and in various ways down through the centuries and through the prophets. Finally, 2000 years ago, God sent His Son to live among us and to tell us about the inner life of God. That is the jubilee we are celebrating this year. The sending of His Son is the high point of God’s revelation to the human race. God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world, His Only Son so that we could have life through him. God makes known His plan for us. It is a fantastic plan. The plan was that through Christ we would have access to the Father. We would come to share the life of God.
A woman is to be found at the centre of this plan. Her name is Mary. When Mary said ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel she accepted to play her part in God’s plan. That involved a union with God that surpasses all expectations.
Now of course the daughters of Israel, since they were God’s chosen people, were hoping that one day, one of them would become the mother of the Messiah. But who could imagine that the promised Messiah would in fact be the Son of the Most High God? And for someone like Mary who believed that there was only one God, such a thing was difficult to imagine. Nevertheless Mary did believe the promises that were made to her. She was able to accept that what is impossible with men or women, is possible with God.
There are lots of people who sacrifice themselves for others. Mothers do so especially. Mary was that kind of person for the infant Church and that is why we call her ‘Mother of the Church’. She prayed, she obeyed God’s will, she agreed to bring the Saviour into the world. She accepted the sorrow of seeing her son suffer and die. She stood by the Church in its infancy and in its birth. At Pentecost she was there with the disciples praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And the Church is still under her guidance because Mary’s role in the Church cannot be separated from her union with Christ.
Mary achieved a union with God through her son. We are all called to union with God. That union with God will decide the final destiny of each one of us. If that union exists at the moment of death we will be united with God forever in heaven. If that union is absent because we have failed to keep God’s commandments and have not repented of sins, then we will be lost for all eternity. The dignity of every human being finds its measure in its union with God. Each one of us is created in the image and likeness of God. We can only find fulfilment and eternal happiness with the God in whose image and likeness we are created.
Today’s readings emphasise the fact that we can preserve our union with God only by keeping His commandments, especially the commandment to love one another. We are to love one another, even those who are different from us. Today’s readings spell that out very clearly. We hear Peter saying, “The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites. Anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him”.
In the eyes of God, all human beings have equal dignity. They have equal rights. Any attempt to marginalise or penalise certain groups simply because they are refugees or asylum seekers must be resisted. It is incompatible with our commitment to the following of Jesus Christ who was himself an asylum seeker in Egypt.
There are legitimate fears about the effects of excessive immigration. Some of those fears are due to lack of information. In some cases those fears have been exploited. However, those who express genuine and serious concerns have the right to be heard. The problem must be addressed calmly and in a spirit of justice and honesty, with respect and trust.
In the last decade Ireland has made great economic progress. That progress took place because the social partners decided to put the common good before sectional interest. Ireland is now, for many, a wealthy nation. In bygone days other wealthy nations welcomed Irish emigrants to their shores.
Nowadays ties of dependence exist among peoples all over the world. The common good has to be pursued at international level also. The alleviation of the miseries of refugees and of migrants is one of the great challenges of our times. One thing is certain – wherever individuals or groups are branded as enemies, we run the risk of losing something valuable, the ability to treat fellow human beings decently and respectfully.
Wealthy nations have a responsibility to admit to their territory – as far as they possibly can – foreigners who come in search of security and the opportunity to earn a living. At the same time governments have to protect the common good and make sure that the right of immigration is not abused and is exercised in accordance with properly legal conditions. I am confident that the followers of Christ will rise to this challenge here in Ireland generously and in a spirit of genuine Christian charity and hospitality.
We are celebrating a Jubilee. It is interesting to note what God said to Moses about the Jubilee in the Book of Leviticus, “the land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. With me you are but aliens and tenants”. In the sight of God we are all aliens in a land that has been given to us by a generous and gracious God.
The primary objective of the Jubilee is a renewal of faith in Jesus and a renewal of our own commitment to follow Jesus. At the beginning of his public life, Jesus said he “came to preach the Good News to the poor”.
Committing ourselves to Jesus means committing ourselves to justice and peace. Pope John Paul II has said that a commitment to justice and peace in a world of tremendous social inequality is necessary for any genuine celebration of the Jubilee. “Followers of Christ will have to speak up,” he says, “on behalf of all the poor of the world. They will have to call for a substantial reduction of the international debt which threatens to cripple so many poor nations. “
The Jubilee is an opportunity to think about the other challenges of our time. One of these, mentioned by the Pope, is the difficulty of dialogue between different cultures. That difficulty is particularly relevant at present in Northern Ireland. The challenge of reconciling the two different cultures is really a challenge to love one another as Christ has loved us, to forgive as Christ forgives us.
We celebrate our pilgrimage at a time of hope. Hope does not mean that we just sit back and watch things happen. Hope implies that we all accept responsibility for the future. Yes, of course, the future lies in the hands of God, but the future also lies in our hands. The values of mutual respect and trust are essential to our future. These values must be carefully cherished and promoted.
When we come to Knock we pray the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. And when we pray the mysteries of the Assumption and the Coronation of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, we find the answer to the question of what lies beyond the grave for all of us. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has been honoured as the lowly servant who was taken up body and soul into the glory of Heaven. She is the promise of the final end of all God’s people. Where she has gone, we hope to follow. She is a sign of hope and comfort to all of us on our pilgrim journey through life. She has reached her final and total fulfilment in the glory of God.
The Great Jubilee calls us to recognise in Jesus the truth of the love of God. Mary is, for all of us, a model of faith in welcoming that truth into our lives. She is also a tremendous support in our efforts to live up to the demands of following Christ. May our pilgrimage to Knock change and challenge all of us. The work which Christ gave to his Church is still only at its beginning. A lot of people have not yet heard the news about Jesus Christ. A lot of countries have become cut off from their Christian roots. There is work to be done. Mary, Mother of the Apostles, Mother of the Church, help us to do our part of that work.