SUNDAY 29 MAY 2005

We have come on pilgrimage to Mary’s shrine here in Knock on the Feast of Corpus Christi in the Year of the Eucharist. Every pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place for a religious reason. So perhaps we could begin by recalling the reason we have made this journey. We have come to honour Mary, the Mother of Jesus, on this, the feast of the Body and Blood of her Son, Jesus Christ. Perhaps we have come to give thanks for a favour received or to ask a favour in the future – a recovery from illness, the passing of an examination, the revival of someone’s faith. I have come to ask Mary to strengthen my faith in the Eucharist so that I may celebrate it more devoutly and live out the implications of the Mass in my own life.
We have gathered in this Basilica to celebrate Mass. We remember that every Mass is a re-enactment of what Jesus did on Calvary. We ask that we may understand better that Mary is our mother, given to us by Jesus in his last will and testimony.

When he said to St John: “Woman, this is your son. At that moment he was suffering and dying on the cross for love of us. And St. John tells us that there stood by the cross of Jesus, Mary his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary of Clopas and Mary of Magdala”.

After the dark night of betrayal and abandonment, there followed the bitter morning of mockery and scourging. He had been stripped of his garments and nailed to the cross. His mother and his aunt, a close friend Mary Magdala, and the beloved disciple, John, stood there with him, courageously and faithfully to the end. And there, at that moment, a new family is being created as the human family are represented by his mother and his aunt and his faith family are represented by Mary of Magdala and John, are brought together around the cross.

Then, in the midst of this loving group there is the last final, caring, gesture of the dying son for his widowed mother and an act of trust in his beloved disciple as he gives them to each other. There they stand, close to the heart of the crucified One – a heart that soon will be pierced with the soldier’s lance. There they stood at the cross, united in deep love for the Son of God made flesh and through their suffering and grieving for him they are caught up in the mysterious love between the heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Here at Knock we hope to be caught up in that same love. We want, with the help of Mary his mother, to become one with Jesus. For in Calvary his hour had come, at Cana when he worked his first miracle his hour had not yet come. Now it had come and we are told that from that hour, Jesus the beloved disciple, took Mary into his home. There is an invitation here for all of us to aspire to be ourselves, beloved disciples. To take Mary into our hearts and into our homes and into our lives.

You may know that our new Pope, Benedict XVI has decided to include the scallop shell in his Coat of Arms. The shell is the emblem of the pilgrim. He is reminding himself and all of us, I suppose, that we have not here an everlasting kingdom but we seek the one that is to come.

Our dearly beloved, deceased, Pope John Paul II, went to another Marian shrine on his last pilgrimage. He went to the Shrine of Mary in Lourdes to whom he had dedicated his whole life. He did so in the sure hope that she would lead him safely to her Son, Jesus. On that occasion he said, “I wish, first of all, to greet the sick, who come in ever greater numbers to this shrine, and to greet those who accompany them, their care-givers and their families. I am here with you – dear brothers and sisters”, Pope John Paul said, “as a pilgrim to Our Lady. I may my own, your prayer and your hope”.

What a marvellous example he has set to all us in an age which hides away those too often who are suffering in any way. Here in Knock the sick have pride of place. There are many, many people who surround them with love and care. Right to the end, Pope John Paul II, despite his illness, was faithful to his mission. Just imagine that on a Wednesday before he died, he rose from his sick bed to come to the window of St. Peter’s Square to bless pilgrims. His courage in facing sickness and death inspires us all. Pope John Paul died in the middle of the Year of the Eucharist, within an hour after the holy Mass had been celebrated in his apartment. I think it is a lesson. He knew well that many followers of Christ are turning their back on the Eucharist, forgetting the words of Jesus. “Unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, we shall not have life in us” Mary, the mother of all the disciples, must also be concerned about this situation.

On Thursday last I was in London along with bishops from all over the world. We went to see Gordon Browne the Chancellor of Exchequer. We wanted to encourage him in his efforts to make poverty history. In order words, to put an end, once and for all, to the scandalous situation where 24,000 people die every day of hunger, that is, 1,000 people every hour. It is estimated that the vast majority of these are children with one child dying every four seconds. Surely that is a scandal.

Next July the leaders of the eight major industrialised countries in the world will meet in Gleneagles in Scotland. They will have a historic opportunity to do something to give to the poor of the world their basic rights. That is, their basic rights to food, clean water, education and healthcare. I ask you all to pray fervently that the leaders of the world – not only of the eight most powerful countries, but also of the United Nations and European Union – will play their part. At present it appears that the United States and Japan need a bit of persuading. In Europe – Germany and Italy seem a bit reluctant but Tony Blair appears to have persuaded the Italian on Friday last. Earlier this week the European Union took a decision to dramatically increase their aid. That is all good news. Let’s hope and pray that they keep their promises.

Certainly Gordon Browne seemed to me to be both sincere and determined to do his best. With Britain about to become President of the EU and of the G8 – they seem well placed to make a very great difference.

Of course Jesus was talking, not about the life of the body, but about the life of the Spirit when he said, “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you”. Yes, the life of our bodies is important, very important. I suppose the fact that the five schoolgirls, so tragically killed in Navan last week were so young and had apparently a long life before them – all of that made the tragedy so much more sorrowful and heartbreaking. But we all know that life on this earth will come to an end at some stage or other and then we hope for eternal life – the life of the spirit. So, when Jesus said he was going to give his flesh to the world, the Jews were shocked and scandalised. How can this man give us his flesh to eat, they asked. Have you noticed that Jesus didn’t answer that question? Of course he found a way to deliver on his promise as he always does. The problem is, will we have enough faith to take Him at His word?

That’s the more important question. And what will happen if we ignore this fantastic promise? Well, Jesus made it quite clear in a very solemn way when he said, “I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you”.

Now, unfortunately, we live in an age when more and more catholics, despite the fact of their baptism and their First Communion, are turning their back on the Mass and therefore they are not eating the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. They don’t seem too worried about the warning which Jesus gave about those who refuse to eat his flesh and not having life. That is a sad state of affairs.

You know if people went on hunger strike, many others would be very concerned. A lot of strenuous efforts would be made to entice people to come off their hunger strike but here we have a situation where are starving themselves of the Eucharist.

The late Pope John Paul II was one man who was very concerned about the situation. That is why he declared this to be the Year of the Eucharist – a year in which he asked us to devote our attention to three things:

1. A renewal of the Sunday Mass,
2. Adoration of the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament;
3. To the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi

Jesus promised to give His flesh and blood to be our food and drink. At the Last Supper he kept his promise. He took bread and wine and changed them into his own body and blood and then he said, “Do this in memory of me”.

You may ask why was it important for Jesus that this should be done in memory of Him? He left us the Eucharist to remind us of how he loved us. He loved each one of us to the point of laying down his life for us. He also prepared his disciples for what he was going to do by getting up from the table and washing their feet. Sure, he shocked them but went on to explain that he had washed their feet precisely to give them an example so that they would copy what he had done to them. St John put it well when he said, “Jesus, having loved his own, loved them to the end”.

For the last almost fifty years I have been eating the body and blood of Christ almost daily. I often ask myself why am I not more like Jesus Christ? Only this week three people conveyed to me their criticism of what I said or did or failed to do. I suppose what in effect they are saying is that I should have more of the courage and more of the love which Jesus had for all of us. And so, I have come to the conclusion that it is not enough just to celebrate Mass and eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man. I must prepare myself by understanding the meaning of what he did. And secondly, I must go out from Mass and imitate the love of Jesus in my own life – no matter what the cost.

Jesus poured the water into the basic and wiped their feet with the towel. He did all of this so as to remove the dirt and the sand from around their ankles and between their toes. It was a rather personal and embarrassing sort of task. So I wonder, what is the equivalent which we can do for our brothers and sisters today, especially for those sisters and brothers who have lost their appetite for going to Mass?
Well at Mass we get the opportunity to listen carefully to what Jesus says in the Gospel and this Year of the Eucharist gives an opportunity for us to help those who find it hard to go to Mass. When we come to Mass as a parish family, there may be some Catholics who are not here with us. Now there could be different reasons for this. Maybe some were never given the habit of going to Mass by their parents.

Others may have dropped away when they were young, others may feel hurt by something said or done to them in Church. Others may feel too tired or too busy to find the time. Whatever the reason, I would like them to think again. To think of what they are missing.

We should not think of going to Mass as a duty or an obligation. We should think of it as a response of love to love – of our love to the greatest love the world has ever seen. But, whatever their reasons for staying away, every Catholic in this Parish is part of our parish family. Every Catholic in your area is a member of your parish family. For those Catholics who do not join us at Mass, are still our brothers and sisters. They are family and, like members of any family; we are all responsible for each other. They may be a member of our own family, our children, our parents, brother, or sister. It may be your next door neighbour, someone at work or someone you meet at the pub. It may be a friend at school or your boyfriend or girlfriend. But we are all responsible for each other – we are all to bear each other’s burdens.

So, I ask each one of you to focus on at least one person with all of your faith and love and care. First of all pray for that person every day. Pray that this person may be filled with the living waters of God’s love. If the opportunity arises, be ready to talk about your own faith. Gently and sensitively talk through the reasons why they are not more involved in the life of the Church and eventually invite them to come to Mass with you. I think that might be the equivalent of washing their feet. I am sure Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is concerned about this also. What mother or father would not be worried or concerned if her child was refusing to eat or drink. Let me end with a story.

About 1830 – just after Catholic Emancipation, a bunch of women from Armagh were working in the cotton industry in New Hampshire, United States. Despite their secure employment, all was not well. They were spiritually undernourished – their faith was in danger of withering as a result because they were not able to get to Mass every Sunday. They were not prepared to set at risk their immortal and everlasting life, not even for the sake of a better standard of living in this life. So they announced they were giving it all up and going home. But these ladies were not just good Catholics, they were good workers and their employers did not want to lose them. And so, a Church and priest were provided and they are preparing to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the celebration of the first Mass on the last Sunday of September this year. I don’t know where they said Keady on your cart came from, but I do know that there were Keady people who set an example to all of us which is just as relevant today as it was then.

So, what can we do? We can put our weight behind the campaign to make poverty history. We can show that our attendance at Sunday Mass makes a difference in the way we live our lives. We could decide to spend some time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Every mother or father worries if their child is not eating properly. They know that if they do not it will lead to other problems. I am sure Mary, our Mother in Heaven, is no different. Today the Archdiocese is on pilgrimage here at Knock where we will pray earnestly for a greater commitment to the Sunday Mass in this the Year of the Eucharist.