SUNDAY 31 MAY 2009

Fellow pilgrims, sisters and brothers in Christ from the Archdiocese of Armagh and from elsewhere,

The book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning ‘the earth was a formless void.’ In other words, it was empty and shapeless. There was no order and no life on the earth. There was only what Genesis calls: ‘a darkness over the deep’.  Yet, in the midst of this chaos and darkness, we are also told that ‘God’s spirit hovered over the water’ (Gen 1:2). Through this spirit God breathed his life into the nostrils of man. We are told how, through his Spirit, God brought forth not only life but order and beauty as well into all of creation. In the words of the psalm: ‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their array by the breath of his mouth.’ (Ps 33:6) This breath of God is the Holy Spirit – whose coming we celebrate today.  This Holy Spirit – as we profess in the Creed – is the Lord and giver of life – The Spirit of Love.

Today, we celebrate the beginning of another new creation – that of the Church. We remember that on Pentecost day the Holy Spirit once again ‘hovered over’ a situation of confusion, fear and darkness; only this time the confusion was in the lives of the disciples. Out of that confusion and fear the Spirit once again brought hope and courage and light.

As we heard just now in the Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit brought forth understanding and unity, healing and new life. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit confronts the danger of division and disunity which loomed as a result of the departure of Christ.  The Spirit enables us to speak the one same language of love and faith. When this happens, it is always a sign that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of the Church.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the Church to remind us of what he had said and done. In every age we need reminding for we so easily forget. At Pentecost Jesus kept his promise, as he always does. He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to his Church until the end of time. He promised the Spirit to help us to seek out the truth and to understand it, in humility, and to respond to difficult times.

These are difficult times for the Church in Ireland. Much greater difficulties, however, are faced by those who suffered such abuse as that described in the Ryan Report. For the Christian community the innocent and vulnerable who have been hurt must be the priority.

Shortly after the day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus turned to St. Peter and asked: ‘What must we do?’ His immediate answer was, ‘You must repent!’. In other words you must first acknowledge and then turn away from all thoughts, words, deeds and omissions that give rise to evil and sin. In the light of the Ryan Report this means the Catholic Church in Ireland taking on board the full implications of all that is contained in that Report. It involves acknowledging the truth and full extent of what happened.  It means acknowledging that evil and criminal acts were perpetrated against innocent and vulnerable children.  The words of today’s Sequence to the Holy Spirit can surely help us:

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

However, a wider examination of conscience by the whole Church in Ireland and by Irish society may also be required. What was it in our history and culture that allowed this kind of abuse to take place and to go on for so long? This will require a sincere, humble and careful listening to those who have survived.  It will also require serious and prolonged reflection by the whole community of faith. . The challenge of facing up to the complete truth of what has happened and why, is really only beginning.  Jesus promised that “when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth” – a fantastic promise- a promise worth remembering these days.  For it is the truth that sets us free.

Today, like the Apostles in the Upper Room, we have gathered together here in Knock to be with Mary, the Mother of God. We come, like them, to break the Bread of Life together and to pray. We all need to pray earnestly and humbly for the coming of the Spirit of Truth. The Lord of Light.  Again the words of today’s Sequence seem particularly appropriate:

Holy Spirit, Lord of Light
From the clear celestial height
Thy pure beaming radiance give.

Light immortal, light divine,
Visit thou these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill:

As evidence of repentance it is clear that, as a Church, we must make the healing of hurts and memories, the first priority. At the same time, with humility, we must accept and fully respect that some who have been hurt, will be enraged at the very idea that the Church would have a part to play in any healing process. This, however, does not remove the obligation on the Church to make amends and to atone in ways that are appropriate.

We need to pray, as the Apostles prayed so often in that uncertain time between the Ascension and Pentecost, in the company of Mary. We need to pray that the survivors can be given hope – by being allowed to tell their story, by being listened to and believed. We need to pray that acknowledgement of the truth by the Church and by wider society will be a stepping stone to a healing of the horror and terrible memories of the past.

The Gospel reminds us that one of the fruits of the Resurrection and of the Holy Spirit is peace.  This is the greatest peace of all. It is the quiet rest which people experience when they see their lives are lived in the radiance and beauty of God’s love. It is an inner peace – peace of mind, peace of soul. I hear survivors say often that what they desire, most of all, is peace. The whole Christian community must pray to the Holy Spirit of Love – to the consoling and healing Spirit that all survivors will come to know that inner peace.

In the Sequence of today’s Mass we prayed:
‘Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou the soul’s delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow;
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
on our dryness pour thy dew.’

Let this be our earnest prayer, not only for survivors but for all those gathered here today who are burdened in any way in mind, body or spirit.

Mary is the Comforter of the Afflicted. What a lovely name! Yet it is not just a name.  She is a real woman who suffered so much affliction in her own life. She lost her only Son.  Courageously she stood on the Hill of Calvary and watched him die.

I think it is significant that Mary, the Mother of God, has been appearing in recent centuries to the poor and the lonely and the humble of heart. Here in Knock, in 1879, Mary appeared to the poor and broken-hearted people of Ireland. She came to us in a time of great need and trauma. She came as Mother of Sorrows and Comforter of all the afflicted.  She pointed us towards the consoling and saving power of the Holy Spirit in every celebration of the Eucharist.

In the Eucharist, just as at the first moment of creation, just as at the moment of the Annunciation, just as on the day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit hovers over.  The Spirit ‘overshadows’ the gifts of bread and wine and brings forth in them a new creation. That new creation is the real and living presence among us of the Risen Christ. Our often broken and sinful lives are represented in the individual grains of wheat pressed together to make the offering of bread.  Our lives are also represented in the grapes, pressed together to make the wine. They represent us as individuals and as a Church.  We offer our lives to the Lord to be changed, strengthened and renewed in the Eucharist. Under the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine become the source of our closest most intimate union with God and of our unity with one another.  They become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. 

The Eucharist gathers together the scattered children of God in one place.  We gather to break the bread and to pray.  The Apostles united and prayed with the Mother of God in the Upper Room. In this way, through our active participation in the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit makes us the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that: ‘In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father’s vine which bears fruit on its branches… For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God’s scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy.’ (n. 1108) – ‘I am the vine’ Christ said – ‘You are the branches’.

This means that we also have a responsibility to help one another and pray for one another. We are fellow pilgrims on our way to the new and eternal Jerusalem. But we do not travel on our own. We are united to the Church in heaven as well as to the Church on earth, the Body of Christ.  We believe in the Communion of Saints.

Again Mary, the perfect disciple, is our model in this regard. She guides her Church and each of us on our pilgrim way with a motherly care. She leads us lovingly through all the trials of life to the peace and joy which comes from complete trust in the Holy Spirit.

Several times Mary demonstrated that complete trust in the Holy Spirit – for example, at the moment of the Annunciation. She did so in spite of her understanding of the difficulties and obstacles ahead. Under the prompting of the Holy Spirit she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, in spite of her own needs at the time.  She was worried and concerned for her cousin.  In this way she modelled for us the unity and solidarity of the Body of Christ, the Church.  At Cana, she responded sensitively to the needs of a newly married couple. She revealed her desire to intercede on their behalf, and on our behalf, with her Son. In other words, she revealed to us that part of Christian kindness towards others is to pray for them and for their needs, as well as for our own. At the foot of the Cross, she reminded us of the need for perseverance in the midst of trials. It was here too that she accepted the responsibility to be a mother to every disciple of her Son – that is, of you and of me. At Pentecost, she was present at the birth of the Church, just as at the birth of her Son. From her place in heaven she continues to care for and guide that Church in spite of all the tribulations of history.

The challenge for each one of us is to continue to trust, like Mary, in the promise that has been made to us. This is the promise that the same Holy Spirit, which brought order and beauty out of chaos at the beginning of creation, continues to ‘hover’ over the Church today.  It is the hovering – not of a hawk ready to swoop- but of the gentle dove ready to guide and protect and keep safe.

The Litany of Loreto in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been used for almost 500 years. In fact litanies to Our Lady go back much further than that, including a Gaelic one which was used as early as the 8th century. Just imagine our ancestors for 1200 years have been calling on Mary – the Mother of God – to come to their aid using those 50 gracious and lovely titles. Very often they did not have much else to sustain their faith and their hope in times of trial and persecution.
Gathered here, before the Lamb of God, we pray for the Church in Ireland today

Lamb of God, spare us
Lamb of God have mercy on us,
Lamb of God grant us peace

Entrusting our Church at this time to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we ask Mary, the:
Mother of Christ
Mother of the Church
Mother of Good Counsel
Seat of Wisdom
Cause of our Joy
Mystical Rose
Gate of Heaven
Morning Star
Health of the Sick
Comfort of the Afflicted
Help of Christians
Queen of the family
Queen of Peace….

Pray, pray for us now. Pray that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ and remain always open to promptings of his Holy Spirit. Amen.