NATIONAL PILGRIMAGE DAY
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
SUNDAY 21 MAY 2000, 3.00pm
“Come ring our joy to the Lord,
hail the God who saves us.
Let us come before Him, giving thanks,
with song let us hail the Lord.
Yes we have come to Armagh today to ring out our joy to the Lord. We ring out that joy with bands and banners, with music and song. We are gathered in pilgrimage, from the four corners of the diocese. We are here, as representatives of our various parishes, to give God thanks and praise.
What’s the cause of our joy? What’s the reason for this great celebration today? Why was the GAA asked not to fix any championship matches today? Why did they graciously agree to that request? The answer is simple, it is this, that we are celebrating the fact that it has pleased God to reveal Himself and to make known His will.
His will was, and is, that we should have access to the Father through Christ. By this revelation the invisible God speaks to us as his friends. He invites us and receives us into His company.
At first God spoke through the prophets. God spoke through people like Abraham and Moses. But now He has spoken to us through His Son. Two thousand years ago God sent His Son to live among us. Jesus came to tell us about the inner life of God. Jesus did this by his words and by his works, by signs and miracles. Above all Jesus showed his love for us by his death and glorious resurrection. He revealed that God was, and is, and always shall be, with us. God stays with us to set us free from the darkness of sin and death. God is with us to raise us up after death to the fullness of life, to everlasting happiness.
Of course we celebrate that every Sunday but today we celebrate it in a very special way. We are celebrating it by going on pilgrimage because 2000 years ago Jesus came. I suppose you could say he came as a pilgrim to live among us.
God wants us to have access to Himself through Christ. All of Christian life is a pilgrimage. It is a pilgrimage to the House of the Father. That is why pilgrimages are popular. I have just returned from a very successful diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. Next Sunday the annual diocesan pilgrimage to Knock takes place. Later on in the year there will be pilgrimages to St. Brigid’s Shrine at Faughart, St. Oliver Plunkett’s Shrine in Drogheda, the Shrine of St. Mochua in Derrynoose. There will also be pilgrimages to Rome and to the Holy Land.
These pilgrimages remind us of the inner journey each one of us must make. This pilgrimage takes place in the heart of everyone. For in the depth of our hearts we all experience restlessness, a certain dissatisfaction. The joys of this earth, no matter how deep, never seem to satisfy us completely. They do not last. We are looking for something better, something deeper, something more enduring.
Really what we are looking for is that happiness, that fullness of life which Jesus Christ promised. And, as we struggle through the troubles of life, we are heartened by the words of Jesus that he has come that we may have life and have it to the full. We are also encouraged by the examples of the saints and especially by the help and protection of Mary, the Mother of God. The saints are the ones who have found the secret of the happiness, that fullness of life which we all desire. I suppose that is why pilgrimages to the shrines of Mary, at Lourdes and Knock and Fatima, to the Holy Land where Jesus and Mary lived and to places associated with the saints, like Lough Derg and Drogheda and Faughart are popular. People find something there, some taste of the peace and joy and happiness which we all seek and search for all our lives.
The real good news of course today is that we are not celebrating past history but present reality. For God has graciously arranged that the things revealed through Jesus Christ for the salvation of all people should remain. They are to remain throughout the ages and be handed on to all generations. Christ commanded his apostles to go out and preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. In preaching the Good News they were to share the gifts of God with all people to the end of time. That full and living Gospel, that Good News, is preserved in the Church. The Good News brought by Jesus Christ and taught by his Church is like a mirror. During our pilgrimage on earth, we, followers of Christ, look in that mirror constantly. For in that mirror, the Church sees God from whom she receives everything. We are to go on contemplating God in that mirror until such time as we are brought to see God face to face as He really is.
As we contemplate God in the mirror of His Good News we are gradually changed. “I am the vine, you are the branches” Christ said. “Anyone who remains in me and I in him, bears fruit in plenty. It is to the glory of my Father that you shall bear much fruit and then you will be my disciples”.
My hope is that each one here today will go home somewhat changed. If not, then we are merely tourists and sightseers and not really pilgrims and disciples. This may be the one and only pilgrimage you will ever make. You may be going back home to homes where there are people who never go on pilgrimages outside their own homes. That is not really important. What is really important is that each and every one of us embarks on the inner journey to discover Jesus and to be united with him and through the sacraments. The important thing is that we all go home determined and committed to travel the journey of life with Jesus back to the House of the Father.
It is to the glory of the Father that you should bear much fruit. Let us live lives modelled on the life of Jesus Christ.