Bishop Philip Boyce’s homily for the 2007 Raphoe Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock Shrine “The joy of following Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life”
18th August 2007
The joy of following Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life
Joy is a constant theme in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. When the Irish Bishops were on their Ad Limina visit to Rome last October, he told them: “Be bold in speaking to your people of the joy that comes from following Christ and living according to his commandments.”
Joy springs from a heart that has known and experienced God’s love. It goes beyond the pleasure that comes from human satisfactions. To be successful in one’s career, in one’s favourite sport, in one’s profession, gives joy of heart. Yet, such joy or pleasure, is inevitably short-lived. It is bound by the horizons of the world we see and know. Joy of the spirit is more permanent: it springs from a good conscience and from life in the conscious presence of God.
Indeed if we wait for joy to come from outside, we shall be disappointed. Its source must be from within us. It demands that we believe in God and remain on terms of friendship with Him. Then it can be experienced in times of good fortune as in times of trouble and failure.
The Gospel passage we have just heard brings us back to the Last Supper taken by Jesus and his disciples. The atmosphere was solemn. Jesus had often spoken of his death. The disciples now had a certain premonition of immanent tragedy. Yet, Jesus, even as he foretold his own betrayal and Peter’s denial, asked his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled, but to believe in God and also in Him (cf. Jn 14:1). And when He had poured out his deepest thoughts and the longings of his heart, He said: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11).
It was not the time for light-hearted conversation on trifling matters. It was the moment of sharing words of advice and of revelation on the deeper realities of life. Jesus told them and us where He was going, how we were to get to a place of peace and happiness with Him. He promised that He would see them all again and that their hearts would no longer be in sorrow, but filled with joy (cf. Jn 16:20).
Joy can remain in our hearts even in times of turmoil, not because of the pain we feel in the present, but on account of what has been promised us by Him whose word does not deceive.
Amid the frantic tumult of modern life and in the rush to make ends meet or to accumulate wealth in a prosperous society, joy of heart is in short supply. Many do not have the courage to forget themselves in serving Christ and in helping others. The concentration on this world’s pleasures makes the promise of future happiness lose all its appeal. The weaker our faith becomes, the more powerfully does the grip of despair enter into the human heart.
The Christian vision is the opposite to gloom and helplessness. The Blessed Virgin Mary, who is honoured here in Knock, gave us the two basic attitudes of her life. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and may spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:46-47). Glorifying or exalting the Lord and rejoicing in Him. St. Paul states that his joy remains even in adversity and anguish. of all kinds: although often in sorrow, yet he is always rejoicing (cf. 2 Cor 6:7-10).
The Saints of all ages were men and women who followed Christ wholeheartedly. Invariably their life was a difficult and testing one, but they had peace of heart and joy of the spirit. We too can share and radiate that joy if we follow Christ who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”.
“I am the Way”
Life is a journey. We go ahead from hour to hour, from day to day, torwards our final destination and fulfilment. Newman said famously “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, London 1909, p.40). The important point is that we change for the better, that we follow a guide who knows the way, one that leads to life.
Jesus presents himself as the Way to the Father, the Way to God. In other words, he is the perfect model. If we imitate the Way of life that He led and taught, then we may be sure that we are not going astray.
In this life there are many tempting paths that open up before us. Some are broad and comfortable, but they meander endlessly and either arrive very late at the destination or lead further away from it and never arrive. The other way is narrow and rugged; it leads directly to the goal. Jesus asks us to enter by this narrow gate “for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction” …whereas “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life” (Mt 7:13-14). The Lord, in other words, is advising us to aim for what is noble, true and holy, rather than to remain satisfied with the easy option. Card. Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, once said on this point: “Letting oneself be pushed, going with the tide, letting oneself be submerged in the crowd leads only again to the crowd and then into nothing. The courage to climb higher, to face up to difficulty, that is what brings me onto the right road.” (God and the World, San Francisco 2007, p. 288)
Coming today on pilgrimage to Knock shows that you are eager to choose the “right road”, the Way that leads to life. It is a choice of Christ who will lead you to the Father. In fact, in Christ we have everything we need. St. John of the Cross, the renowned Carmelite mystic, teaches that we must not search for God through any other means except through Christ and the Gospel. “In giving us his Son, his only Word … God the Father spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and He has no more to say … Fasten your eyes on him alone and you will discern hidden in him the most sacred mysteries, and wisdom, and the wonders of God” (II Ascent, 22, 3-6).
Christ is the only Way to God, the sure way. Other techniques, perhaps springing from worldly wisdom and research, the spirituality of ancient and Eastern religions, the so-called New Age theories, can never be the way that leads to the Father. They are without the Cross of Christ and are devoid of the grace of the Sacraments. Only in Christ can we reach the fulfilment of all our desires, the final transforming union with the Holy Trinity.
Only Christ could point to Himself and say “I am the Way”, giving each one of us a true sense of direction. Following Him we no longer wander aimlessly, not sure where we are going or what route to take. He is one with his heavenly Father. To see Him is to see the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). He has gone before us to prepare a place for us in the kingdom of heaven.
“I am the Truth”
Jesus also declares himself to be “the Truth”. The very nature of truth and the possibility of arriving at it are often challenged at the present time. Pilate’s question arises again in the sceptical hearts of many of our contemporaries: “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38). Oftentimes modern theories of thought weaken or even destroy the stability of human and divine truth. They sap the strength of certainty and lead to subtle forms of “not knowing whether” (agnosticism) or to a mélange of different conflicting beliefs (syncretism).
Yet there are also many sincere hearts searching for the truth today. One voice proclaiming what is true stands out above all others. It is the voice of Christ. He is the fullness of God’s Revelation to us. He not only has the truth: He is the Truth. He sacrificed his life to save us from error and deceit. The Lamb of God on the altar of the Apparition Chapel in Knock powerfully reminds us of the Truth that will prevail for all times. Before Him, in submission and prayerful reverence are the figures of Mary his Mother, St. Joseph, St. John and the hovering angels.
Our conscience is a guide to truth. However, conscience is not a purely subjective feeling or desire. It is not simply a sense of propriety or good taste, formed by general culture and social customs. Rather it is the echo of God’s voice within our heart, as a standard of right and wrong, with an authority we cannot question. When we obey the voice of conscience we feel satisfaction and peace; when we disobey it, we feel a sense of guilt and remorse. To obey conscience, leads to obedience to the Gospel; it leads to truth.
We should desire to have truth for our dearest friend. If we have, we can persevere confidently in the midst of trial and opposition of all kinds, for we know that time is on the side of truth. Of course, we must allow our conscience to be formed and guided by the teaching of the Church, whom Christ gave to the faithful as guardian of the truth, promising that she would be kept free from error.
A recent Document by the Church states that we do not invent truth, but that we embrace it. It is not a matter of “finding one’s own truth in accordance with the feel-good factor”. And I quote: “Jesus Christ is presented in Christian teaching as “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). His followers are asked to open their whole lives to him and to his values, in other words to an objective set of requirements which are part of an objective reality ultimately knowable by all” (Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life, Catholic Truth Society, London 2003, p. 52).
Therefore, we cannot simply determine that to be true which we wish to be so, or which would seem to make life more pleasant for us. We are asked by Christ to have the moral courage to accept the light of truth, no matter what personal sacrifice it may involve. At times, we may well be confronted with a choice similar to that of the Lord’s disciples, when they found his teaching on the promised Eucharist so difficult to accept: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you … He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him … he who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:53-58).
This was indeed “a hard saying” for many of his listeners. The personal sacrifice they would have to make in order to accept this truth, seemed too much. Yet, Jesus did not water down the truth He spoke, or make it more reasonable. He simply turned to the twelve Apostles and said: “Will you go also?” (Jn 6:67). Like Peter, we cannot turn away from Christ. To whom shall we go? He has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).
In Him alone is to be found full and ultimate Truth. He spoke to us about the invisible and incomprehensible God in words comprehensible to us. He spoke with knowledge of what is really true on the other side of the veil that hides the things of heaven from our gaze. By believing the words of the Gospel, we know we are on the right road. Other wise men and prophets could say “I have discovered the truth” or “I pass on the truth as it was given to me” Christ alone could say: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
“I am the Life”
In the life we lead, we have to choose whether to live or merely to exist. Some drift along letting the current lead them. Others make decisions, take charge of their destiny and choose the road on which to travel.
All life comes from God as a precious and fundamental gift. In the image of God we have all been created. Therefore, life is sacred. We have to respect and safeguard it from the first moment of conception to the point of natural death.
Moreover, in baptism we receive the gift of a new life, a divine life. This puts us on the road to holiness. God gives us his commandments which are expressions of his will for us. If we obey them we nourish life and strength within us. When Moses gave the commandments of the Covenant to the chosen people, he said to them: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life” (Gen 30:19).
Jesus came that we might share in the very life of God himself. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
As we prepare to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in this holy Eucharist, let us be aware that it strengthens and develops the divine life within our souls. It is the food of immortality, the pledge that we shall never die.
If we ask Our Lady of Knock in this holy shrine how we are to find the true Way, how we are to walk in the Truth at all times, how we are to have Life within us, she will answer as she did at Cana in Galilee: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).
May today’s pilgrimage remind us that we are on the Way of Truth, leading to Life, true and unending life. For in the words that the Church’s liturgy applies to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “He who finds me, finds life and obtains favour from the Lord” (Prov 8:35). AMEN
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)