ATTENTION NEWSDESKS & RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENTS
HOMILY FOR KNOCK NOVENA – 22nd AUGUST 2004
“125 years ago Knock apparition lifted hearts in a depressed land”
– Archbishop Neary
Embargoed until 22nd August 2004 at 3p.m.
It is 125 years ago since that silent apparition on an August evening. It had been a
day of driving rain drawing to its predictable close when the history of this place
changed forever. Those were stirring days in the history of Ireland. Crop failures,
bad weather and falling prices were leading to evictions and exile again. It was
against this background of depression and low morale that a glimmer of light broke
through on this hillside village at Knock.
Since then thousands of people from Ireland and across the world have brought their
sick, their pain, their own personal darkness, their hopes and thanksgiving to this hill
of Mary, Cnoc Mhuire. Every generation has ways of recognising her as a sign of
certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God. We live in different days
now. There is not the grinding poverty of those days. We live in an Ireland which
has international standing, its sons and daughters of this province can hold their
heads high in financial, medical and planning circles in any comer of the earth. The
sense of hopelessness has long since evaporated, yet failures in the church, in
political, legal and financial circles have diminished trust. Rampant excesses in
drugs and alcohol cultures give rise to murder and mayhem on our streets, increase
fear in the elderly and vulnerable and bring blight on too many homes.
Mary is actively present in the midst of the ever changing world as she highlights the
compassion and the caring traditionally associated with the mother of God. We all have
the tendency to live lives of quiet despair, bemoaning the loss of all those bright days of
the past in what seemed faith-filled times. It is easy to huddle in lost hope but the
silence of Knock asks us to pause, take heart and find new hope again.
Silence is when the wholeness of God embraces the wholeness of all of us. Indeed
Christ’s life sets the pattern for silence: silence at the beginning in Bethlehem,
silence at the end in the tomb and long silences between. In these days we have
heard over and over again promises that will end pain. People in power point to a
promised land as we trudge through the great path of everyday life, punctuated as it
is by pain and parting, by sickness at home and famine abroad, by death and
division, by grief and greed. Today we are drawn to the silent scenario of that Knock
apparition of 1879 and are challenged to enter a time of quiet reflection. In a Knock
far changed from that wet evening in 1879, we might lapse into silence and take
Mary would want us today to do what she did, to commit our lives to a great cause,
one that will outlast life. There are many demanding tasks which meet us face to
face every day in loving loyalty to family and in making time for those who cannot
keep pace with the demands of our time. All great causes are not at the ends of, the
earth. There is hunger in the lush greenness of Ireland as well as on the desert
wastes while loneliness today is still the greatest pain crying out for some
companionship and presence.
The Gospel reading shows us Mary as queen of communication and receptiveness. The
mystery of the visitation is the mystery of the material communication between two
women, diverse in age, environment and characteristics and their respectful sensitivity
towards each other. Each one bears a precious secret, most intimate and profound –
the expectation of a child. The joy of Mary and Elizabeth is the joy of all who look
forward with wonder and thankfulness to the birth of a baby.
Mary needs to see someone who understands and from what the angel has said she
senses that Elizabeth is the most suitable person. She leaves in haste not only
because she wants to help her cousin but in order to seek help herself. Mary feels
herself understood, accepted, recognised, loved and exalted. Elizabeth feels
understood to the depths of her being, her fear is transformed into joy. Mary
rejoiced that God had looked on her with favour and here we have her great hymn of
praise to God, The Magnificat.
In the past 125 years how many thousands, millions of men and women have come here
on pilgrimage to Knock. They have discovered that they are visited here by Mary.
They find here an acceptance, recognition and a communication that is deeper than
words can express. Perhaps, after all, the silent apparition of the mother of God here a
century and a quarter ago was saying something deeper than words could express and
continues to make an eloquent and powerful statement today of the presence of Mary in
this place to all pilgrims – the attentive, discreet, sincere, authentic communication of a mother with her children.
Real communication makes it possible for God to intervene and in fact welcomes and
invites him to do so. This is because genuine communication demands time and
effort, walking step by step with others in pain and beauty, and becoming aware of
ones own gifts, strengths, shortcomings and weaknesses. Technology is something
in which we rejoice and which can be very supportive but it can never be a substitute
for this kind of genuine communication. What took place at the visitation when
Mary journeyed from Nazareth to the town in the h11 country in Judea takes place
here at Knock when the pain and heartbreak, the joys and the successes of the
pilgrim are placed before the Mother of God. When h s ruthlessly honest
communication takes place we find ourselves introduced to the God of the
MagnrJicat, the God who despite all appearances to the contrary is in control, the
God who scatters the proud, exalts the humble, and fills the hungry with good b g s
while sending the rich away empty.
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Notes for Editors
On the 21st of August 1879, Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the
Evangelist appeared at the south gable of Knock Parish Church. The apparition was witnessed by fifteen people, young and old. From this miraculous occurrence Knock has grown to the status of an internationally recognised Marian Shrine. The personal pilgrimage of Pope John Paul I1 in 1979, commemorating the centenary of the apparition, inspired and even greater devotion to the Shrine and endorsed the indelible seal of Vatican approval. Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited the Shrine in June 1993. One and a half million pilgrims visit the Shrine annually.
Archbishop Michael Neary, studied for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and was ordained a Priest 1971. Archbishop Neary was ordained Bishop 13th September 1992, installed Archbishop of Tuam, 5th March 1995.