· Theme of 2015 National Novena to Our Lady of Knock: ‘Faith & Family’
· ‘You are a consecrated nation, a people set apart’ (1 Pet 2:9) – Archbishop Eamon Martin
· Archbishop Martin invites the faithful to pray one Hail Mary for the family each day for fifty days in preparation for the Synod
Invitation to pray one Hail Mary a day for the family over fifty days
With fifty days remaining the Catholic Church around the world is preparing for the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of bishops in Rome, in October, on the theme The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World. Speaking today before the Rosary procession at the Knock Novena, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, said, “I invite the faithful – of every age – to participate in a ‘Rosary of Prayer’ over the next fifty days in preparation for the Synod on the Family. I encourage everyone to pray even one Hail Mary – and to dedicate their prayer to the family – over each of the fifty days between now and the Synod. Last autumn the Extraordinary Synod in Rome focussed on the challenges facing the family all around the world today. This October the Synod will look in particular at discerning the vocation of the family today and reflecting on the family’s mission. I ask people to pray that the Synod will be able to offer the Church, and the world, pastoral initiatives to encourage renewed efforts in sharing the joy of the Gospel in our daily lives.”
I expect that some of our pilgrims today have Assumpta in their name. Happy Feast day!
Sixty-five years ago this autumn, during the jubilee year 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly pronounced ‘that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory’.
The pope’s historic words were marked by great celebration, even though he wasn’t saying anything about Mary that was not already widely accepted in Christian tradition. The learned Fathers of the Church had spoken of Mary’s Assumption since the earliest days of Christianity. For centuries, great theologians and spiritual writers had reflected on it. It was the subject of beautiful works of art, poetry and hymns; and, of course, for hundreds of years people had been praying the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary – the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven.
So why did the Holy Spirit prompt the Church in the middle of the twentieth century to highlight Mary’s Assumption? It happened as the world was emerging from dark and devastating times. Up to eighty million people had been killed as a result of the Second World War. The terrible reality of what human beings could do to other human beings was apparent – including the horrific holocaust and the merciless atomic bombs. I am convinced that Pope Pius, by declaring Mary’s Assumption, and placing Mary before the world as a model and inspiration, was wanting to remind humanity of the beauty, dignity and true potential of every human being.
At a time when we would have been forgiven for believing the very worst about humanity – Mary revealed what is best in us and for us. When we could so easily have given in to despair, she was the Queen of Peace, the cause of our joy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.
In her ‘yes’ to the angel at the Annunciation, Mary consecrated her life completely to God, and to God’s will. Mary repeated that ‘yes’ over and over again, especially as she watched her Son on the Cross undergo the very worst that humanity could hurl at Him.
Wasn’t it obvious, then, that God would ensure that Mary’s sacred body would not experience the corruption of the grave?
Saint John Damascene, writing as far back as the eighth century, put it beautifully: ‘It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow … should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.’
But this privilege was not meant simply as a reward for Mary. It was intended also to be ‘a sign of sure hope and comfort’ for all of us. God calls us to consecrate our lives to Him as Mary did, and to say: ‘May your will be done in my life too’. That is what Saint Peter was getting at when he wrote: ‘You are a consecrated nation, a people set apart’. He was convinced that being Christian should make us different – people should notice that we are believers. And, indeed, the early followers of Jesus stood out because of their charity, their joy, their prayerfulness. People observed: See how these Christians love one another.
It is not easy nowadays to stand out from the crowd like that. In fact the pressure on us to conform to the culture, values and attitudes around us is often immense and overpowering.
In recent weeks I’ve been reflecting on Laudato Si (Praise Be), the recently published encyclical of Pope Francis about care for the earth – our common home. In it Pope Francis describes the ‘cry of the earth’ because of irresponsible plundering and pollution of the world’s goods and resources. He also speaks about the ‘cry of the poor’ who suffer most because of the deterioration of the environment. He questions: ‘What kind of world are we leaving to our children and our grandchildren?’
In Laudato Si I can hear today’s successor of Saint Peter sounding like his ancient predecessor, once more calling on Christians to be ‘a people set apart’. Pope Francis wants us to commit to living a prophetic lifestyle – one of moderation in our use of the earth’s resources. The Holy Father calls us to reject the thinking that amassing things and pleasures can give lasting joy to the human heart. Instead, Pope Francis says: ‘learn to appreciate the beauty of nature and creation; realise how much all of us on this planet need each other; be at peace with who we are and what we have and own; savour each moment of every day; and, as Saint Therese recommended, do the little things well and with love, where possible making do with a little less.’
Typically, Pope Francis is never depressing even though he is addressing such a complex and perplexing global problem. He says: ‘All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start … No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to His grace at work deep In our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No-one has the right to take it from us (LS205)’.
Pope Francis’ words remind me again of the meaning of Mary’s Assumption – that victory of human dignity over the worst that greed, sin and corruption can ever do in this world of ours. Towards the end of Laudato Si, he refers to the Assumption: ‘Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, ‘clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve Stars’ (Rv 12:1). Carried up into heaven she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of beauty … (LS241)’.
So once more, Mary is seen as the model for all of us who wish to be consecrated to God, a people set apart! She is our inspiration, our sign of sure hope! Consecrating our lives for God may mean ‘losing something of ourselves’ or giving up some of the immediate pleasures and promises of happiness that this world offers, but in God we find something precious – a life that is immensely fulfilling and joyful.
During this Year of Consecrated Life I want to pay tribute to the women and men of Ireland who have chosen to ‘lose something of themselves’ by consecrating their lives totally to God as members of Ireland’s religious congregations of sisters, brothers or priests, and generously professing lives of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Although their numbers are smaller today, our ‘religious’ still make an immense contribution to Ireland, and to the world, by living their particular apostolates and charisms, including in education, healthcare, prison chaplaincy, working with the marginalised and forgotten, in inter-Church work, care of the elderly and helping those with special needs.
Many ‘religious are actively engaged in pastoral ministry; others dedicate their days to prayer and contemplation. We praise and thank God for their witness among us. To the religious sisters, brothers or priests with us here in Knock today I want to say on behalf of the Church in Ireland: We love you. We love your vocation and the mission you carry out among us.
In you we see reflected in a special way the presence of Mary our Mother, because she is the perfect model of the consecrated life. In your undivided love of God and your witness we see something of her total surrender and giving of herself to God’s will and providence, her humble acceptance of, and obedience to the Word; we see her inner life of contemplation, her sacrificing of earthly pleasures, her witness to faith, hope and charity, and of course – her joy!
Consecrated life is a life of joy! That is the message that the Rise of the Roses team have been spreading around Ireland this summer. Who could have imagined that these young women would be inspired by the Holy Spirit to travel the country celebrating religious life! And on their tour they have discovered it to be a life of love, happiness and joy. It is a vocation which makes a real difference to the drab, ‘throwaway culture’ that this world too often falsely promises our young people.
Ten weeks ago these young women appropriately began their tour at the Poor Clare’s Monastery near the birthplace of Saint Brigid in Faughart, Co Louth. Since then they have visited convents in every corner of Ireland, gathering fellow young people to listen to the sisters’ stories, share their hospitality and join them in praying the Rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Today the Rise of the Roses team finishes its tour here at the shrine of ‘the Golden Rose’ in Knock. On behalf of the Church in Ireland – and especially on behalf of our wonderful religious sisters, brothers and priests – I wish to thank you for reminding us of the joy and fulfilment that can be found in being consecrated to God, a people set apart.
I am also conscious today of all the young people in Ireland who received their Leaving Certificate or A-level results this week, and who are now making important choices for the future. I hope and pray that they will find joy, hope and fulfilment in whatever path God shows them in their life.
O God we thank you for calling each one of us to follow you more closely. We thank you especially for the witness of those among us who have chosen a vocation to the consecrated life.
Continue to inspire some of our sons and daughters to serve you as religious sisters, brothers or priests. Show us your plans for the renewal of faith in Ireland and give us all the grace we need to help wake up the world to your love.
Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland, Queen assumed into heaven:
We look forward with great hope to a new spring-time for the faith in Ireland.
Mary, Guiding Star: Help each of to find our true calling in life and to be wholly dedicated to God as you were, and are.
Continue to show us how to be a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the new song of love to our Lord.
Notes for Editors
The story of Knock began on the 21 August 1879 when Our Lady, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of Knock Parish Church. This miraculous apparition was witnessed by fifteen people, young and old. Knock is an internationally recognised Marian Shrine and was visited by Saint John Paul II as part of his 1979 papal pilgrimage to Ireland. During his visit, which coincided with the Shrine’s centenary year, the late pope celebrated Mass at the Shrine and addressed the sick, their helpers and pilgrimage directors. Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, is the custodian of the Marian Shrine and Father Richard Gibbons is parish priest of Knock and rector of the shrine. Please see: www.knockshrine.ie
Schedule for the National Novena to Our Lady of Knock
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