Homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin at the annual Padre Pio pilgrimage to the National Marian Shrine of Knock

20 Sep 2015

Mother of Sorrows – Mother of Mercy

On Monday last while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with other European bishops, I knelt to touch the very spot where Jesus was crucified. Our visit to the shrine of Golgotha was all the more special because we were there on both the Feast of the Holy Cross and the Feast of Mary, Mother of Sorrows. At Golgotha I could not help thinking of our Blessed Mother standing at the foot of the Cross.

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina had a great devotion to Our Lady, as Mother of Sorrows. He once wrote: “The Mother of Sorrows is my confidante, my teacher, my counsellor, and my powerful advocate”.

Apparently when people came to him in Confession he often asked them as a ‘penance’ to recite seven Hail Mary’s while reflecting on the so-called seven ‘dolors’ , or ‘sorrows’ of Mary. My Granny used to pray the seven sorrows on her ‘dolor’ beads: first, the prophecy of holy Simeon; second the flight into Egypt; third, the loss of the child Jesus for three days at Jerusalem; fourth, Mary meets her Son on the way to Calvary; fifth, Mary stands beneath the Cross; sixth, Mary receives the dead body of Jesus taken down from the Cross; seventh, Mary arranges the body of Jesus in the tomb with her own hands.

No wonder Padre Pio felt such empathy with the seven sorrows of the ‘Mater Dolorosa’, for he too experienced, in a mystical way, the Passion of the Crucified Christ. His sorrows mirrored the sorrows of Mary, and this is why we can so readily turn to him and of course to our Blessed Mother when we experience suffering, anxiety, loneliness or any of life’s daily trials. Padre Pio wrote: “Our Lord sometimes makes you feel the weight of the Cross. This weight seems unbearable but you carry it because in His love and mercy, the Lord helps you and gives you strength”.

This week I have been reflecting on seven modern-day ‘dolors’ or ‘sorrows’:

First, the abortion of millions of innocent unborn children in the world, and how this seems to be taken so much for granted, even though every human life is precious.

Second, neglect of the earth – ‘our common home’ – as Pope Francis called it in his recently published and compelling encyclical, Laudato Si. That so many people on this planet suffer poverty, are exploited and starved of the world’s resources, calls each of us to conversion, to make some sacrifices and never to waste or take for granted what we have.

My third example of a modern-day ‘dolor’, or sorrow, is the displacement of people as refugees through war and persecution. Sadly, it is one that we have become shockingly aware of in recent months. Let us commit ourselves and our parishes to embrace refugees and migrants to Ireland with open arms and Christian charity.

Human trafficking is my fourth modern-day sorrow. Millions of people – particularly women and children – are trafficked like slaves around the world each year and exploited for cheap labour and prostitution including, sadly, even here in Ireland. We must act and be ever vigilant to prevent human trafficking.

Fifth, I mention the sorrow of addiction which sadly affects too many of our people – be it addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling or, increasingly nowadays, addiction on the Internet, for example to gaming or pornography. All kinds of addiction disrupt relationships and drain the joy out of daily life. Pray for addicts and support recovery programmes.

My sixth sorrow is the quest in many countries to pass legislation that will allow assisted suicide or euthanasia. I think our energies should be directed towards quality hospice care so that the elderly are never made feel a burden and terminally ill patients, and so that their families are always entitled to the best of dignified support in their final days.

Finally, as a seventh ‘dolor’ of the modern world, I choose ‘indifference’ which, in many ways, ‘indifference’ links the other ‘sorrows’ together. It is that “I don’t really care?” attitude which sadly is more and more common today – indifference to the problems of the world, to the sins against the sacredness of human life, to modern forms of enslavement, to the waste of the earth’s resources, to the plight of the poor and the suffering. Indifference turns us more and more in on ourselves. It makes us more selfish and demanding, so conscious of our individual rights and personal autonomy, that we don’t really care about our responsibilities to others, especially the weakest and most vulnerable. Indifference says, “it’s my money, my land, my relationship, it’s my body, it’s my life and I shall do what I want with it.” I think the root of indifference is not wanting Jesus into your life in any meaningful way which would make a difference to how you live or what you do.

The reality of these immense modern day ‘dolors’ or sorrows, presents Christians today with great challenges, but also with a huge responsibility and mission to encourage real friendships with Jesus that will make the world a better place. In face of these modern day sorrows there is sometimes a temptation among believers to react in a judgemental way to those who have fallen, rather than showing mercy and compassion.

Today’s scripture readings illustrate the conflict that is often involved in following Christ. The writer of the Book of Wisdom speaks of the opposition that goodness encounters as it attempts to flourish. The Letter of Saint James notes the need for wisdom from above in order to discern true good and evil. In the Gospel the disciples of Jesus are shown fighting among themselves and misunderstanding the reason for Christ’s forthcoming Passion, death and Resurrection.

Pope Francis offers us a key to unlock the indifference to the Gospel that is at the root of so much suffering and sorrow in the world. The Holy Father has proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy, beginning on 8 December next, as a call to re-position mercy at the centre of what we’re about. He says, “Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus 12). Pope Francis does not see mercy, as some people might, as a sign of weakness. Rather, he describes it as a strength or a “force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope (Misericordiae Vultus 10).”

Padre Pio epitomised the mercy which the Pope is talking about. His commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience as a Capuchin, his acceptance of ecclesiastical discipline, his suffering, his hours spent hearing confession, his construction of a hospital to alleviate illness, his intense prayer – all of these things are indicators of someone who had mercy burning within him. He was a lamp of God’s mercy.

Padre Pio calls us to be merciful after the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary. No wonder he himself turned to Mary so often as the ‘Mother of Sorrows’ and the ‘Mother of Mercy’. After all, at the foot of the Cross Mary witnessed the supreme expression of forgiveness when Jesus was merciful even towards those who crucified Him. For that reason we can be sure that just as Mary carried the bitter sword of the seven dolors so patiently and lovingly, so also she carries the sorrows of the modern world to the merciful heart of Jesus. Misericordiae Vultus movingly puts it: “Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception.” That is why we say in the Salve Regina, “turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile in this valley of tears, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.

Saint Pio pray for us. Amen.


· Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
· The National Eucharistic Congress 2015, with the theme “Christ Our Hope”, takes place in Knock over next weekend 26 – 27 September. The Congress will serve as a spiritual preparation for the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu next January, and as an opportunity to focus, in the light of our Eucharistic communion, on some of the important pastoral questions in the life of the Church at the present time. See www.nec2015.ie.
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

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