Homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin for Mass celebrating the centenary of the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal

09 Jul 2017

Basilica of Our Lady of Knock, Co Mayo in the Archdiocese of Tuam

· In her apparitions Mary not only calls us to personal conversion, but she also alerts us to be concerned for the conversion of sinners and for the salvation of the whole world … The message of Fatima, Knock and Lourdes is a hope-filled and challenging gift to the faithful – to offer up our prayers, works and sufferings to Jesus, through Mary, in a magnanimous and powerful act of charity for the reparation of sin – Archbishop Martin

Members of the World Apostolate of Fatima will attend this Mass which will be celebrated by its national patron for Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin. Today’s Mass will be concelebrated by Father Richard Gibbons PP of Knock, bishops and other clergy. Cardinal Seán Brady will preside at the Mass. Professor Américo Pablo López Ortiz, President of the World Apostolate of Fatima International, will also be in attendance.

Not far from Knock, at the Museum of Country life in Castlebar, you will see all kinds of implements and contraptions that were used on the traditional farm years ago, including yokes for hauling and ploughing.

In these days of modern tractors and powerful combine harvesters, it is hard to picture precisely what Jesus meant when He said: ‘shoulder my yoke – Come to me all you who are heavily burdened’. But the people of his time knew exactly what Jesus was getting at, for they would often have yoked together a pair of oxen to till the ground or drag a heavy load, by stretching a wooden beam across the animals’ shoulders so that they shared the burden equally.

No doubt being yoked together was tough for the animals, especially if one of them stubbornly resisted the bar and did not take its share of the load. It is strange then that Jesus said, ‘when you are overburdened, shoulder my yoke and you will find rest for your souls’. Clearly Jesus is willing and offering to do much more than his fair share of the carrying. He intends to make all the sacrifice.

On Calvary He did just that. He took the whole weight of our sins and troubles on His shoulders. He accepted a heavy cross for our salvation; ours were the sorrows He carried, ours the sufferings He bore; He was broken, weighed down for our sins, humbled, even to death, in order to free us from another yoke – the yoke of our slavery to sin and to death.

‘Come to me, shoulder my yoke, and you will find rest for your souls’.

Pilgrims to Knock, Fatima and to Lourdes often speak of finding in these special places an inner peace and the courage to face the ongoing trials that come their way – be it sickness, bereavement, worries or troubles, relationship problems, addictions or some other difficulty that’s been weighing them down. Miraculously, some speak of actual cures in body, mind or spirit. Others speak of discovering meaning in their suffering, of learning to accept their crosses and burdens, and of becoming much more conscious of the crosses and burdens that others have to carry.

At Fatima, Mary invited the children Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, to participate in the redemptive suffering of Christ.

“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?”

And again she said: “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifice: ‘O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary'”.

This idea that we can all participate in the work of salvation by accepting a share of the yoke of suffering on our shoulders, and by uniting our sacrifices and sufferings with those of Christ, is such an important feature of Mary’s apparitions, but one that is perhaps most neglected.

At Lourdes, Mary invited Bernadette to pray and do penance for sinners. Her apparition here at Knock pointed to the Lamb of God who offered his whole life and love to take away the sins of the world. In her apparitions Mary not only calls us to personal conversion, but she also alerts us to be concerned for the conversion of sinners and for the salvation of the whole world.

When I was a child, every morning before we went out to school, my mother prayed with us the morning offering: “O Jesus through the most pure hands of Mary, I beg to offer you all the prayers, works and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of thy Sacred Heart”.

I was too young at the time to realise that my mother was teaching me to shoulder the burdens of everyday, to offer up to Jesus, through Mary, everything that happens me each day – including the pains and disappointments that might come my way.

Much later in life I came across the Morning Offering of one of my favourite saints: Therese of Lisieux. She used to pray:
“Lord Jesus, I unite myself to Your perpetual, unceasing, universal Sacrifice. I offer myself to You every day of my life and every moment of every day, according to Your most holy and adorable Will. Since You have been the Victim of my salvation, I wish to be the victim of Your love. Accept my desire, take my offering, and graciously hear my prayer. Let me live for love of You; let me die for love of You; let my last heartbeat be an act of perfect love”.

The idea of “offering up”, especially when we face difficulties or sufferings, is something that is deep down in the Catholic spiritual tradition, but in more recent years, you don’t hear it talked about as much.

We are gently invited to take up our cross, to ‘offer up’ our pains, our failures and disappointments, all those daily ‘let-downs’ and annoyances that can be so frustrating if you let them ‘get in’ at you and ‘eat you up’, but when you let go of them and unite them with Christ’s suffering – it can be liberating and uplifting.

The Morning Offering encourages us to make our whole day, our whole life, even, ‘a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God’ (Romans 12: 1).” In doing so we are ‘shouldering the yoke’ with Jesus, we are joining all our sacrifices and crosses with the suffering of our Lord.

Just before the Eucharistic prayer at Mass, the priest says, “Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours will be acceptable to God the Almighty Father”.

These words remind us that the Church, which is the Body of Christ, participates in the sacrifice of Christ. The catechism explains it: “In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering (CCC1368)”.

These words remind me of Saint Paul’s words to the Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church (Col 1:24)”.

My brothers and sisters, the message of Fatima, Knock and Lourdes is a hope-filled and challenging gift to the faithful – to offer up our prayers, works and sufferings to Jesus, through Mary, in a magnanimous and powerful act of charity for the reparation of sin. As we celebrate here at Ireland’s national Marian shrine, the centenary of the apparitions at Fatima, let us bring to mind all those who suffer – here in Ireland and across the world – from illness, pain, bereavement, loneliness, rejection, isolation, exploitation, oppression, anxiety or despair. We think of the ways in which we too may be faced with difficult burdens or heavy crosses in our own lives. We reflect on the sins of the world, including pride and anger, greed, selfishness, disrespect for life and sins and crimes against nature and the dignity of the human person. We remember and make present here in the Sacrifice of the Mass, the suffering and death of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And once gain we contemplate His loving invitation: ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke, learn from me, and you will find rest for your souls’.

Our Lady of Lourdes; Fatima; Knock; pray for us.


· Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

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