Homily of Bishop Fintan Monahan at the Youth 2000 Summer Festival in Roscrea

18 Aug 2017

  • Mass offered for the victims and families of the attacks in Barcelona

The Youth 2000 Summer Festival began yesterday, 17 August at the Cistercian College in Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and runs until Sunday.  More than 1,200 young people are attending and this year’s festival theme is: ‘Come Closer, Hear My Word’.

You are all so welcome again to the diocese of Killaloe for this annual Summer Youth Festival of Faith.  I hope it is a time of blessing, fun, celebration and deep enrichment of the faith of Jesus Christ you have been so fortunate to have been baptized into.

It was with great sadness, and with utter disbelief, that I heard the news of the attacks in Barcelona which have left 14 people dead. Families, and young people, spending their leisure time together, is a sacred space and one that produces life-long cherished memories.  This was a deliberate and violent attack on a peaceful setting where people were simply celebrating love and friendliness.  And God is love.  Today, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the people of Barcelona and Spain.  I offer this Mass for the victims and their families, and I ask all present to remember those affected in your prayers.

Retreat time in Roscrea
In coming here to Roscrea you take yourselves away from your ordinary routine and concerns to go on retreat and pray.  Here you rest a while from the wonderful but sometimes chaotic and very noisy world that we live in.  During these great few days you get a chance to explore anew your faith.  Here you get the opportunity to learn in a deeper way how to pray and enrich your spiritual lives.  Here in Roscrea on this retreat you do this in the company of friends, people your own age and hopefully will meet many good genuine, good living, faith filled, grace filled people and along with that make many new friends.

Youth 2000 – Roscrea
As you journey here in pilgrimage to Roscrea there is an important question – What do you really want to get out of it personally?  Saint Ignatius in his classic work The Spiritual Exercises, in teaching people how to pray always encouraged people before they pray to think seriously about what they wanted or needed in their time of prayer.  I encourage you at this early stage of the retreat to think on those lines and  hope these few days are one of fruitful discovery for you.

TS Eliot
You are probably familiar with the TS Eliot quotation: “We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”  That exploration is an exciting adventure and I hope it will lead you to even more exciting discoveries, namely the presence of God and the great and many treasures of our faith!

Summer Festivities
Summer is such a fantastic time of the year in which we enjoy what we hope would be the better weather.  The weather is such a topic for conversation in Ireland.  In July I was in the beautiful city of Saint Petersburg and like Ireland they tend to talk about the weather a lot of the time too.  The locals told us that they invariably have 9 months of anticipation of a good Summer and 3 months of disappointment!  Apart from our preoccupation with weather, summer in Ireland is good also for the many festivals, outdoor events and many celebrations of one type of another that we have at this time of the year.  In Ennis at present – Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireaann is in full swing with almost half a million people descending on the place over the past week.

Summer Festivals of Faith in the Church
Summer is also a great time for Church festivals, Pattern Days, trips to Holy Wells, Holy Islands, Ancient Ruins, Pilgrimages, Graveyard Masses and many other such religious events.  Just a few weeks ago over 7,000 pilgrims, no doubt many of yourselves included, headed to the Summit of Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo and attended the annual Reek Sunday Mass and went to Confession.  The following week there was an interesting traditional pilgrimage to Máméan in the Maamturk mountains in Connemara where pilgrims prayed the Stations of the Cross and celebrated Mass.  On that day we celebrated the glorious feast of the Transfiguration our belief in the revelation of the great glory of God on the mountain of Tabor.

This week we had the great feast of the Assumption, Mary of the Harvest, Lá fhéile Muire sa bhFómhar the belief that Our Lady went straight to the glory of God in heaven when her life on earth was over.  On that feast day a massive religious festival started in Knock with the annual Novena there, nine days in which up to 20,000 people gather each day to pray and celebrate their faith and pray especially to Mary, Mother of God and our mother too.

Richness of Tradition in Ireland
We are so privileged to be part of a tradition of faith in the Irish Catholic Church that gives us such richness and variety and depth in the many pathways we have towards God.

Feast of Our Lady of Knock
Yesterday all over Ireland we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Knock separate to the Novena itself.  Even though it was yesterday’s feast – I would just like to say one or two things in relation to the message of Knock that enriches and enlivens our faith.

The Apparition at Knock
The core of the apparition of Knock is the appearance of Our Lady, Saint Joseph and Saint John on the left hand side and a depiction of an Altar, the Lamb and Cross on the right hand side depicting the Eucharist or the Mass, the central and most sacred prayer or sacrifice of our faith.

The Silence of the Apparition
One of the many things that interests me about the apparition in Knock is that it was a silent apparition.  Apart from the volumes that the visual aspect of the apparition speaks to us – the fact that Our Lady said nothing, that it was a silent apparition paradoxically speaks volumes!

The Power of Silence
During the Summer one of the best books I read in a long time was a book entitled The Power of Silence – Against a dictatorship of Noise.  It’s an excellent book by an African Cardinal who is head of the section in the Vatican that deals with Prayer, Liturgy and Sacraments.  The main message of the book is that in the world we live in we are bombarded with noise of every type.  Much of that is good but there is so much of it that we rarely get time to draw a breath and reflect in silence…  According to the author Cardinal Sarah, for our wellbeing, spiritual and otherwise – we need many  periods of silence, calm and inner quiet and prayer in order to be able to recollect ourselves and to be able to enter into genuine communication with God in prayer.  The motto of the great Cardinal Newman was Cor ad Cor Loquitor – ‘Heart speaks to Heart’.  It is not so much in the wordiness of vocal prayer, good and all as it is, or in the beauty of a well prepared liturgy, but in the fruitful meditation, silence and contemplation that follows from that that we meet God face to face, heart to heart.  It is there that transfiguration happens, that fiesta, festival experience, the harvesting of a glimpse of the glory of the risen Christ becomes real.  Heart speaking unto heart!

Eckhart on Silence
To quote the great medieval mystic of the 13th century “There is nothing so much in this world that resembles God as silence”!  We recall the silent presence of the Mary in the apparition of Knock, that silence of contemplation called for in The Power of Silence, against a dictatorship of noise.

Saint Augustine
There is a famous passage from Saint Augustine in his Confession where he talks about his earlier life of looking for fulfilment everywhere outside of himself and in all sorts of externals and only late in life realised that true happiness was in the quietness of that sacred sanctuary within where there is a meeting place with God in silence.

Curé of Ars
You may have heard of the old man who was mighty at praying and the Curé of Ars, Saint John Vianney, the Patron of Parish Priests, asked him what do you do when you are deep in prayer – his response was simply “I look at him and He looks at me!”  Quiet, reflective Silence is the medium where this can best happen.

You may recall the first reading at Mass last Sunday – the prophet Elijah was looking for signs of God in many places.  In all sorts of extremes of weather events, including the earthquake.  However, the place he felt the real presence of God was not in dramatic weather events, but in a least expected gentle breeze.

Story of Salvation
There is the story about a young person who was caught up in a serious flood disaster.  The person in question was a person of faith and faithfully believed the words of Jesus that He would save him!  He was on the top of a hill and the level of the flood water was rapidly rising and he could not swim.  He had great faith in the power of Jesus to save him!

Out of nowhere a fancy yacht appeared and the captain of the boat asked him to step on board and he would be saved.  He declined, however telling him that Jesus assured him in the Holy Bible that He would save him.

Out of nowhere a submarine appeared and the captain of the submarine asked him to step on board and he would be saved.  He declined, however telling him that Jesus assured him in the Holy Bible that He would save him.

Out of nowhere a helicopter appeared and the captain of the helicopter asked him to step on board and he would be saved.  He declined, however telling him that Jesus assured him in the Holy Bible that He would save him.

Saint Peter … I sent you
The poor young man was drowned and went to heaven where he met Saint Peter.  He complained bitterly that he was guaranteed that Jesus would save him.  Saint Peter said to him – how come you didn’t avail of the help I sent you, a boat, a submarine and a helicopter to save you from the rising waters!!!

Seeing the wood for the trees
Often despite our best efforts we don’t see the wood for the trees.  Sometimes we search for fulfilment and happiness and the satisfaction of our deepest needs in all sorts of external pathways and avenues, not realising that the answer is often within.  It can often be in the calm of silence and waiting to tune ourselves into the presence of God that we can find fulfilment and in the words of the U2 song that we find “what we are looking for”.

Liturgy of the Word
In my initial plans for this homily I was going to reflect also on the “state of the nation address” of Joshua in today’s first reading who was just trying to find his feet as the new leader in the aftermath of the death of Moses.  I was inclined also to reflect on the account from Saint Matthew of the challenge of being faithful to the Vocation of Marriage, the Vocation to Single Life and the Vocation to Celibacy but I felt, due to time constraints and due to the fact that you have keynote speakers on this theme – that I had enough in the rich theme of prayerful silence that emerges from yesterday’s feast, Our Lady of Knock.

You might ask yourself after ten minutes of listening to me what did I talk about?!  The answer to that is straight forward.  I spoke about nothing!  Nothing in the form of the silence, emptiness, the void – that space that we make available to enter into communication with God in prayer.  For someone experienced in the art of prayer you will get to know that this silence is a ‘nothing’ that is very rich and full of meaning.  Having a taste and experience of what is in that time of quality silence will be the springboard for a fantastic life of action and activity, enthused by the presence of God.

The poet William Butler  Yeats puts it like this:

“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.”

May that quality of “fierceness” that is poured into your hearts by the presence of God through the sacraments and silent prayer be sharpened and honed by the skills you learn here on this retreat in Roscrea so that you, outstanding young people, might continue to be Salt to the Earth and Light to the World in the wonderful people that you are in the great lives that you live and are going to live… for the greater glory of God!  Amen.


  • Bishop Fintan Monahan is Bishop of Killaloe.  This Mass was celebrated today at 12.15pm today, in the Cistercian College, Roscrea, Co Tipperary in the Diocese of Killaloe.  See youth2000.ie.

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