Homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin at Mass for the Catechism of the Catholic Church Adult Studies pilgrimage

29 Jun 2019

“The encounters between Peter and Paul – and even at times their disagreements – point us to the essential need to be open to the grace of God, and to the deepening of faith through dialogue with a changing culture” – Archbishop Eamon Martin


Today a pilgrimage, organised by the steering committee of Catechism of the Catholic Church Adult Studies, is taking place at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Co Mayo.  The centrepiece of the pilgrimage, entitled Learning and Living our Catholic Faith, will be the celebration of Mass by Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, the preacher for which will be Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh.  His Excellency Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, will also address the congregation.  Please see Archbishop Martin’s homily below:


Dear brothers and sisters, on this day four years ago I travelled to Rome to receive the Pallium from Pope Francis.  The white woollen pallium is worn by an archbishop over his shoulders to symbolise the pastoral mission entrusted to him and also as a sign of the communion which unites him, and all the bishops of the world to the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter.

I still remember the message which Pope Francis gave to us new archbishops that day in Saint Peter’s Basilica.  He called on us new archbishops to be – like Saint Peter and Saint Paul – people of prayer, people of faith and people of witness.  He said, “Teach prayer by praying, announce the faith by believing; offer witness by living!”  I think that this call of Pope Francis is very fitting for all of us gathered here in Knock today, and especially for you, pilgrims from the ‘adult studies of the catechism’.  Together – inspired by Saints Peter and Paul – let us hear the call of today’s feast: a call to prayer; a call to faith; a call to witness.

The early Christian community was certainly a community of prayer – we see it in today’s First Reading.  “All the time Peter was under guard, the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly”.  Similarly we are called to be people of “unremitting” prayer – to pray at all times in thanksgiving, adoration and praise, petition, contrition and intercession.  TheCatechism of the Catholic Church describes prayer (2558ff) as “the raising of our heart and mind to God” and it quotes that beautiful saying of Saint Therese of Lisieux: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy”.

As well as being people of prayer, we are also called to be people of faith believing, as Saint Paul says to Timothy, that the Lord stands by us and gives us the strength that we need to proclaim His word fully; the Lord will rescue us from all evil.  Our studies of the catechism teaches us to be true to the deposit of faith, and also to become masters and teachers of the faith ourselves, who, by the holiness of our lives, can inspire others not to be afraid of anyone who might insult or persecute us for believing in Christ.

That leads us to the call to witness.  Saints Peter and Paul witnessed by shedding their blood for Christ – something which sadly continues today in many parts of the world today – as we heard recently from Sri Lanka and Burkina Faso.  Next week, in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh, I will unveil a new sculpture of Saint Oliver Plunkett, Bishop and Martyr, remembering not only how my saintly predecessor gave his life for the faith, but also honouring all the martyrs and Christian witnesses of ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’.

I think of Saint Paul’s moving words to Timothy: “My son, I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim 4: 6-8).

The Risen Lord says to all of us: “You too will be my witnesses”.  He calls us to demonstrate by our behaviour and lifestyle that He is Alive – Christ is truly alive in the world today!

Friends, as we answer the call to prayer, faith and witness, the two great saints, Peter and Paul, offer us differing perspectives on how to do so.  The Preface of today’s Feast sums up their “twofold mission”:

“Peter, foremost in confessing the faith,
Paul, its outstanding preacher,
Peter, who established the early Church from the remnant of Israel,
Paul, master and teacher of the Gentiles…
each in a different way
gathered together the one family of Christ;
and revered together throughout the world,
they share one Martyr’s crown.”

Peter and Paul therefore offer differing nuances to our studies of the Catechism. 

Looking to Saint Peter naturally points us to the importance of doctrine, institutional order, leadership and unity in the faith.  Looking to Saint Paul reminds us of mission, and of the variety of charismatic gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to sustain the handing-on of the faith.  The encounters between Peter and Paul – and even at times their disagreements – point us to the essential need to be open to the grace of God, and to the deepening of faith through dialogue with a changing culture.  In this way our faith can always remain alive and our witness able to engender hope in new times and new places.

The Petrine and Pauline dimensions or principles of mission in the Church are not at odds with each other.  They complement and balance one another.  From the earliest times Peter and Paul are shown to the right and left of Christ in Christian iconography; medieval paintings show the two of them embracing in a fraternal demonstration of prayer, faith and witness.

Together Peter and Paul remind us that to study the Catechism – even to expert level – is worthless if the Holy Spirit is not at work in us, impelling us to prayer, faith and witness.  Otherwise we end up with lots of dry content clogging up our mind, tempting us to pride and arrogance over others.  That is why I like the title of your pilgrimage to Knock today, ‘Learning and Living our Catholic Faith’.

Remember Saint Peter’s great “confession of the faith” at Caesarea Philippi, came about by the grace of God.  Jesus observed it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, Peter, but “my Father who is in heaven”.  Despite Peter’s clumsiness and denials, God moved him through the Spirit to be the one who would be the rock, who would hold the keys, who would bind and loose, and who would confirm his brothers.  Peter and Paul remind us that prayer, faith and witness are not the fruits of our own endeavours, but the effects of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at work in our minds and hearts, finding expression on our lips and pouring forth in our daily actions.

In his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel, 164) – as if to balance the Petrine and Pauline principles, and in particular the twin calls to kerygma (proclamation) and teaching – Pope Francis emphasises that, “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’”

The Holy Father continues (EG, 165): “We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more ‘solid’ formation.  Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation”.  (Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you).

Let me conclude by remembering a memorable homily which Archbishop Michael Neary delivered during our Ad Limina visit of the Irish bishops to Pope Francis two years ago.  The homily was preached in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.  Archbishop Michael spoke about the Petrine and Pauline principles in the Church as explained by the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.  But what stuck in my memory that day, Archbishop Michael, was the way you showed how the Marian principle – which especially emphasises the feminine nature of the Church – precedes both that of the Petrine and the Pauline.

“Von Balthasar”, you told us, “insists that the Church exists in a woman before any man was called to be an apostle.  In Mary, the Church had already physical existence before it was organised in Peter.  So Mary has primacy in a way that no Pope, Primate or Prelate could ever have.”

With that in mind, on the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, here in Ireland’s Marian basilica at Knock, I ask the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Queen of Ireland and Seat of Wisdom, for all of us gathered here and especially for all those who are engaged in promoting the adult studies of the Catechism in our parishes and dioceses.  May we, like Mary, Peter and Paul, answer generously the call to prayer, to faith and to witness and so offer to the people of Ireland a reason for living; a reason for hoping.  Amen.                                      ENDS

Notes for Editors

  • Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore and Primate of All Ireland.
  • Families have been invited to picnic as part of today’s pilgrimage.  The Cobh Cathedral Choirs Adult & Children will perform at today’s Mass under the direction of Dominic Finn.  During the course of the day workshops will take place on the Catechism of the Catholic Church including an introduction to YouCat and YouCat for Kids.  Young people attending have been encouraged to prepare a project on the Story of Knock.  Before the celebration of Mass in the Basilica at 3.00pm, the Rosary will be prayed, the congregation will pray the Stations of the Cross and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick will be ministered.
  • 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 Pope John Paul II in 1979 and by Pope Francis in 2018, as part of the celebration for the IX World Meeting of Families in Ireland.  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 for more information.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678