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Bishop Martin Hayes was the principal celebrant and homilist at Mass offered in the Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, on Sunday 20 June 2021, during the annual Kilmore and Dromore Diocesan Pilgrimages to Knock Shrine.

The following is the text of his homily:

Our Gospel describes a stormy scene, unsettling, frightening, and overwhelming for the disciples in the boat.  Jesus had asked them to ‘take leave of the crowds’ and take the risk of ‘going to the other side’ of the Sea of Galilee.   We hear how the disciples became alarmed when the storm blew up as ‘the waves were breaking into the boat’ and so they felt vulnerable.  Jesus was asleep.  He woke to bring calm to the storm and then He had questions for the disciples about why they were so frightened and how they had no faith.

The storm scene of the Gospel could be a description for what we have been experiencing over the past 18 months with Covid-19 pandemic.  We have been enduring a certain frustration with our changed and changing circumstances; working from home, out of work, out of school for long periods, not being able to gather socially, visit family, friends, the sick, offer support to the bereaved, celebrate weddings, play sport or to pray and participate fully in the Eucharist.  It has been tough with some people being really pushed to despair.  Using phrases from our Gospel, we have been ‘taken away from the crowds’, we have missed the interaction with people, been ‘taken out to sea in a storm’, onto ‘the other side’ as it were. We are still suffering the effects of being isolated from each other, from family and friends.

One of those biblical figures who was really tested by suffering was Job.  When all that he had was taken from him – family, possessions, his livelihood – he had some fundamental questions of God like ‘where are you in all that I have been through?  Why do good people suffer?   We have had the same questions in our coping with being in this pandemic.  I mention Job, his sufferings, his questions, as in our first reading, we have the response of the Lord to the questions of Job in his time of turmoil, to which I will return later as I want to refer to another storm;

There was a storm of unrest in the Ireland of 1879 – as was the reality of life in this part of Ireland – it was the second year of a mini-famine (1878–1880) which had its greatest impact in the West of Ireland where the potato crop was greatly reduced again, and the peat and cereal crops were too wet to harvest.  It was a time of many “monster meetings” of tenant farmers, an ongoing Land War and the Land League of Mayo was founded leading to a national movement.  They were troubled times and then on 21 August 1879, a dark wet evening – it was pouring rain – the apparition at Knock, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist and uniquely, a representation of the Eucharist as the risen Lord, took place.

Mary is the central figure with arms outstretched in a gesture of prayer.  As Pope Francis stated when Knock receiving its status as an International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine, “the arms of the Virgin, out-stretched in prayer, continue to show us the importance of prayer as the message of hope which goes out from this Shrine.”[1].

St Joseph appeared, as he was in life, alongside Mary.  As this is Year of St. Joseph, I would like to reflect further upon his vocation in life.  Pope Francis states that while we do not hear a single word of St. Joseph in the Gospels, yet “Still, through his ordinary life, he accomplished something extraordinary in the eyes of God.”[2]  He was open to what God wanted of him, recognized God’s voice in dreams and changed his plans to ensure the safety of the Infant Jesus.  St. Joseph lived a life of service for others, not for himself.  He acted with ‘quiet perseverance’ throughout the hidden life of Jesus with Mary in Nazareth and so he displayed his fidelity with a quiet ‘yes’.  While we do not hear from St. Joseph in the Gospels, we do catch a sense of his joy – ‘the joy experienced daily by those who care for what truly matters’[3]We pray that in reflecting upon this time of pandemic now, we may come to a sense of ‘what truly matters’ and be sustained by that joy of St. Joseph.

St John the Evangelist appeared highlighting the Word of God, the scriptures, encouraging us, again silently, to reflect upon the relevance of the Word of God in our world today.  We are being invited to integrate the Word of God into our experience of life. 

The Apparition of the Eucharistic is represented by the Lamb, the altar and the Cross surrounded by the angels hence Knock is a Eucharistic as well as a Marian Shrine.  Pope Francis in his message of 19th March this year, speaks of Knock as the International Sanctuary of Special Eucharistic and Marian Devotion.[4]

The Apparition was a light during a time of darkness for the people of that time, the 15 witnesses speak of the bright light and the silence.  Pope Francis calls attention to the figure of Mary who in a gesture of silent prayer calls us to prayer.  Pope Francis says “… her silence is a language; indeed, .. the most expressive language we have.”[5]

As we reflect upon the pandemic of the past year and a half, we have questions, as people had in 1879 Ireland, like those of Job and we hear that the Lord responds (first reading), not with answers but with questions to Job like ‘who is obscuring my design? where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?’ – asked in the verses of scripture prior to that of our first reading and then, we hear today, the question beginning with the phrase, “who pent up the sea?”.  On reflection, the response of the Lord reveals to Job and to us that we cannot know everything, we are left silenced to reflect upon our place in God’s plans.

As Jesus brought calm to the storm described in our Gospel so the Apparition brought calm to the people of 1879 Ireland and continues to do so for our world now.  Perhaps, we have found our calm within chaos of the pandemic, from the storm of what was our rushing around; in nature, in time at home, in time for prayer, in taking time out from what was the frantic pace of life before the pandemic.  Today, we meet Jesus who calmed the storm.  We recall that it was He, out of love for us, who entered into our human frailty, who is with us in our struggling with this pandemic today. 

Therefore, we have St Paul in our second reading assuring us that “The love of Christ overwhelms us…”  He states that because of that love of Jesus Christ for us and in us, there is the hope that “for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation is gone, and now the new one is here.”  It means that something new can happen.  There is no going back to ‘normal’.  Pope Francis invites us to look to the Eucharist; as indicated by the Lamb, the altar, and the Cross of the Apparition, i.e., to being “aided and supported by the love of Jesus who offered himself for all of us as the Lamb sacrificed for the salvation of humanity[6].  Jesus gave of Himself to sustain us through all times.

Finally, we are being called to continue on our way over to ‘the other side’ – yes, we would want everything to return to what we have known, the ‘normal’.  However, in crossing over these troubled waters to what we do not exactly know, we are being called to trust in Jesus, Mary and Joseph, John the Evangelist, in their keeping vigil with us silently, offering guidance by way of prayer and their silent presence. 

I speak of the peace and calm afforded by a pilgrimage to Knock, albeit online as you join us this afternoon from Kilmore and Dromore.  It is the invitation and the welcome once you arrive in-person or online; you can place your worries and concerns here.  As pilgrims we can pray for ourselves, place our petitions, for others and for each other here.  We give thanks for Knock as the place and as the connection online trusting in the Good Lord who brings calm amid the storms of life, in St. Joseph, in St. John the Evangelist, and in Our Lady of Knock who intercedes for us always.

[1] Message of His Holiness, Pope Francis for the declaration of Knock as an International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine, 19 March 2021.
[2] Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 2021 World Day of Vocations, Saint Joseph: The Dream of Vocation, 25 April 2021.
[3] ibid
[4] Message of His Holiness, Pope Francis for the declaration of Knock as an International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine, 19 March 2021.
[5] ibid.
[6] ibid

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Fr. Seán Maguire, PP Corlough-Templeport and Director of the Annual Diocesan Knock Pilgrimage; Bishop Martin Hayes; and Fr. Richard Gibbons, Rector of Knock Shrine