Knock, Saturday 27th June 2015
It is hard to believe that this, Our Lady’s Basilica will be forty years old next year. Seeing it renewed makes this year’s Pilgrimage special. I find it also very emotional. I have childhood memories of my mother coming here often in the Summer months for the night vigils: and of I myself coming here on pilgrimage as a teenager or a seminarian, often travelling with a priest from my parish, St Peter’s, Athlone, – those priests are all deceased now. In my earliest years Mass was in the open, this Basilica was not yet built. Thank God for all the people who have gathered to pray, to celebrate the Eucharist, to worship and praise and thank God, in this Basilica over the past thirty nine years. A wonderful place of faith and worship.
Well done to Fr Richard and his whole team here at Knock. Their plans are entitled ‘WITNESS TO HOPE, A VISION FOR KNOCK’. They speak of Knock becoming, ‘a centre for re-evangelising, equipping a new generation to transform their homes, workplaces and parishes for Christ’. The whole Church prays for its success. Alongside the reopening of Longford Cathedral, the renewal here at Knock is a call to all in the Church in Ireland to have fresh confidence and hope, – hope in Christ, and his Presence, and his teaching; hope in the Word of God, ‘the Good News of the Gospel’.
Welcome to all branches and members of St Joseph’s Young Priests Society. Thank God and thank you for your work: promoting vocations to the Priesthood; praying for vocations; and giving practical help to our seminarians. In our prayers today let us remember deceased members and also any who are too unwell to travel to be with us today. The Story of your founder, Olivia Mary Taaffe (1832-1918) is truly inspiring. It is a story that is worthy of being wide known and widely told. A lady with a lot of tragedy and heartbreak in her life. Times were not easy when she founded the Society one hundred and twenty years ago this year. The years before she founded the Society, her husband and twenty two year old son, her only child, died. Those were very difficult times too for the people of Ireland.
It is good today to call to mind and to honour all our students for the priesthood. In all there are almost 100 students studying for the dioceses of Ireland. Following the call to priesthood is not one that is encouraged or appreciated by many of their peers today. Is it true that society in general today does not value highly faith, religion, or Church? Lifelong celibate priesthood is neither understood nor valued.
However it is also true that young people are brave and courageous and ready to set forth in the world. The fact that a calling might be neither easy nor popular has never stopped a young person following their dream. Our young people will not be found wanting as regards the needs of society, or of our country or of our Church. Continue to thank God for and pray for all our seminarians and for all the young men that God is calling to serve him as priests.
Pray too for our priests. Since becoming bishop of Kerry just two years ago, I have become more and more conscious of the great servants and shepherds our priests are. So many of them work until seventy five and older, way beyond the age that workers normally retire at. Many retired priests continue to help out in nearby parishes.
In many parishes where formally there were three priests, now there is just one. One of the hardest things that I and other bishops have to do is leave a parish without a resident priest. There is great sadness seeing a parochial house left unoccupied. I know the profound loss it is for a rural community to no longer have a priest living among them. Such a situation generally involves asking the three or four neighbouring parish priests to, as a team, give a full service to that parish as well. It all has required major, major changes to the work of each priest. What other worker has had to cope with such change? As bishop I see how well priests are adapting. Encourage and reassure your priests, realise the demands and challenges they face.
I see too how well to our lay people, in every parish, are responding. They are sharing with their priests more and more responsibility: for administering the parish; for handing on and keeping strong the faith; they are fully involved in the preparation of Sunday Mass and all the other liturgies and sacramental celebrations. The challenge to all the dioceses of Ireland is to have the fullness of life in every parish in a situation of having less and less priests.
People are rising to the challenge motivated by their faith and their awareness of their call through their Baptism and Confirmation. These are changing and challenging times for all Christian people. In every parish in Ireland we have the people and the faith and the talents to come through strong. The motto of the Shrine here at Knock is surely appropriate: “Witness to hope”.
How appropriate for our Society Pilgrimage here at Knock Shrine that our Gospel today focuses on both Mary and St Joseph. The heart of our faith is the tremendous mystery that Mary and St Joseph are coming to terms with. “She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus… He is the one who is to save his people from their sins … She has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.”
This is the ultimate mystery that we can just barely begin to understand. What a mystery for Mary and St Joseph to take in. – All that we mean by God: the creator of all that exists; the source of all life; the one in whom we live and move and have our being; the Almighty, the All Powerful; He, God is coming into the world through Mary. God the Father is sending His Son, God is visiting his people. And he is not just passing through, he has come to stay. “Know that I am with you always, until the end of time”, (the final words of St Matthews’s Gospel).
Gathered at Knock let us sense how through her whole life time Mary came to appreciate this mystery, and let us pray to her that we might have her faith. In the Apparition here in Knock in 1879, Mary was seen alongside an altar on which is the Lamb of God. Jesus to whom she gave birth and the Lamb of God are one. And the Lamb of God is with us today on the altar as we ‘do this in memory of me’. Be in awe of what we now do. Have the faith of Mary in her Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis in his homily at his inauguration Mass in March 2013 spoke of the last line of today’s Gospel, “Joseph did what the angel of the Lord told him to and took Mary as his wife”. Pope Francis spoke beautifully of St Joseph as protector, ( I quote) : “these words already point to the mission which God entrusted to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “just as St Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model”.
It is a beautiful image, the vocation of St Joseph: guarding, providing for, protecting Jesus and his mother in the home of Nazareth; St Joseph for all ages protector of Christ in the world, protector of Christ in the Church. May St Joseph protect St Joseph’s Young Priests Society that is under his patronage. May he protect all its members and their work for the Society. Especially may he be the protector of all our priests, all our seminarians and all whom God is calling to the vocation of the ministerial priesthood.
Bishop Ray Browne 27th June 2015.