Bishop Ray Ballyheigue Grotto Mass

Homily notes Ballyheigue Grotto Mass 8 September 2018


I have just returned from our diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. This is the pattern each year in advance of the Ballyheigue Grotto Mass. What always strikes me about Lourdes is the fondness of people everywhere for Our Lady. Wherever you go, the sick and the elderly speak from the heart, saying: ‘Our Lady helps me’, and ‘I have great devotion to Mary’.

In Lourdes, in the centre of the vast processional plaza there is a statue of Our Lady, referred to as the statue of the ‘Crowned Virgin’. It is at a point where everyone passes, surrounded by a circular, railed-in garden, possibly 25 metres across, and full of rose bushes, all simple white roses, a beautiful sight. Most beautiful of all, you slowly notice a great number of single roses and some bunches of roses fixed to the top of the railings. Each has been placed by a particular person, family or group. As the day passes, you notice more and more roses.  People stand around to ponder and to pray. What sentiment and what petition does each rose represent? What nation does the person come from?

‘Love of Our Lady’ belongs to every generation, and every nation, and every age group. Gathered here we are part of that. Today we say ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mary. We have two birthdays for her: today, the 8th September, the day she was born and we also have August 15th, the Assumption, the day she entered heaven.  With saints we often speak of them on the day of their death as ‘born into eternal life’.

I sum up the message of Lourdes as Mary proclaiming, “those who are ill, disabled, deeply troubled, they really matter to God”. God has a special care for them. God wants that we give them all the help, care and love that we can. As we begin our Mass let us pause to call to mind and entrust to God all the intentions we bring with us this day.


Where were you this day two weeks ago? Do you recall straight away? Think of Brother Kevin and his caring for the poor, think of hundreds of newly married couples gather in Dublin’s Pro-cathedral, think of the festival night in Croke Park or the first day of the visit of Pope Francis! An elderly person said to me that she was so glued to the T.V. that she didn’t have a proper dinner!

It was a major memorable event. An event such as that we should talk about and reflect on for some days, even some weeks. What did you take from it? What one message did you take? Perhaps it was about parish life, about your own faith and or how you live your own life? I encourage you to form your own judgements.  Do not let any commentator tell you what to think!  Inspired by Brother Kevin, could I take more pride in helping the poor? Thank God for the work of St Vincent de Paul in our parishes. Pope Francis spent an hour with the ‘newly weds’.  What of marriage in Ireland today? I personally am greatly concerned that in recent years many, many couples have chosen not to marry in church. Marriage is a sacrament.  God is present in the marriage of a couple. Marriage is the most important decision most individuals make. It is a life-long commitment.  Who knows how their married life will unfold. It is so appropriate to humbly receive God’s blessing. Please encourage couples to celebrate the sacrament and to marry in church.

The visit of Pope Francis, what message has it for you and what meaning has it in your life? Ponder these two quotes from Pope Francis, from ‘The Joy of Love’.

Paragraph 31: “The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and that of the Church”.

  • God made us for family.
  • Family is where every child comes to discover what it is to be human.
  • Family is the great source of love in the world.

Pope Francis and the WMOF 2018 challenge us:

  • to always give 100% in our homes, families and extended families
  • to always work for a society and a world in which every person has the possibility of a stable, happy family life and home, throughout childhood, adult life and old age.

Family deserves our best. The second quote is from Paragraph 287:

“Handing on the faith presumes that parents themselves genuinely trust God, seek him, and sense their need of him.”

Three phrases full of meaning: to trust, to seek, and to sense your need of God. As families and as a parish community of families, it is a major challenge presented to all of us today, that is, to ensure that our children receive the gift of faith. God involves us all in giving them this gift. Parent, grandparents, all of us adults, the responsibility is ours. Remember children learn from how you live your life, not just from the words you speak, but predominantly from the things you do: the way you pray, the love of neighbour you show and the trust in God that you have.

I want to finish by reading from the words Pope Francis spoke at Knock just thirteen days ago. Appropriate because we honour Our Lady here at the Ballyheigue Grotto as do those who gather at Knock. These words show Pope Francis’ great closeness to Our Lady, his great commitment to promoting family, and also his great desire that faith and family be strong in Ireland.

Pope Francis Words at Knock:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am happy to be here with you. I am happy to be with you in the house of Our Lady. And I thank God for this opportunity, in the context of the World Meeting of Families, to visit this Shrine, so dear to the Irish people.

In the Apparition Chapel, I lifted up to Our Lady’s loving intercession all the families of the world, and, in a special way, your families, the families of Ireland. Mary our Mother knows the joys and struggles felt in each home. Holding them in her Immaculate Heart, she brings them with love to the throne of her Son.

Mary is Mother. Mary is our Mother and the Mother of the Church, and it is to her that we commend today the journey of God’s faithful people on this emerald isle. We ask that our families be sustained in their efforts to advance Christ’s Kingdom and to care for the least of our brothers and sisters. Amid the storms and winds that buffet our times, may families be a bulwark of faith and goodness, resisting, in the best traditions of this nation, all that would diminish our dignity as men and women created in God’s image and called to the sublime destiny of eternal life.

Now, with these intentions, and all the intentions hidden in our hearts, let us turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the prayer of the Angelus.

What difference will the visit of Pope Francis make to:

  • your faith
  • your devotion to Our Lady
  • your commitment to family
  • your participation in your parish
  • your life

Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us!

+ Ray Browne.