Hello and welcome!
Last week I took part in a pilgrimage of Boston Catholics to Knock, Ireland.
But before I tell you more about that, on Tuesday the Red Sox celebrated Catholic Night at Fenway Park and, even though I could not be there, they asked me to send a short video that was played on the big screen.
You can read more on this story that was published on this week’s Pilot.
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We had the honor of being on the historic first direct flight from Boston to the Knock airport. The Knock airport was established 30 years ago by the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, and is now one of the most important airports in Ireland serving the Western part of the country.
With us on the trip was Ambassador Raymond Flynn and his wife Kathy representing the City of Boston, since Mayor Marty Walsh was unable to be with us. With us as well was the “Lord Mayor of West Roxbury” Richie Gormley.
When we arrived in Knock, we were met by the very impressive delegation of the Archbishop of Tuam, Archbishop Michael Neary; Sir Joseph Kennedy, the chairperson of the Board of Directors of the airport who is a Knight Commander of the Papal Order of St. Gregory and was in full uniform with plumes and sword; Father Richard Gibbons, the rector of the Knock Shrine; and Al McDonnell, the Cathaoirleach of the Mayo County Council.
From the airport we went to the shrine, where the next day I had an interview with Irish television followed by the Mass of rededication of the shrine.
The crowd was most impressive. The shrine, which I believe holds about 5,000 people, was completely filled.
Practically every bishop in Ireland was there, along with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as well as representatives of the different Catholic associations and organizations.
On top of that, it was just a beautiful day for the celebration. In fact, Ireland has had sort of a rainy summer. As you can see from the photo of our arrival, when we arrived it was very gray and foggy — sort of the stereotypical Irish weather — but the day of the celebration was clear, bright and sunny.
It was a very beautiful ceremony of rededication of the basilica, in which we consecrated the altar and the walls.
The shrine has undergone extensive renovations, including a beautiful mosaic which is one of the largest mosaics in Europe. It depicts the apparition of the Blessed Mother with St. Joseph, St. John and the lamb with a cross on the altar.
The apparition took place in August 1879. 15 witnesses saw the apparition and, a few months later, they all gave sworn testimonies to a commission of inquiry. At the end of the Mass 15 people dressed in period clothes representing those witnesses carried candles and processed to the altar.
And of course, we concluded with the singing of the beautiful hymn to Our Lady of Knock, which is so popular with Irish Americans. (We sang it at my father’s funeral and we sing it every year on St. Patrick’s Day at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross).
I would like to share with you a video of the Mass.
Below is the prepared text of my homily:
I greet you with the ancient Irish salutation, “God and Mary be with you.” Dia is Muire duit.
It was in 1979, for the centenary of the Apparitions that St. John Paul II came to Ireland. Here at the Shrine the Pope celebrated Mass for a half million people at Mary’s Hill, Cnoc Mhuire. On that occasion, the Holy Father elevated the church to a Basilica, the Basilica of Our Lady Queen of Ireland. The Pope called this sanctuary a place of special encounter between God and human beings.
It is here that generations of pilgrims have experienced that God and Mary are indeed with us. As Pope John Paul said, pilgrims came here, especially those who are suffering, and they are healed, comforted, and confirmed in their faith.
In our own National Shrine in Washington, the Chapel of Our Lady of Ireland has an alabaster window with some of the themes of Ireland’s faith: the apparition at Knock, the Mass Rock, pilgrimages to Croagh Patrick, the Legion of Mary, and the symbols of the four evangelists taken from the Book of Kells.
If ever you have the opportunity to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Lujan in Argentina, a sanctuary that is very dear to Pope Francis, you will be pleased to see the very prominent chapel dedicated to St. Patrick in the Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan.
The Irish have carried the faith to the ends of the earth, but this shrine of Knock is a place where Ireland’s faith is nurtured. I am pleased to know that Knock is the most visited place in Ireland, surpassing even the number of visitors to the Guinness brewery.
I gave a book about the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock to the Holy Father Pope Francis. I do hope he has the opportunity to visit this Holy Place. I know that he will love Knock because so many of the themes that are dear to Pope Francis in his teaching and preaching are truly part of the fabric of the Marian apparitions and the special mystic of this shrine. The Holy Father speaks so much about the culture of encounter, the art of accompaniment, tenderness, closeness, all of these things define the message of Knock, not expressed in words but in gestures.
Pope Francis is a man who speaks in gestures as when he embraced Vinicio Riva, the terribly disfigured man in the Piazza of St. Peter. Vinicio was so touched, he told reporters how people refused to sit next to him on the bus, but the Pope came right over to him and embraced him and greeted him. Who better than Pope Francis would understand the message of Knock, it is God and Mary with us, giving us a caress, accompanying us during the storms of life, reminding us of the love and mercy that surrounds us here.
Almost 3,000 years ago, Jacob declared, “Truly the Lord is in this place. I did not know it… this is the house of God, this is the gate of Heaven.”
For over a century pilgrims have come to this place and discovered the presence of the Lord and His love for us. Often we are like Jacob. Jacob’s life was coming unraveled. His brother Esau was hunting him down like an animal. Jacob was disoriented, discouraged and afraid. He had just spent the loneliest day of his life. He was exhausted and falls asleep on the ground with a rock for a pillow.
Many pilgrims come to this shrine carrying heavy burdens, family problems, health issues, economic crisis, disappointments, fears, anxieties. Here the words of today’s Gospel resound: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, I shall give you rest.”
In an age when many people are disconnected from their parishes, the ministry of sanctuaries and shrines takes on a greater importance than ever. In a world of individualism and isolation, here people discover that they are part of a community of faith. Here pilgrims come to experience what St. Paul is speaking about in the second lesson: “The temple of God is sacred and you are that temple and the Spirit of God is living among you.” Here we come to know that we are not orphans. We have a Heavenly Father who loves us more than we can imagine. We have a Mother who was entrusted to us on Calvary and who accompanies us like the Ark of the Covenant accompanied the people of Israel in days of yore. And we have many brothers and sisters, fellow pilgrims who are on the same journey with us. We are not alone.
The tragic figure in today’s first reading is the unnamed brother, Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of lentils. He was the original souper who took the soup at so great a price. In today’s world, there are many false promises held out to those who renounce their faith, but here we experience the promises of Christ, and his mercy, his love, his grace, are available to us. Here we discover God and Mary are with us.
One of the most famous pilgrims to visit Knock was Blessed Mother Teresa who came here in 1993. Mother Teresa also visited us in Massachusetts. I shall never forget the excitement of the many thousands of people that gathered to see her. Immediately I noticed how the people were in a long line to meet her. I could see that Mother was giving a small white card to each person. I wondered if it was her business card with her cell phone number or e-mail or twitter account. So I lined up and when I reached the front of the line, Mother gave me one of the cards. I still have it, along with a photo a policewomen took of me with Mother Teresa that I keep in my office.
On the card Mother had written: “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.” What a beautiful description of what happens at Knock, it all begins with Mary’s silence.
Mary’s silence is eloquent, her silence allows Her to ponder all these things in her heart. She is silent at Bethlehem, she is silent on Calvary, she is silent in the heavenly liturgy of the Apocalypse. It is only in silence that the word can be heard, only in silence that the word can be made flesh.
We live in a culture of noise, immersed in noise that becomes a narcotic, and when the noise diminishes, we experience withdrawal symptoms. We need the silence of Knock so as to be able to ponder God’s word.
At Knock Mary appears with her spouse, Joseph, and John the beloved disciple who received her into his home after Jesus entrusted His mother to him on Calvary with the words: “Behold Thy Mother.” They appear with the Lamb on the altar of the Heavenly liturgy. Mary comes in silence and in prayer.
The tableau of the Apparition of Knock is a glimpse of the Heavenly Liturgy. Mary and the Saints closely associated with her, Joseph her husband, and John who took Mary into his home. They are in an attitude of prayer, gathered at the altar of the Lamb of God.
Today’s Gospel allows us to eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayer to the Father. We are privileged to overhear Jesus praying to the Father, revealing that intimacy that unites the Father and the Son. Jesus praises the Father for hiding the mysteries from the learned and cleaver and revealing them to the little ones. In the letter to the Corinthians Paul tells us God chose the cross “to destroy the wisdom of the wise.” So often our pride and self-sufficiency blinds us to the spiritual realities Jesus comes to reveal to us.
We must be humble and little to be able to receive the revelation. The fact that the deaf, the blind, the poor, those rendered helpless in the face of suffering, recognize Jesus, is not accidental. To be little, to be disabled does not automatically make one a faithful disciple of Christ, but it puts you in the vicinity of the Kingdom. To be little is to be forced to have the time to recognize that Jesus is the inauguration of a new time constituted by prayer and revelation.
Intelligence and wisdom are often names for the power and violence employed to sustain our illusions of superiority. The clever and the wise often miss the message, whereas Christ chooses to reveal his mysteries to the little ones. The poor, the sick, the blind, the sinners, are the protagonists of Jesus’ Gospel.
Being a pilgrim is responding to an invitation to receive Christ’s message and be unburdened by Him who invites us: “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.” We come to rest, to glimpse the revelation and to be renewed, but we also come to shoulder Jesus’ yoke and learn from the one who is truly meek and humble of heart.
No one knows better than the Irish that to be a pilgrim is to embrace a mission. How many Irish made a vow to be a pilgrim, a peregrinus, like Columba and St. Brendan the Navigator who, according to many, reached America before the Vikings and Christopher Columbus.
These Irish pilgrims were men and women who embraced a life of perpetual exile, traveling from place to place to share with all, the glad tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were messengers of God’s love and mercy, willing to risk their lives to witness to the faith, they brought Christianity and indeed, civilization, to many parts of the globe.
I think of my own ancestors who left these shores to go into a perpetual exile escaping famine and persecution. The most precious possession they took with them on the coffin ships was their Catholic faith, their love for Christ, His Holy Mother and the Church.
When my family made that difficult crossing, they brought with them a statue of the Sacred Heart and a beautiful two-volume history of Ireland. Their love for the faith and for Ireland defined them and it became a precious legacy they passed on to us who are proud to call ourselves Irish Americans.
Here at Knock we come, all pilgrims, to this spot which we can be describe in the words of Jacob: “How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than a house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” But it is not enough just to come here as pilgrims; we must set out from Mary’s Hill as twenty-first century peregrini, pilgrims carrying treasures in earth vessel, taking the Gospel message to our homes, our neighborhoods, our towns, our countries. As Pope St. John Paul II said here at Knock 40 years ago: “Every generation with its own mentality and characteristics, is like a new continent to be won for Christ.” From Knock we are sent forth with a mission, to be on a pilgrimage for Christ, to assure our brothers and sisters that God and Mary are with us.
Pope Francis has said that the Face of God is mercy. We come to Knock as pilgrims to glimpse that face, to be transformed ourselves so that we can take God’s mercy to the world.
In the beautiful hymn to Our Lady of Knock that we sing on St. Patrick’s Day, and in countless funerals and celebrations in the States, we proclaim that,
Your message was unspoken
Still the truth in silence lies
As we gaze upon your vision.
All my cares and troubles cease
As we kneel with love before you
Lady of Knock, my Queen of Peace.
Now, my fellow pilgrims, we are commissioned to be heralds of the unspoken message of love and mercy that today fills our hearts with joy.
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The following day, we went with the Boston group to Ballintubber Abbey, which is celebrating its 800th anniversary.
This is the abbey that Cromwell tried to destroy in 1653. It was originally run by Canon Regulars of St. Augustine. These are not the Augustinian Friars, but this is the group that was founded by St. Augustine for groups of diocesan priests to live in community. They are the original Augustinians who ran that abbey on the place where St. Patrick had baptized thousands of people.
In the picture you can see the stones in front of the statue in front of St. Patrick.
That is the old chariot road that goes from there to Mt. Croagh Patrick, which is the mountain where St. Patrick made his retreat. Every year in July thousands of Irish people climb that mountain – many of them in their bare feet – and go to confession and make a pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. It’s a very popular religious practice in Ireland.
My grandfather’s family is from a town near there, called Westport, and in our clan there are many legends and stories about the famous Grace O’Malley, who was a pirate queen and even had meetings with Queen Elizabeth I. Her son, Tibbot of the Ships, is buried in the sacristy of the abbey.
We joined the regular 11:30 parish Mass at the abbey and it was very encouraging to see the church filled with young families. I think there were about eight servers and a beautiful choir. It is a parish that is very lively and has many activities. The pastor, Father Frank Fahey, has been there for 30 years. They have beautiful grounds around the abbey, including the stations of the cross and the 15 decades of the rosary. They also have an island retreat near there where people go to pray. It’s a very active and vibrant Catholic community there.
After the Mass, we were invited to lunch in what was the old dormitory of the monks in the upper level of the church. The people were so hospitable; it was a wonderful visit.
She was an extraordinarily gifted woman with a great love for the Church. I always enjoyed being in her company. She was very feisty, and you never knew what she going to say, but you knew she was a woman who was motivated to the core of her heart by faith and love.
The many contributions that she made to the Neocatechumenal Way will always be fondly remembered. She has gone to her eternal reward — and I think that now they are going to have to include a smoking section in heaven for her!
Until next week,