Homily of Bishop Michael Smith at Knock Shrine, Co. Mayo
Welcome to all who have come to share these moments at this Shrine graced with the presence of Mary. I welcomed all who join us here this day including those from our own Diocese who have come, as well as our diocesan choir enhancing our liturgy. We join in prayer and reflection. By our presence we echo that beautiful image we find in the Acts of the Apostles, telling us that the Apostles and the infant Church community were joined in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus.
In its silence and its symbols – the altar, the cross and the lamb – Knock is especially an invitation to pray and an invitation to reflect. We are invited to reflect on our faith and on our living of that faith both in the context of our own individual lives but in the wider context of family and society.
A word of direction and invitation often on the lips of Jesus when speaking to His apostles was the word “witness”. It is a word directed to all baptised and confirmed in Christ – all are called to be witnesses to the values and beliefs that are central to faith in Christ.
Life and society offers us much to ponder and reflect upon. Commentators keep telling us how progressive and sophisticated we have become. Taking the events of recent weeks alone, one wonders what society they are taking about. There has been a series of killings and gratuitous violence, often directed at those living alone – blighting the lives of so many elderly people with fear and anxiety.
Life has become cheap. Too many lose hope and direction in life; drugs blight the lives of so many including the young. Greed has no conscience and respect for self and others is diminishing. Will removal of protection for the unborn lead to a much greater cheapening of life? We are told that this is a decision all will face in near future. Sentiment can never replace truth – there is a sacredness and dignity in all life that reflects the very image and likeness of God. All in faith are called to be witnesses to this core belief.
Coming on pilgrimage does indeed invite each of us not only to pray but to ponder and reflect on our own individual journeys of faith; to reflect on what Jesus meant by inviting us to be courageous witnesses to that faith. Jesus never promised that living our faith in Him would be an easy or simple journey. Several times in very clear terms He made it clear to the Apostles and to us the challenge fidelity would bring.
The readings of our Mass today offer much food for reflection and offer much hope and reassurance. Those beautiful words in our first reading about Elijah’s wish to meet God are among the most evocative found in the Old Testament. God was not in the fire or the storm or the earthquake. He was in the still gentle breeze. They echo in many ways the experience with the apparition here in Knock in its stillness and gentleness. The symbolism of the lamb, the altar and the Cross point to what is at the very heart of living our faith – the abiding and supportive presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Christ whom St. Paul affirms in our second reading who is God forever blessed.
Our Gospel recounts an incident from His engagement with his disciples as He prepared them for mission. He had fed the crowd and He went to pray as the disciples crossed over the lake. The incident on the lake has much meaning. Pope Benedict reflected time and time again on this incident and its many layers of meaning.
The storm points to the kind of trial and difficulty that touch every life. The boat has always been seen as a symbol of the Church, constantly facing storms. The invitation to Peter to come walking on the water has echoes of the same invitation that Jesus made to him on the shore of the same lake when He called him to come and follow Christ. Peter begins to sink when he takes his gaze away from Jesus and allows the fear of the waves to take hold of him. He called out to Jesus who reached out His hand to save him. In its imagery Jesus is reaffirming words He spoke to the Apostles ‘yes I am with you always, even to the end of time’.
Peter’s strong faith in Jesus, along with his weakness, reflects our faith – at times fragile and impoverished, anxious yet victorious as we find the strength to walk with the risen Lord amid the storms and doubts that can come upon us. Very few people go through life without experiencing difficult and dark moments. Faith is always challenged and we too can merit those gentle words of rebuke to Peter ‘Man of little faith, why did you doubts’. It is an incident that the Church has to keep ever in mind. Calm returned when Jesus joined them in the boat. Faith gives us the certainty of Jesus’ presence.
It is all summed up in those very simple words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper ‘Trust in God still, trust in Me’ and in the five simple words Mary spoke at Cana – ‘do whatever He tells you’. Here on pilgrimage at Mary’s shrine we bring our many prayers and requests before the Lord through the intercession of Mary. May our pilgrimage draw to reflect and ponder more deeply on our faith in Jesus Christ.