Bishop Fleming’s Homily at the Killala Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock
On this Rosary Sunday we come as a diocese on pilgrimage to Knock. We come here to meet with Christ and with Mary. We come here with all our own troubles and worries and thanks. We bring our illnesses in the hope that this meeting, this encounter will allow God and Our Lady to bless us and ease our burdens. We bring our worries for ourselves, for family and friends, in the hope that the Lord will bless and protect them and us. We bring our thanks; for blessings received and for favours granted. This is the place, therefore, where Mary welcomes us, listens to us and leads us gently to Christ.
Knock is a place of pilgrimage and a school of prayer. During our time here we can learn not only how to listen to the voice of God, but also to find ourselves and to be at one and at peace with Him. One day, over one hundred and fifty eight years ago at Lourdes, it is said that as Bernadette was making her way through the crowds to get to the Grotto a rich lady from Paris gave her an expensive pair of rosary beads and asked Bernadette to use them during the apparition. As usual when the Lady appeared Bernadette began her rosary, but she realised that the Lady wasn’t praying with her. So she stopped and asked the Lady why. The Blessed Virgin asked Bernadette where her own rosary beads were. She told her they were in her pocket but that this lady had asked her to use her beads during the apparition. Mary told Bernadette to put them away and use your own beads. And the message that Mary had for her and for us was that when we pray we shouldn’t try to pray like others. We can only pray as ourselves; who we are and where we come from, as God has made us. And that’s what God want.
In God’s presence there is no play-acting, no trying to be someone else. Prayer is the one place we can truly be ourselves and pray as we are. At times you may feel that somehow your prayers are inadequate or lacking life, or useless but once they are yours, once they are true to you; you are doing exactly what God wants. For what God wants of us is to be truly ourselves, not to be someone else but to be truly ourselves; to be the person he lovingly created and redeemed. In the presence of Mary at the Grotto in Lourdes Bernadette learned that lesson; she learned to be true to herself in prayer. During our time here in Knock we too can learn to be ourselves, to accept ourselves, as we are and who we are, without any fear or pretence; children of God, whom he loves. And in this way we can, as we say, truly ‘say our prayers’.
The story is also told about St John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, the patron of priests. One day he came across one of his parishioners sitting quietly in the chapel. He wondered how this person sat so quietly, apparently doing nothing. When he asked the man how he prayed the parishioner answered; “I look at him and he looks back at me”. For me, this is the perfect answer to the question; how can I pray? “I look at him and he looks back at me”.
When we want to pray we don’t need to look for special words. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he didn’t give a long winded explanation. He simply said the Our Father and told them to do the same. When we say the Rosary, we do much the same. We say the same two prayers over and over again. We keep on repeating them until such time as our minds sometimes drift away and the words we are saying seem to lose their meaning. It is as if we are silent before the Lord and we can say with the friend of the Cure of Ars; “ I look at him and he looks at me.” And of Our Lady; ‘I look at her and she looks at me.’
Knock in particular teaches us that we don’t have to use lots of words when we pray. Knock is the one place where Our Lady appeared and said nothing. She used no words and yet there was perfect communication between her and the people to whom she appeared. There was, as Canon Brendan Kilcoyne said on Sunday last in Ennis at the ordination of Bishop Fintan Monahan, ‘Silent love before the silent suffering. A divine conversation at the gable of a church”.
The tradition of the family Rosary has all but died out in Ireland. But the passing of this tradition does not have to mean the death of the Rosary. God gave us ten fingers which we can use while driving the car to say the Rosary. And there are no penalty points attached. And if you don’t know where you left your beads, you can use your fingers as you sit by the fire. God gave us energy to take exercise. We could use our time out walking to say the Rosary. God gave us time to be alone in old age which we could also use to say the Rosary. And when our energy is low and our strength not that great, I think the Lord would be very happy to see us fall asleep while saying the Rosary. Yes, the tradition of saying the Rosary as a family might have all but died out but each of us as individuals can do so in all kinds of new ways.
On this Rosary Sunday we ask Our Lady to bless us, bless our families and bless our diocese.