Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock
Saturday, April 29, 2023
Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell
(Also available at https://dublindiocese.ie/knock-pilgrimage-2023/)
“After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped walking with him, and returned to their former way of life. Then Jesus said to the Twelve, “What about you, do you also want to go away?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:66-68)
Jesus Shows the Disciples and Us the Way
Jesus poses a stark question, “What about you, do you also want to go away?” Peter—for all his weakness—displays something that comes from staying the course with someone for a long time: “…to whom shall we go?” Peter realises where he really belongs. In today’s Gospel, St John brings us right into a moment of crisis in the relationship between Jesus and his followers. In the middle of this crisis, Peter comes to realise that, when all is said and done, in his heart of hearts, it is with Jesus that he wants to be.
As many of us know first-hand, it is in a moment of crisis, or in a time of crisis—be it in a relationship, a family, or a friendship, that we come to our senses, and realise where we belong. There we come to know where we truly want to be, and who the person is that we want to be with. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In the life of faith, just as in the life of a family, that realisation is a moment of authentic growth, real maturity, a true coming home to ourselves. It is a moment of conversion, a moment of turning towards the Lord, a moment of deciding to go after him.
Let us not be under any illusions: the way of the early disciples was not easy. It was unmarked territory; there were no signposts. For his followers, there was only one option: to walk with the one who could find his way through uncharted territory. As his disciples would remember, he was “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
Of course, what dawns upon us, is almost always the fruit of a long journey. It takes time for the deeper things to emerge. Therefore, learning to wait—to wait for the other, to wait for ourselves, is vital on the road to maturity, and fullness of life. In our busy lives, and in a frantic world of immediate answers and easy “take-aways,” finding the time to wait, to listen, to hear, becomes more and more difficult. Yet, it is vital that we do it—for ourselves, our families, our Church, and our world.
Walking Away or Walking with Jesus
The disciples are in crisis—and some walk away; some stay. To walk with Jesus—to be with him on the way—in Greek, syn-(h)odo—is the Gospels’ way of speaking about being a disciple. Where did the two disciples in last Sunday’s Gospel meet Jesus? On the way to Emmaus! How did they meet him? They met him by walking with him! We do the same. Of course, remaining with Jesus on his journey does not wipe away all their issues, fears, or weaknesses. To be a disciple is not to run away from life and its challenges; rather, it is to embrace one’s existence in a new way, a way which preserves our identity in our weakness, because we recognize what we truly are—sinners, but sinner saved, a children of God, loved and forgiven (see Cardinal Carlo Maria Martinis, Incontro al Signore Risorto (2012), 87).
Turning to Walk with Jesus—Learning from Mary
Mary is a model for walking with Jesus. In a sense, she is Jesus’ first disciple. She shows us that, at the core of our faith, are not abstract ideas, but lives, real lives. Mary was a real woman who lived in Nazareth. She was married to Joseph—“Joseph, her spouse,” as we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass. God calls her. God reaches into her life, and asks her to embrace her life with Him in a radical way. In the very same way that God spoke to Mary, God comes to us and through us. As Pope Francis constantly reminds us, “God is manifested in time and is present in the processes of history. This means prioritizing actions that generate new dynamics. And it requires patience, waiting.” (Anthony Spadaro SJ, “Interview with Pope Francis,” La Civiltà Cattolica, 2013 III 449–77, at 468).
Mary’s exchange with God in the Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38), her conversation with God, if you will, is honest. It is a ‘no-holds-barred’ conversation. In that conversation nothing is left unsaid, not even her doubts and fears. Faith is built on dialogue; solid faith grows in honest exchange! What God has to say to us is important, but what we have to say to God is also vital: we cannot hear God unless we hear ourselves. The complete honesty of Mary from the outset is critical. Mary’s honesty, like the first disciples, is a form of availability, readiness to do what the Lord is asking, even if she does not fully understand.
This forthrightness of Mary we also see at Cana (see John 2:5): she sees the need of the wedding party, she is clear with Jesus, and clear on what has to be done: “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus’ “instruction”—at Cana and beyond—is about more than how much water should be put in stone jars! It is about our very lives: it is his word to the lawyer, who wanted to know what he “had to do to inherit eternal life.” (Luke 10:25) Telling him the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37), he calls him “to go and do likewise.”
Walking with Jesus—Go and Do Likewise
Mary embodies “going and doing likewise.” She is the one who goes to Elizabeth. With Joseph, she is the one who seeks Jesus when he is lost. She is the one who “keeps these things in her heart” (Luke 1:51). She is the one who remains faithful to her son in his suffering, standing at the foot of the cross, and she remains faithful to the community after his resurrection (see John 19:25–27, Acts 1:14). Mary, like her Son, knows the pain that love brings. Her quiet witness calls us to reflect on how we react to difficult situations and choices. She challenges us to take ownership of our lives and decisions, to seek God’s will, to recognise the deepest desires of our hearts. In the beautiful words of St Catherine of Siena (1347–80), whose feast-day the Church celebrates today, “If you would be the person you are meant to be, you could set fire to the whole world.” (Letter to Stefano Maconi [Letter 268, 1376]) Mary heard God’s word, and “let that word be done unto her” (Luke 1:38). She found her true vocation, the deepest desire of her heart, she became the person God wanted her to be, the person she was meant to be, and she sets the world on fire.
Walking with Jesus—Living out the Tenderness of God
But how does Mary set the world on fire? Not with inflammatory rhetoric, but by her embrace of the way of her son. Above all, says Pope Francis, Mary “teaches us that the only power capable of conquering people’s hearts is the tenderness of God. That which delights and attracts, that which humbles and overcomes, that which opens and unchains, is not the power of instruments or the force of law, but rather the omnipotent weakness of divine love, which is the irresistible force of God’s gentleness and the irrevocable pledge of God’s mercy (Address to the Bishops of Mexico, 13th February 2016).
A Call from this Place—A Call from this Day
To come to Knock is to come to Mary, Mother of the Lord, Companion of the Disciples, Model of Faith, and Mother of the Church. To come here on pilgrimage is to risk being inspired by her, by her faith, her trust in God’s word, her confidence in God’s power. It is to risk turning again, and turning more deeply towards the Lord. It is to risk conversion. It is to risk embracing his way. May the faith of Mary, her silent confidence in God, in this place of silent apparition give us the hope and courage to be like foolish, weak Peter, and say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”
Saint Catherine of Siena: pray for us
Our Lady of Knock: pray for us.
Archbishop of Dublin