Knock Novena Homily of Fr. Richard Gibbons

Homily at Knock Shrine 21st August 2013

By Fr. Richard Gibbons, P.P., Rector of Knock Shrine.

“All shall be well, all shall be well and in the end all manner of things shall be well”.

This quote from the 14th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich is one that jumped out at me when I was thinking on the legacy of Knock. If Knock does anything for people it does and should speak to the need within the human being for hope especially in times of worry, grief, loneliness, fatigue and believe it or not joy! It has been the aim of Knock in the light of the Apparition to have people leave this Shrine and on returning home saying to yourself with faith and trust in God’s promises to us – yes, all shall be well!

The idea and nature of pilgrimage should echo within us St. Paul’s encouragement to the Romans in today’s reading that…

“Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes or being threatened or even attacked… These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us”.

The story of Knock is the story of hope against despair, of the importance of those who are forgotten and thought insignificant, over those who are everything in the sight of this world. It is the capability to believe we are not alone. Archdeacon Cavanagh, the Parish Priest of Knock (Aghamore) at the time of the Apparition is reported in the “Munster News” of 24th March 1880 saying:

“Mary loved Ireland as Ireland always loved Mary but she has not condescended visibly to visit our Island as she has other lands. Now she, the loving Queen of heaven, has come down to us. She has come to us in our great grief and suffering to help us to be submissive to the will of God and the blessings which she has brought are availed of by people from all parts. They come from England, France and Germany, from the United States and Canada to seek Our Lady’s help and this little Chapel in an obscure part of the world, is now known from the rising to the setting of the sun and it seems destined by God to be the resort of pilgrims from all parts of the catholic world…”

The reference of the Archdeacon to the “great grief and suffering” at the time of the Apparition echoes the words of the Archbishop of Tuam at the time, John McHale, who is reported in the press as saying:-

“It is a great blessing to the poor people of the West, in their wretchedness and misery and suffering, that the Blessed Virgin Mother of God has appeared among them”.

The Apparition is a clear Magnificat moment – the lowly have been raised to sense in themselves a higher dignity in creation that cannot be taken away – in spite of famine (1879 was the third year of successive crop failure) and land war – a brighter future could be hoped for – the little Church in the middle of nowhere would become a house of prayer for all peoples and nations.

All the work through the years since 1879 from the spiritual presence of Archdeacon Cavanagh through the formation of the Knock Shrine Society, the formation of the Stewards and Handmaids, the work of Judy and Liam Coyne, the proposal of a possible airport – even in 1935!, the successive Parish Priests and Administrators and Staff, the indefatigable James Horan, the consolidating and progressive Dominick Grealy, the pastoral Joe Quinn together with all our facilities today, have enhanced the legacy of the faith heritage that simply gives people hope through an encounter with God. Pilgrimage to Knock however is not escapism, it is not nostalgia for bygone era, it is not running away from the problems of this world – it should, as Fr. Michael Drumm has said about Knock –

“awaken in pilgrims a renewed sense of communion with those strangers who are hungry, oppressed, downtrodden and rejected”

In other words, it helps build community.

And what of the future?

As I pointed out last year I believe that Knock has a very large part to play in the renewal of the Church in the country and to that end we are currently formulating plans for renewing Knock itself and also to meet the needs of the modern pilgrim and visitor. We have conducted extensive and exhaustive surveys over the last year in order to examine what you and others think about what should be done here to meet your needs. Already we have acted on some of your practical recommendations – the new Candelabra, the complete renovation of Toilets and other aspects. As a result of the surveys we have now dedicated ourselves to 3 priorities:

  • Firstly, the complete interior refurbishment of this great Basilica – built in 1976 by James Horan it is now in need of care – new lighting, heating, seats, flooring etc. are needed in order to meet the needs of today’s pilgrim. Work is due to begin in October of 2014.

  • Secondly, we are planning for programmes of faith formation, seminars, retreat programmes to meet individual and group needs – this will help deepen and understand our faith in light of the new evangelisation in the church.

  • Thirdly, we are planning to promote Knock as a pilgrimage destination at home and abroad – we are in one word, undersold! For today’s searching pilgrim and visitor, Knock is that place of peace and prayer vital for spiritual growth.

While the Basilica work will commence in October 2014, the faith programme and promotion of pilgrimage will be introduced gradually over the next 1 to 3 years.

This is a major development and as a major investment, it is an investment of belief and faith in the renewal not only of Knock as the National Shrine but also of the renewal of the Church in the country. We should all be part of that work.

The fundraising aspect which will make this happen is currently in the planning stage at the moment. The timing in the midst of a recession might not seem the best, however, I have no doubt as in the past – when this Basilica was built during the recession in the 70’s and the Airport built during the recession in the 80’s; that the great supporters of Knock, such as yourselves, will help us out. Those developments gave hope to people at the time.

Quite simply this project will put bread on peoples tables; it will give work where there is none and maybe save some from having to emigrate. It is above all about trust in God’s providence and in Our Lady of Knock echoing the line from her great prayer – “she gave hope to people in a time of distress” — She certainly has and certainly will: and friends, with Julian of Norwich, let us believe that in the end all shall be very well indeed.


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