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Homily of Bishop Denis at the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock 2022

Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock – Feast of Pentecost – Year C: 05.06.22


The last time we travelled as a diocese here to Knock was in 2018. It was then the Feast of Corpus Christi. Four years on, having come through a global pandemic and still in the horrors of a war in Ukraine, we gather on the Feast of Pentecost. I am conscious, while this is Kildare & Leighlin Diocesan Pilgrimage Day, there are also many other pilgrims who are here in Knock on this Bank Holiday Weekend. I include in my greeting the Pioneer group who have travelled from Scotland. The Pioneer Association was founded by Fr. James Cullen, who was ordained in our Cathedral at Carlow, having studied in St. Patrick’s, Carlow College.

As a diocese, in normal times, we come here to Our Lady’s Shrine every two years. Since early morning buses and cars have left from parishes so familiar to us such as St. Mullins, Sallins and Stradbally; Baltinglass, Balyna and Ballyfin; Clonaslee, Clonegal and the Cathedral, to mention but a few. Fifty-six parishes, several voices, one family of faith.

A family gives us recognition, an identity, family and diocese roots us, we belong somewhere, we belong to someone. We have come therefore as that Diocesan Family on this the Feast of Pentecost. After two years of being careful how we breathe, Pentecost reminds us of the healing, purifying, strengthening breath of God.

Our gospel this afternoon begins “in the evening of the first day …” and takes up that moment when the Risen Christ appears in the room where the disciples hid out of fear. His message then and now was a reinvigorating message of peace and forgiveness. There were no recriminations or questions asked, just an abundance of mercy. As Pope Francis reminds us “God’s name is Mercy” and so we pray for His unconditional love and mercy …


“Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me x 2.
Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.”

This very well-known chorus in fact encompasses only five notes. It’s very simple harmony and melody can be sung by anyone and everyone. It draws us into prayer. We could hum it gently as we walk around the Apparition Chapel deep in prayer.

For me the small section of the gable wall perhaps encapsulates Knock best. Placing my hand on the section of stones coming from the original gable wall. I always treasure that moment as a decade or a mystery is interrupted, and sometimes the pause leads to a confusion, was it the third or the fourth decade, is it the eighth or ninth Hail Mary?

In Knock we are so easily distracted by touch; in a pandemic time when we were advised not to touch, not to reach out; to wash our hands, to keep our social distance; putting a hand where thousands others have done before is placing ourselves in His care, under Her mantle. Breathing was also a strong narrative during the pandemic. The need to wear masks and wear them correctly. And today many still wear masks and have every reason for doing so.

Pentecost, the feast of the birthday of our Church, reminds us of the healing, purifying, strengthening breath of God. Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles places us inside that first Pentecost room. It connects with the many rooms we gathered in, over recent months, as we engaged in the synodal process across our dioceses and in our parishes.

In those rooms, during those encounters we became aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. For some it was an emotional moment, for more an experience of maybe for the first time being really listened to. The freedom of speaking to our truth without being judged. And now our Diocesan Synthesis and all the other Syntheses have been submitted and today across the island we have a day of thanksgiving for the Diocesan Phase of the Universal Synod. There is a happy coincidence of our pilgrimage here to Knock with this day of thanksgiving, pilgrimage and synodality sit very well together. They are both about walking together along the way, and in both cases the destination is not necessarily the most important thing.

“Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us x 2.
Melt us, mould us, fill us, use us.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us.”

The earlier verse suggests the need to melt me, mould me, fill me, use me, while now the concentration has moved to us. Another version of the well-known hymn includes the verb “to break” alongside melt, mould and fill. We don’t use it in our refrains. But it reminds us that if we are to be truly and humbly open to the Holy Spirit, we must allow the Spirit to take us where we must go.

Pope Francis shows this willingness often in his Angelus addresses and audiences. Last October at the launch of the Universal Synod he said: “Let us not soundproof our hearts … keep us from becoming a ‘museum church’, beautiful but mute, with much past, and little future.” To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often, wrote St. John Henry Newman.

This afternoon’s gospel sees the Holy Spirit descending as soon as peace has taken hold. I think we often attempt to work in the reverse, and sometimes it can be very frustrating, we must be at peace ourselves so that the Spirit can really speak to us this day. This is what lies behind the ‘deep listening’ that has shaped our synodal gatherings over recent months.

The current model of Church in Ireland and probably Western Europe is unsustainable. I don’t need to list the pressure points or weak joints. All of us who love our parish and cherish our Church know them only too well. I think we need to pray more. And Pentecost reminds us in John’s gospel that the Church is called to be a reconciling presence in the world. We cannot minister reconciliation if we are not at peace ourselves. Just like those blocks from the gable wall, another stop off for me on every pilgrimage here is the Chapel of Reconciliation. The powerful Cross there that reminds us His love embraces and forgives all, even each of us at our worst!

“Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on all x 2.
Melt all, mould all, fill all, use all.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on all.”

There is a huge need for evangelization, for a deeper understanding of our faith. The challenge is how do we do this? Our encounters during what was called ‘Listening Lent’ while attended by relatively smaller numbers reflected something of where we are in Church today. Maybe we need a ‘Teaching Advent’ where similar gatherings can learn together and deepen their faith journey. What we have done synodally in our parishes and diocese is just a first step. Synod is not a destination point or a goal but it’s a new way of being, of being Church. It’s the way for all to journey together. It is the way guided by the Holy Spirit.

And alongside the Holy Spirit we find Our Lady. Our Lady who understood what it was to be afraid and equally what it was to at peace with herself. Gabriel’s words to her are profound for us all: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” . The same fear that had taken a grip of the room the disciples had gathered in. And perhaps the same fear that takes hold of all who love the Church and find the times we live through defeatist and paralysing.

Through His resurrection Jesus shows us that God’s love is stronger than anything that is in the world. The Church today is anything but dead, dry or defeated. It is more alive than ever in the engagement and encounters we have shared over recent months with one another, moments where the peace promised by the Risen One is shown as much stronger than any fear or uncertainty for the journey ahead. Let us place our Synodal Syntheses and the pathway it brings us on into the arms of Our Lady of Knock.
Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
St. John the Evangelist, pray for us