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Homily of Bishop Denis from Mass honouring Knockbeg Day

St. Mary’s, Knockbeg – Feast of the Immaculate Conception,Mass celebrated in St Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen 8.12.21


I am delighted to join virtually with the Knockbeg School Community for our Mass honouring Knockbeg Day on this the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, continuing something reintroduced two years ago, which had lapsed possibly with the end of boarding in 2011.

It’s great to join with the regular holyday congregation here in St. Clare’s Church as well as the Poor Clare Sisters and I know they are all delighted that the entire Knockbeg family also virtually joins us today from your classrooms. Today marks the conclusion of the ‘Year of St. Joseph’, and in our Mass I want to reflect on how Joseph can become very much the model, the mark, the mould for a young person today, like our students at Knockbeg.

In our feast of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate how Mary was handmade by God from the very beginning to bring Jesus into the world. Mary is in the words of our preface “a model of holiness”, none of the rest of us are, we pause for mercy, understanding and forgiveness as we call to mind our sins …


In 1968 Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick sang: “Do you know the way to San José? I’ve been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way. Do you know the way to San José? I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San José”. I’m not sure if you find that peace of mind on the west coast of California but the name San José certainly lives on.

Pope Francis has a huge love for St. Joseph. He introduced us to the simple devotion of ‘The Sleeping St. Joseph’. The little statue can be by your bedside and underneath the head of Joseph you can put all your worries. I have one of those statues on my own bedside locker.

Pope Francis also inserted Joseph’s name into the Eucharistic Prayer we pray at every Mass. And he also gave us this year, this special year. I don’t think the year has been near long enough! Too much is happening these days with the pandemic, with restrictions, with curtailments for us to unpack and understand the dreams of St. Joseph and more importantly the key role he has played in salvation history, in our story of salvation.

You might wonder why all this talk of Joseph and this the feast of the Immaculate Conception? He doesn’t even get a mention in our holyday gospel. Well today’s feast brings us back to Mary and her readiness from conception to be the mother of Jesus. Handmade, made by God’s own hand. There is a very real sense that Joseph too is made by God’s hand, the rough translation of José (Joseph) is “God will look after you”.  

So, what might be the characteristics of Joseph’s life that speak to a young person, like you the students of Knockbeg College, this holyday? In no particular order I suggest …

… Joseph could be depended upon.
He stood by Mary as the words of today’s gospel took effect in her life. Joseph could be relied upon. He was a man of his word. He was solid, dependable, reliable. Wonderful words for any of our young people when they look for a character reference. The employer may be less interested in the points you get in your Leaving Cert, but more interested in what kind of character is sitting before them, applying for a job. Things like ‘reliability’, ‘dependability’, ‘solid’ speaks volumes in a job interview.

… Joseph had a skill, he had mastered carpentry.
Next time you are in the Cathedral, look at the John Hogan sculpture of the Holy Family. It conveys a most beautiful image of Joseph the carpenter. What’s your skill? Perhaps it’s sport – football, hurling, rugby, soccer, athletics, show-jumping, golf? Is it something else – music, art, rowing, gaming, computer programming, skate boarding, martial arts? Everyone has a skill. Find yours! Your years in Post Primary School offers you the tools to hone and master a skill.

… Joseph knows what it was like to lose someone.
The twelve-year-old Jesus went missing on a visit to Jerusalem for Passover. Panic, consternation set in, until steps were retraced and the young man was found in the temple teaching the elders. There may be moments in your own life that someone may be lost to you or indeed you to them, always know there is room in God’s house for you, no matter what road you have taken. The church door never closes. It always remains off the latch.

… Joseph was a man of faith.
In his life he teaches us to know Jesus and share our life with him. Joseph reminds us we are in a family but we are part of a much greater family, God’s. The late Seamus Mallon often quoted an old Greek proverb that is apt about family and faith: ‘a society grows great when old men (and women) plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit’.

I am told Joseph or José is the patron of fathers, of workers, of a religious vocation, of a happy death, of carpenters, of confectioners, of engineers, of the family, of married couples, of house-hunters and of travellers. Joseph has something to say to us all. It is thought that Joseph was well dead by the time Jesus died on the Cross. There is no mention of him anywhere in the Passion Narratives. It is thought he was dead before AD30 and is buried at Nazareth. Maybe he also speaks to us who have lost parents and grandparents during this current pandemic and miss them still. My own father died tomorrow fifteen years ago – his loss is still for me as huge as it was the evening he passed away.

May the one who cradled the infant at Bethlehem, may the one who taught him skills at the carpentry work bench, may the one who found Him teaching in the temple, may Joseph be an inspiration to the Knockbeg army of today and tomorrow. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us. St. Joseph, pray for us.