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Prayer Service in Knockbeg College on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception


I am delighted to join with all of you the Knockbeg College Community for our Prayer Service honouring Knockbeg Day on this the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, continuing something I reintroduced a few years ago, which had lapsed most likely with the end of boarding here in 2011.

A day like today allows us to honour our roots, our foundation, our identity. All of that has been splendidly emblazoned on glass in the new stained glass window installed in the oratory. It is the work of the artist Evan Connon of ‘the Glass Society of Ireland’ under the guidance of architect Michael O’Boyle. I thank all of them including the school sub-committee who were part of that ‘Percent For Art’ school project. I look forward to blessing the window later.

In our feast this morning of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate how Our Lady was handmade by God from the very beginning to bring Jesus into the world. In the words of the preface at this morning’s Mass she is for us “a model of holiness”, that remains all our challenge as students, staff, parents and friends of Knockbeg, how can we be “models of holiness”? I might offer a few suggestions later …


The forensic detail in Luke’s gospel text is not by chance. Every detail is there, the name of the angel, the name of the town, the location of the town. And of course who was visited upon. Every word in the dialogue, the conversation, the exchange is given.

Luke manages to capture Mary’s puzzlement: “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?[1]. Mary takes time to be convinced, we are told she is “deeply disturbed[2]; we even hear what she is thinking without ever uttering a word. The gospel is like having dashcam footage of an incident or a clear crisp recording of an encounter. Nothing is omitted; nothing left to chance.

We know Luke’s account as ‘The Annunciation’, God sending His angel with a message of joy to a woman who was basically minding her own business. Moments of Annunciations are not confined to towns in Galilee, they happen everywhere, every day. God intervening in human history, because He loves us and He only wants the best for us.

And so to that “model of holiness” our Preface at Mass spoke of this morning, how might we be “models of holiness” this afternoon here in Knockbeg?

Mary of the Annunciation,

Teach us how to respond with faith to divine mystery.

As young men where do we find the divine mystery in our lives, do we pray, do we reflect, do we light a candle for a particular intention? This is the root of holiness.

Mary at her cousin Elizabeth’s,   

Teach us to be generous with our capacity to care.

The Food Kitchen where many meals are served to those in need, do we help generously in fundraising and volunteering? Holiness isn’t just praying.

Mary giving birth to Jesus,

Teach us to look for your Son in our adverse conditions.

The Nativity, Christmas Day, are we making time to gather for Mass with family and friends that day? Holiness needs to be nourished.

Mary fleeing into the strange land of Egypt,

Teach us to welcome strangers from foreign lands.

Our students who have come from other places such as Ukraine and other parts of the world, today been oppressed, am I complete in my welcome? Holiness is part of who we are.

Mary in the Temple where Jesus preached,

Teach us to be diligent in finding our spiritual treasure.

Where do we find the teachings of Jesus today, in a classroom, in a textbook, on a whiteboard or in the example of others? Holiness is got from taking everything in.

Mary at home in Nazareth with her family,

Teach us to value the gift of our relationships.

Am I gentle in my relationships with family and friends? Do I value relationships or use people? Holiness is the young man I am.

Mary at the wedding feast of Cana,

Teach us how to humbly ask for what is needed.

Do I ask for help when I need it or do I pretend to understand, a teacher is there to teach, they can’t always read minds. Holiness is being aware of our inadequacies.

Mary standing beneath the Cross,

Teach us to be present to the suffering ones of our world.

Being conscious of those struggling elsewhere, helping in a soccer blitz, taking part in a school fast stretches us and is good for us and for those suffering elsewhere.

Mary receiving your crucified Son in your arms,

Teach us that we, too, can embrace our losses with courage.

It’s often said we learn more from our losses than from our wins. On Twitter I follow the exploits of Knockbeg’s athletes, basketballers, Senior Football A Team and much more besides. We won’t win every encounter, how we take the moments of defeat and how we celebrate when we win tells a lot about the people we are.

Mary at the tomb,

Teach us not to be afraid to enter into grief.

I know some of you have buried loved ones in recent moments. They are the most challenging moments for young men. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear, to put an arm around a shoulder. Holiness allows us to be ourselves.

Mary in the Upper Room with the disciples,

Teach us the strength of community and the power of prayer.

Knockbeg has been completely renewed in recent years, don’t let that sense of community go. A community I passionately hear about at College Reunions and gatherings. There may have been a bucket to collect the water from the leaking roof but there was community, identity, comradery.

Let us enhance that and everything else that makes Knockbeg special this day.

[1] Lk.1:34

[2] Lk.1:29