While I was a seminarian in Rome I often went over to St. Peter’s Square to the Papal Audiences on Wednesday morning or to the Angelus on Sunday. I was often struck by the vast crowds of people who came from different countries to pray, to listen and to receive a blessing from St. John Paul II. Often I would walk around to look for the best vantage point to see him. As I walked around what struck me most was all the different languages they were all speaking, Italian, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, French and English. People of faith coming together from different continents; men and women, young and old, black and white were coming together to pray and to be blessed.
Language is the means of communication and today we come to this place of prayer, ‘Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock’ to communicate and consecrate our love to Mary and her Son Jesus on this the Feast Day of Our Lady Queen of Apostles. In our 2nd reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, the 1st Pentecost took place, as they gathered in prayer there was no unifying language. Just the opposite, the Holy Spirit came to rest on the head of each of them, the Apostles, Our Blessed Mother and the other women and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech. They all left that upper room with a renewed confidence to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit gave them the confidence to witness. In our readings over the last few weeks for Easter we heard about how the confidence was taken away from them when they saw to their pain and horror the death of their friend, the one they loved die on the cross. After his death they were left unsure, fear had gripped them and anxiety had set in, even though Jesus promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit. His rising from the dead gave them new hope and gradually Jesus re-introduced himself back into their lives.
He returned to take away their worries and fears, he gave them signs, he showed them his hands and feet and his wounded side. He breathed His Spirit upon them, gave them the gift of peace, opened the scriptures to them, broke bread with them, he surprised them, he forgave them, he gave them hope and promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit. They might have let Him down by turning their back on Him, but he didn’t turn his back on them he fulfilled His promise, the mandate that was given to Him by the Father.
On our Christian journey we too can find ourselves in the same boat as the disciples, we too at times can feel hopeless, despairing about certain things within the church and in society – that is natural for the times we are living in. There is a crisis of FAITH. Over the last few years certain sections in the Irish media have tried to undermine our Catholic Faith. They try to distort and ridicule the teachings of Christ and His Church. We have to claim that back and there is evidence of that out there. We have a voice and a language that needs to be heard and there are people out there that need to hear the voice of Christ through us, his disciples.
The Upper Room is a place for us also; it is a place of transformation, a school of love. St. Vincent Pallotti knew the importance of the upper room experience in his own life and he wanted us to have that same experience the disciples had at Pentecost. At the heart of the Upper Room is patience, expectation, perseverance, prayer fellowship and hope. In that gathering of the Upper Room no two followers of Christ were the same, each were different, each with there own gifts and talents, each made in the image and likeness of God.
The principle gift of the Holy Spirit given to those gathered in that upper room is tongues, is speech, and is language. They used the gifts that where given to them to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. On that day they could have decided well thanks for the memories, thanks for the gifts, we have done our part, now let’s go home as we know some of them did go back to their former way of life. But Jesus called them back. The coming of the Holy Spirit is not so much the end of Jesus’ activity but the beginning of something new for the disciples whom Jesus commissions and sends forth to be his presence in our world today.
In this regard, it’s helpful to think of Pentecost not so much as a singular event in the life of the Church, but as a way of life in which all of us, as the baptised Catholics, name, claim and proclaim our identity and mission as followers of Christ and members of his body. This is who we are. This is what we do.
Our Founder St. Vincent Pallotti received that gift of the Holy Spirit, which led him on a journey to setting up the Society of Catholic Apostolate and the Union of the Catholic Apostolate. He had an utter confidence in what the Lord could do through him. Even on his deathbed when those around him might have thought, we are losing him, will his charism die with him, but he reassures his followers it won’t. “It will develop and be blessed by God”. You will see. I tell you this not simply because I trust that it will happen, because I am certain of it.” He was true to his word.
This year The Mother of Divine Love Provence is celebrating 75 years of the Pallottine Charism in East Africa. In 1940 Bishop Patrick Winters, Fr. Vincent Cunningham and Fr. Jim Mullen left Ireland to go to Tanzania to share the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti. In the last few years we in Ireland have been blessed with the arrival of Fr. Louis Sisti, Fr. Mathew Sanka who is now ministering in Texas, following his time working as Mission Promoter in Thurles and we have Fr. Martin Mareja our main celebrant who took over from Fr. Matthew and goes around promoting the Pallottine Charism in different dioceses in Ireland today.
We have a lot to be thankful for, but there is still so much to be done and we can’t do it without the aid of the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother. We are disciples of the Lord, you and me. To know Jesus, as a friend is the best gift, that anyone of us can receive. But we can’t keep that gift to ourselves; we have to share it with others. We have to give witness to the gift we have received. Our Lady appeared here in Knock and gave witness. Fifteen people from this village witnessed an apparition of Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a Lamb and Cross-at the gable wall behind us. Each of them gave testimony to what they saw, the encounter they had with Mary, without their witness and testimony we wouldn’t be here as pilgrims today.
Mary came to Knock to be a mother to the people of Ireland and the people of Ireland responded and over the years many pilgrims have come here to seek her motherly love and protection. Today she comes to meet your needs as Our Lady of Knock and as Queen of Apostles. Today we need Mary more than ever; especially we need her to be a mother to our young people.
Pope Francis invites us all to take the Good News to the “Existential outskirts” and the 1st “outskirt” is to be found in our own lives. There are still areas he says in our inner thoughts, in our emotional lives, in our actions, in our spirit, in our will which have not been lit up by the light of the Gospel.”
Enter into the Upper Room with Our Lady, the apostles and the other women and join them in prayer and wait for an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. When we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit we shall be unshackled from our fears and move out beyond our comfort zones. We shall be able to go forth to wherever God leads us. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we may not always know exactly where the journey will take us, but we can rest assured that every road ultimately leads us closer to the heart of Christ and to the fullness of God’s kingdom.
I want to leave the last words to a man who wasn’t afraid to witness or speak the language of God’s love in his life. He had a great love for the poor and for social justice. He was assassinated as a martyr for the Catholic Faith. Today in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador Oscar Romero will be beatified. He wrote and I leave you with this: “The Church must suffer for speaking the truth, for pointing out sin, for uprooting sin. No one wants a sore spot touched, and therefore a society with so many sores twitches when someone has the courage to touch it and say: You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that. Believe in Christ. Be converted”.