A warm welcome to all present here in Knock today, and those who are joining the members of the Pallottine Community and the members of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, as we gather for our annual celebration of “Mary, Queen of Apostles”, our Patroness. It is a great honour for me to be a part of today’s celebration as a Deacon, as I prepare for my Ordination to Priesthood in just over two months’ time. For the last number of years I have sung as part of the choir at this celebration, as well as spending time here in Knock as a pilgrim and worker, learning from those who minister here in our National Shrine.
Mary is known as ‘Queen of Apostles’, since she contributed in her own special way to faith development and its expansion throughout the entire world, by offering encouragement and faith to many people in their times of struggle. It is for this reason that Mary is the model of apostolic activity to everyone in the Church, and most especially to those who contribute to the spreading of the faith in their own way, within our local communities and parishes, with good works known only to God. St Vincent’s Pallotti’s choice of ‘Mary, Queen of Apostles’ as the patroness of his foundation reveals his spiritual relationship with Mary. For St. Vincent, Mary cooperated more than all the apostles in the spreading of the faith, and she has superior qualities over all the apostles.
St. Vincent believed that all members of the Church, and most importantly the members of the Society and Union, would be encouraged by Mary’s example, by seeing in her the most perfect model of true Catholic zeal and perfect charity. St. Vincent held the firm view that all members of his Union and Society can receive from Mary the help they need, through persevering effectively in their apostolate. This vision can also be seen in the great and courageous work carried out in the Book of Judith, expressed in today’s first reading as a prayer (Jdt. 13:22-26).
The Book of Judith is a story which relates God’s deliverance of the Jewish people “by the hand of a woman”. Judith, who was a widow, single-handedly conquered a great army: she overcame her personal struggles in faithfulness to God with a belief that he would protect his chosen people. So strong and so important was Judith, so revered and loved was she, that after her death the People of Israel mourned her for seven days. Through the hand of Judith we are reminded of the “hand” of God first seen in Exodus, and the ‘handmaid of the Lord,’ Mary, in the New Testament account of her acceptance of God’s word – “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). This statement from Mary is a summary of her entire life, which was a constant and quiet yes to God, and by her ‘yes’ Mary is recognised by the Church as ‘Queen of Apostles,’ without having any power or office. In this manner Mary is a sign for all faithful members of the Church, and for all members of the Society and Union of Catholic Apostolate, to be apostles in a genuine sense.
Today’s other readings focused on passages that were close to the heart of St Vincent, the scriptural narratives of the upper room (Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-4), and the gathering of Mary and John at Calvary (Jn. 19:25-27). These passages set the tone for St. Vincent’s teaching on Mary as the ‘Mother of all’ and ‘Queen of Apostles’. Throughout his life St. Vincent associated Mary very closely with the passion and death of her son, to remind us of her association with our redemption and her central role in the work of salvation. As 20th and 21st century children of God, we are guided by Mary, Queen of Apostles so that we can achieve the apostolic goals of the Church and St Vincent, to constantly offer God’s infinite, immense and incompressible love and mercy, generously to those we encounter each day.
The words of Jesus in today’s gospel “Woman, this is your son” and his words to John “This is your mother” captivated St Vincent, by demonstrating to him Mary’s constant love for those who love her son, and the love the Church has for his mother. According to St Vincent, these words of Jesus “made us all sons and daughters of His most holy Mother,” and as children of Mary and the Church we are called to listen to those who guide us; to listen deeply within our hearts, like the many witnesses who were present here in Knock in August 1879, and all those who have attended this Shrine since that day.
Pope John XXIII was of the view that Knock is one of the most precious Marian apparitions of the Church, as it contains the entire message of the Church; Mary is a significant and integral part of the message, directing people to the centre of our faith – Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. When the apparition occurred, just a few feet away from where I now stand; Mary offered to the people of that time a new hope and a direction, a hope which constantly assists people through difficult and joyful occasions of their life. This new hope and direction, offered by Mary is constantly available here, and for this reason Knock is alive and active each day; offering love, joy peace and mercy to the many people who attend this Shrine during this year of Mercy and beyond; people from all over the world, made in the image and likeness of God.
For this reason, it is easy to explain why millions of people have attended Knock over the last 137 years, and while here they have found hope, joy and an ability to persevere in their faith, knowing that they are constantly supported by the Mother of God. During the apparition, which lasted over two hours as rain poured down upon all present, no words needed to be spoken, as Christ the Lamb of God was present as the centre of all that was occurring. Faithfully looking at the fullness of the Church’s message was Joseph, who during his life on earth listened to God and protected the Holy Family, and beside Mary was St. John the Evangelist, holding God’s word, a resource which nourishes us each day.
By spending time here in Knock my faith has been nourished, and I have come to realise the vastness of the Church and our faith, through my many encounters with people of different languages and nationalities; we all celebrate the one faith as first proclaimed by Jesus and the Apostles, through the power of the Holy Spirit first poured upon Mary and all the followers of Christ in the Upper Room as outlined in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
A number of years ago I was present at a modern day upper room experience; sixty-four different nationalities each with their own language, dance and flag, celebrated together the Feast of Pentecost. As a faith community we gathered in prayer, united with the Holy Spirit, working for the good of the other, like all present at the first Pentecost event, we were sustained by the Virgin Mary, who without preaching the Gospel, became the ‘Queen of Apostles’ through the effectiveness of her prayers. Mary who sustained the courage of the apostles and helped them to prosper in their work, continues this work each day, assisting all who place their trust in God.
As we prepare for the feast of Pentecost tomorrow, it is important to remember that God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not confined to Confirmation Day. As followers of Christ we rejoice that through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of languages, God’s message is constantly being proclaimed all over the world, in schools, Churches and family homes by baptised members of the faith.
Pentecost Sunday each year is a gentle reminder to us of the many gifts we have received from God, and this special day assists us in reflecting on “how am I using the many gifts I have received,” the gifts of love, wisdom, understanding and right-judgement. As current day apostles and followers of Christ, we are called to be engaged in the spreading of the kingdom of God by taking example from the Church and Mary, who carried out her apostolate in her own special way. This method of each person being able to carry out their special apostolate was very important to St. Vincent as noted in his writings where he states “Everyone … can acquire the rewards of the apostolate … even if all that they can do is to pray … because God judges the perfection and values of the work of his creature according to the intentions of their hearts.”
Mary who accompanied the first disciple’s in their mission, faithfully accompanies us in our apostolic activity each day. In this way, Mary is a perfect model for all apostolate activity within the Church, she journeys with us, giving us strength, as we answer the call to be an apostle of Christ, in our own way.