This coming Sunday evening Father Dan L. and I will be flying to Ireland and shortly thereafter we will be at the shrine of Our Lady of Knock in County Mayo. This will not be my first visit to Knock. Knock is a place and a mystery that has marked my priesthood.
In the Archdeacon’s Room
On my last visit to Knock — it was the evening of February 5, 2008 — I was privileged to pray in the room where The Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh, Parish Priest of Knock at the time of the apparition, died on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1897. The room is now used as the Oratory for the community of Daughters of Charity who conduct Saint Mary’s Hostel for pilgrims. The Sister in charge of Saint Mary’s Hostel told me that, according to tradition, it was in that room that Our Lady came and conversed with the Archdeacon before his death.
A Priest Who Loved Mary
It was believed in the parish of Knock that the Archdeacon was frequently graced with visits of Our Blessed Lady. When questioned about this, the Archdeacon replied that “there were a great many other manifestations of which he would not care to speak.” Archdeacon Cavanagh had a consuming desire to promote Our Lady’s Cause; he habitually referred to the Blessed Virgin Mary as “The ever Immaculate Mother of God.”
Charity Toward the Poor Souls
It is not generally known that the apparition at Knock took place on the evening of the very day when Archdeacon Cavanagh had completed offering one hundred Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, without receiving any stipend from the people. Preaching at Knock in 1882, he said, “We leave all our actions at the disposal of the Blessed Virgin Mary for those holy souls who, when released from purgatory, will never forget us. They will pray constantly for us at the throne of God.”
Saint Joseph and Saint John
There are particular graces reserved for priests at Knock. In Saint Joseph and Saint John who appeared there together with the Blessed Virgin, one discovers the models of a priestly holiness that is at once paternal and virginal. These are the two men destined by God from all eternity to live in a sacred intimacy with the Virgin Mary. I have the distinct impression that, at the present time, Our Lady is offering to all her priest sons the special grace of a sacred intimacy with herself.
Intimacy With Mary
Could this not be the means by which Mary desires to purify, sanctify, and renew the priesthood in this age of the Church’s life? In the intimacy with Our Blessed Lady represented by Saint Joseph and Saint John there is healing even for the most broken among her priest sons. For those most defiled by sin, in Mary’s presence there is purity and the recovery of a spotless innocence. For those who have grown weary and lost the fervour of their youth, in Mary’s company there is zeal for souls and apostolic boldness. For those who are depressed, close to Mary there is comfort, and to those who are despondent and anxious, she gives hope and peace. Finally, in the intimacy of Mary there is joy for those who fallen prey to the sadness that weakens the soul and opens it to sin.
Made Pure in the Blood of the Lamb
The Immaculate Virgin Mary presents herself to priests today as she presented herself to Saint Joseph and to Saint John. To Saint Joseph, her chaste spouse, she was the Virgin Bride, and to Saint John, the Beloved Disciple of her Son, she was a Mother. In the acceptance of this grace lies the remedy for the weaknesses and inclinations to sin that have soiled the priesthood and brought it low in the eyes of so many in recent years. The desire of Mary’s Immaculate Heart is to purify the priesthood and lift it out of the infamy into which it has fallen, so as to make it shine with a wonderful holiness, and with the purity that comes from the Precious Blood of the Lamb. It is the Lamb in the apparition of Knock that casts the whole event in the light of the mysteries revealed to Saint John on Patmos.
Priests at Knock
It seems to me that Our Lady desires that Knock should become a place of pilgrimage for priests. A dimension of Knock, not yet fully developed, is that it must become a place of healing for priests, a place where Mary can restore them to purity and to holiness of life by drawing them into her company. Knock invites all priests to share their lives with Mary by opening their homes and their hearts to her, and by living every moment in her presence.
At Home With Mary
As Virgin Bride, Mary is the image of the Church. Just as Saint Joseph took his Virgin Bride into his home, so too must every priest welcome Mary and discover in her intimacy the nuptial quality of his dedication to the Church. Just as Saint John, obeying the word of Jesus from the Cross, took Mary into his home, so too must every priest shelter her in the space that is most personal to him. The gift of sacred intimacy with the Blessed Virgin Mary, suggested by the apparition at Knock, may well be among the heavenly secrets reserved by her for this time of trial for the Church.
She will impart this gift to every priest who desires it. She will make herself known as the Virgin Bride who brought joy to Saint Joseph, and as the Mother entrusted to Saint John and to those priests in whom the Johannine grace is renewed in every age.
A Pilgrimage for Priests
It is time, I think, for priests and their bishops to go — as priests together — in pilgrimage to Knock. Our Lady’s Merciful and Immaculate Heart waits for them there. She is ready to open a wellspring of purity, holiness, and renewal for all priests, beginning with those of Ireland. Our Lady of Knock beckons to all priests. She would have her priest sons wash themselves in the Blood of the Lamb, and unite themselves to her Son, Priest and Victim, in the mystery of His Sacrifice. Yes, Knock is for all people, but I believe that it was, from the beginning, destined to be a place of healing and of abundant graces for priests.
A Radiant Priestly Holiness
As I prayed in Archdeacon Cavanagh’s room, I understood that Mary longs to show herself to all priests as Virgin Bride and Mother. In Mary’s intimacy we priests will find the holiness desired by Christ for each one of us: a radiant holiness, a holiness to illumine the Church in these last days with the brightness of the Lamb. Knock invites priests to remain in adoration before Mary’s Son, the Lamb Who was slain. Knock invites priests to wash themselves in His Precious Blood by seeking absolution from all their sins. Knock invites priests to follow Saint Joseph and Saint John by consecrating themselves to Mary as Virgin Bride and Mother.
No Need to Remain Alone
Our Lady of Knock, praying with uplifted hands, is the Mediatrix of All Graces. She is the New Eve given to Christ the New Adam, and given by Him, from the Cross, to all His priests, those whom He has called to continue His mission of salvation in the world. There is no need for any priest to remain alone. The Virgin Mary’s Heart is open to all her priest sons, and she will not refuse, to those who ask for it, a participation in the unique grace given Saint Joseph and Saint John in the beginning.