Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev Michael Neary, was at Knock Shrine on Tuesday, December 8, to celebrate a special Mass at 4am in Our Lady’s Basilica for the annual All Night Vigil.
The All Night Vigil celebrated the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and also marked the opening of Pope Francis’ Holy Year of Mercy.
In his homily, Archbishop Neary pointed out that Mercy is at the heart of all Christian beliefs, stretching back to the Old Testament when God revealed himself as one who has never ceased to show mercy to his people.
In the New Testament, Jesus was the embodiment of God’s Mercy. “One of the outstanding features of the life of Christ was a feeling of sympathy and compassion for human misery,” outlined Archbishop Neary.
Archbishop Neary said there is an ever greater need for Mercy in a contemporary society, where despite many advances, “a sense of unease, a sense of powerlessness and vulnerability are quite prevalent.”
The Archbishop called on people to become “Ministers of Mercy” during this Holy Year and to look to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “mother of Mercy”, for inspiration and guidance.
Here is the full text of Archbishop Neary’s homily.
I welcome you all on this special day on which we have a double celebration.
Firstly, it is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and secondly, it is the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
As we focus more closely, we recognise that there is a close connection between these. You have only to reflect on some of the prayers in which we address Our Lady: “ Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy…….Turn your eyes of Mercy towards us”.
In the Memorare we cry out to Mary: “Despise not my petition but in your mercy, hear and answer me”.
Those who are devoted to Divine Mercy will be aware of the vision which Sr Faustina had as Mary said to her in a vision: “I am not only the Queen of Heaven, but also the Mother of Mercy, and your Mother”.
Pope John Paul II, who had a great devotion to the Mother of God, spoke of Mary as Mother of Mercy. In Hebrew, the word for mercy is the same root word as the word for a Mother’s womb that links her to her child.
It is an instinctive feeling of love, tenderness, patience, understanding and readiness to forgive failings.
At a time when the people felt abandoned by God, when they were in exile far away from home, the Prophet Second Isaiah, in order to provide them with hope stated: “Can a woman forget her child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms on my hands”.
The mother’s womb is the place where new life is protected and grows, where a child is nourished and nurtured.
You are familiar with the Latin word for mercy, misericordia. It derives from two words: miser, which means unhappy, sick, poor and the word cor, which is the word for heart which is the seat of life, knowledge, emotion and memory.
The merciful person is the one who has a heart for a suffering human being, that is someone who takes pity, sympathises with and helps the other in their troubles.
Is this not the description of Mary, the Mother of Mercy?
God has become identified with mercy. Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed himself as one who has never ceased to show mercy to his people.
Mercy is the bridge connecting God with human beings.
This mercy illustrates a profound attitude of goodness that is indispensable, tender, life-giving and affectionate. The fundamental experience of the people is that God is a God of tenderness, graciousness, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and fidelity, showing kindness, forgiving iniquity.
We are familiar with the Psalm: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy”. (Psalm 103:8-10).
The New Testament does not speak as frequently as the Old Testament does about mercy, rather it directly speaks of Jesus Christ and his mission.
The key words associated with Jesus are to have mercy, to have compassion, to be moved with compassion and to feel sympathy. Indeed, one of the outstanding features of the life of Christ was a feeling of sympathy and compassion for human misery.
This ideal is held up for followers of Jesus Christ when he says: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful”. (Luke 6:36).
This mercy is not just an idea but rather finds expression in practical situations like the corporal works of mercy. So mercy is not only the work of the Father, it becomes the criterion of true followers, who show mercy because mercy has first been shown to them. It is an essential condition for entering the Kingdom of God.
The credibility of the Church is illustrated in works of merciful and compassionate love. The Sunday after his election, Pope Francis said: “We get tired of asking God for mercy, but God never tires of being merciful”.
The concept of mercy may be quite alien in many ways to contemporary society and this makes it all the more imperative for Christians to proclaim God’s mercy to the world.
Accordingly, Pope Francis invites the whole Church to announce the mercy of God, which is at the heart of the Gospel.
Being merciful like the Father is the motto of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
People today have a great need of mercy. Profound changes in life-style have come about which in turn affect social and cultural life. Despite the undoubted progress in many areas of life, a sense of unease, a sense of powerlessness and vulnerability are quite prevalent.
On this Feast of the Immaculate Conception we celebrate God’s mercy towards Mary, who was conceived free from sin and therefore from the first moment of conception obedient to God’s will.
The greeting of the Angel Gabriel to Mary in today’s Gospel, “Hail, full of grace”, illustrates that Mary is filled with God’s gracious love. She is totally turned towards God, completely open to God’s love and God’s presence. She provides a stark contrast with the reaction of the first parents in the first reading, who hide from God, blame one another and refuse to take responsibility.
By contrast, Mary declares that she is available for God’s plan – “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done unto me”.
We endeavour to be responsible, to be available for God, so look to Mary for inspiration and for help. God chose Mary to reveal his merciful love to us as we struggle to remain faithful as the recipients of God’s mercy. Because Mary was so open to God and attuned to God’s will, she was the one who noticed what escaped others at the wedding at Cana, the fact that they had no wine.
She was the one, when the disciples had fled at Calvary, who stood courageously at the foot of the cross and heard the words of Jesus: “Here is your mother” and “here is your son”.
As the Mother of mercy Mary continually reminds us of God’s mercy.
She manifests her role of mother of mercy by being “health of the sick, refuge of sinners, comforter of the afflicted, help of Christians”.
As Pope Francis reminds us in his Encyclical: “Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception”.
On this her Feast, we pray here at her Shrine at Knock that we will become ministers of Mercy.