By Cian Molloy - 28 July, 2019
People don’t stop wanting God because they stop believing in Him.
That’s the message Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam will give in his Reek Sunday homily at the 11am Mass today on the summit of Croagh Patrick.
Yesterday evening, as parish priest of Westport, the Archbishop celebrated the first Mass of the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage in St Mary’s Church in the town. This morning, the 73-year-old Church leader is due to join thousands of pilgrims climbing their way up the scree-covered slopes of Ireland’s holiest mountain at 11am.
From 8am to 2pm today, Masses are being celebrated on the summit, with Fr Stephen Farragher celebrating Mass as Gaeilge at 10am and Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe celebrating Mass at noon. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is also being provided at the summit from 7.30am to 2pm.
In his homily today, Archbishop Neary meditates on the meaning of pilgrimage in society today, saying pilgrimages always involve a journey and unusual effort. “For unbelievers, it may seem meaningless – all the sweating, stumbling, inelegantly meandering towards its destiny,” he says.
But he adds: “People don’t stop wanting God because they stop believing in Him. And that enduring hunger marks the modern western world. It questions, suspects, argues, is dismayed, disappointed, disbelieving and yet keeps searching. Anxiety about the future is pervasive and in many cases debilitating. There is deep anxiety about family life, about drug and alcohol abuse, about character and responsibility.
“At the heart of our Christian faith is the conviction that the human spirit is not satisfied with anything short of God. Faith is not primarily concerned with pinning down certitudes, but rather it ought to open us to a sense of wonder and awe which will cut through both our conservative certitudes and our liberal self-righteousness.
“As we endeavour to find points of interaction between faith and our culture we acknowledge that there are many others who, although they may not share our beliefs, our language, our concepts, yet may be quite close to us and are journeying in the same direction.
“The presence of genuine faith, albeit in different forms is a source of encouragement and hope,” Archbishop Neary says.
Many who make their way to the summit of Croagh Patrick every year do so for reasons other than religious pilgrimage. “They may not share our belief in the Lord, but if they are searching for the peace which only He can give they are most certainly welcome on the journey.
“This pilgrimage is no place for idle curiosity or mindless athleticism, but if someone is truly trying to make sense of life, trying to find answers to the same questions we all face, trying to find ease for suffering of body, mind or soul, we offer them the hospitality of our pilgrimage. We are proud to walk with them and pray they find their goal.”
In his homily, the Archbishop also mediates on the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, which features in today’s Gospel of Luke (11:1-13). Standing on the spot where St Patrick prayed and fasted more than 1,500 years ago, Archbishop Neary says: “Living in a fearful society, at times devoured by anxiety and preoccupied with security, we may be tempted to retreat to a safe harbour. As we look out on the majestic beauty of Clew Bay we see boats moored at the pier, gently bobbing in the calm. They were built, however, to face the waves and the open seas.
“In a similar way life invites us to leave our safe harbours and, utilising our interests and our gifts, set sail, confident in the God who has kept his promises and whom we address as ‘Father’.
“As I have said on many occasions, no matter what your troubles, no matter what mistakes you have made or sinful things you have done, you are His son or daughter with the right to call him ‘Father’. You are part of the family. You belong.
“If you choose to make the pilgrimage, make it in confidence. Whenever we detect the realities of new life in the midst of death, hope in the midst of hopelessness and concern for justice in the midst of oppression, we are encouraged and rejoice.”