The pilgrimage of Life – Novena 1

Sr Eileen Healy OLA gave her reflection on the first evening of our Novena of Prayer in Honour of Our Lady. The Novena concluded with the SMA Annual National Pilgrimage to Knock on Saturday, 23 May 2015. Fr Maurice Kelleher SMA preached in Knock. His homily will be published shortly.

In her Reflection Sr Eileen spoke about ‘pilgrimage’ – the pilgrimage of life. The following is an edited version of Sr Eileen’s presentation.

This special week of prayer and reflection is the first important step of our pilgrimage to Knock, so whether we are going to Knock or not, we are all on pilgrimage from this night on. This is a time when we stop and reflect on our longer pilgrimage of Life, our journey from birth to death, which starts on the day we were born and makes it’s winding mysterious way to the day when God’s journey in us is complete and we die into that Spirit who was given to us at our Baptism.

A pilgrimage is a time when we leave our known, familiar routines and move to a new place, new people, and a different rhythm to our day. The mirrors that reflect back to us who we are and how we are doing may be changed and in that changed place we learn something new about ourselves. So as well as making an outward journey to the Novena each evening or to Knock, we make an inner journey also, maybe to parts of ourselves that are private fragile, forgotten, unforgiving, lost, anxious or depressed. This is an opportunity to make that difficult and very personal pilgrimage into our struggles with justice, forgiveness, compassion, hope and loving, and to let the Christ-life grow in us.

To be the very best that we can be, to be compassionate and caring to each other and especially to those in need and to get better at seeing Christ in others and being Christ to others is the goal that we all strive for and hope to move closer to during this Novena. Mary walks with us on this NB part of our life’s pilgrimage, and leads to genuine life-giving truth and helps us to get our priorities and values into perspective. When Mary came to Knock it was a time and a place of great difficulty, poverty and need, many had died in the famine and people were struggling and down-hearted. Mary’s response was silence, no word, no explanation and no effort to minimise their plight. Maybe there is a lesson here for all of us. In our own days, in our families, homes and workplaces we meet with tragedy, suffering, conflict, sickness and death and we so often respond with too many words, noise and explanations. The silent language of our listening presence is often more powerful in the face of suffering than any words and indeed there are no words that fit the pain of another. The greatest gift we can give each other is our time and our listening, so consider spending some time this week listening to Mary’s silence and learning from her. Set aside a little quiet time each day to do this, an appointment with yourselves and with Mary.

This novena and pilgrimage is in a way a symbol of our life pilgrimage, and we will try to put into this week all we wish we had done in the past or hope to do in the future. It is said that pilgrimages bring us face to face with the big questions of life eg “Why are we here?” “What is the meaning of life?” and how do we make this, our one and only journey through God’s beautiful world the very best it can be?

Each night we mark another stepping stone in our Novena, and also another stepping stone in our life’s journey, each a decade older than the previous one. So as we pray with the first candle tonight, we reflect on our lives in that first decade of life, we remember the people who were with us then and thank God for them. So tomorrow night we bring our 20s to mind and to God and so on for the 9 days as we bring all of our lives and petitions and present them anew to God at the final Mass.

Mary carried Jesus in her womb for nine months and in her heart forever. Maybe she came to Knock in the bleakness of their losses and poverty to remind them that they also carry the same Christ in their lives and that they must bring him to others and find him in others. Perhaps Mary is giving us the same message today in 21st century Ireland, in our own lives and in our families, to help us deal with the pain, conflict, suffering and confusion that we see and hear. What can we learn from Mary’s gentle, silent and dignified message?

It is so NB to savour and be present to each moment of our novena and pilgrimage and let our minds be where our bodies are. This is where we encounter the Sacred presence as we listen in prayer, and as we try to put as much goodness, genuineness and love into each moment. All these moments and the goodness we live into them are all joined together to form the multicoloured tapestry of our lives, and each colour, each moment is expressing the Divine in us. Listen and pray with each day as it reveals its secrets.

In our families and in our world we all experience pain, loss, illness, conflict and worry and old age, many being the natural consequences of our humanity. This week let us surround them all with as much compassion and acceptance as we can, asking Mary to give us hope and light to relieve and improve what we can and to accept and not resist what cannot be changed.

During this pilgrimage and in life’s journey we leave our footprints, not only on the physical ground but also in the lives of those we meet along the way. May the footprints we leave on our sacred and precious earth be ones of reverence, respect and care, and those we leave on the lives of all we meet on the journey of life, be those hope, compassion, forgiveness, love and justice. Christ’s life will then continue to be lived through our lives wherever we are.