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Knock Pilgrimage - Homily

Pioneer Annual Pilgrimage to Knock
July 19th 2009

Homily by Bishop Eamonn Walsh

No one could accuse Our Lady of being anti-alcohol. She launched Jesus’ Public life at the marriage feast of Cana. The deeper message of that gospel lies in the truth; every person or thing Jesus touches he changes for the better.

Fr. James Cullen S.J. founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in 1898 had that realisation of getting God to touch the hearts of people and change the way people address alcohol and the way they see those who damage themselves and others through it.

He was a creative thinker. He started by targeting those who were not struggling with alcohol rather than those in its grip. He tapped into the tried and tested spirituality of prayer, fasting and almsgiving; he realised that the heart opens through self-giving;  it opens in  a new and wider way when the self-giving is rooted and modelled on the total and loving self-giving as symbolised in the heart of Jesus.

The Sacred Heart represents the unconditional love of god for each and everyone. This is at the centre of the pioneer spirituality. It enables us to first of all see ourselves as loved by God and then see each other as sisters and brothers loved by God. It also enables us to see the man or woman knocked down by alcohol or strung out on drugs as our sister and brother.  We can’t turn our backs or look away; we are prompted to reach out.  The reaching out with our time, prayers and love is the almsgiving.

At the root of every exploitation, fraud, scandal, is the attitude of selfishness; everyone for themselves; failure to treat people as sisters and brothers equally loved by God.  The core spirituality of the Pioneer Movement could serve as a value foundation stone for today’s challenges.

Reparation is a central part of the Pioneer prayer and fasting/self-sacrifice/abstinence.  We know that the power to heal comes from God’s touch.  Whatever he touches he enriches.  The pioneer participates and co-operates in God’s healing touch through their self-sacrifice and self-denial.  We offer the spiritual richness of self-sacrifice to be used in God’s own mysterious way.  We offer it for those struggling with addiction, their families and all those whose lives are adversely affected.  We offer them for those on their treatment journey and those who are slipping and struggling.

In praying for sensible use of alcohol, making sacrifices for those being damaged by alcohol and other drugs can only make us more understanding and willing to help make a difference.  When we meet them on the street our attitude is changed.  A smile or a word can re-awaken in people their long lost self-worth and respect.

Our reparation, penance for our own or the wrong-doings of others is not an appeasement of God; no, it is God’s chosen way of releasing his gratuitous love.  In spoken and unspoken ways, we petition that our sacrifices may be the instruments of guiding his healing touch of those most in need.

At a human level our prayer and abstinence changes our mindset and spirit for the better. 

Matt Talbot is our inspiration that no one must ever be written off as a hopeless case.  Humiliation may have brought him to his senses but his prayer and fasting gave him the self-belief that together with God’s help no hill was too high to climb.

I congratulate the Pioneer Movement on their initiative in recent times and particularly for Temperance Sunday this year of inviting people to participate in a short term pledge.  It, I believe, enhances the movement and makes its spirituality available to many more people.

The Bishops’ Drugs and Alcohol Initiative continues to set up parish drug/alcohol awareness groups in the four provinces.  I want to thank the various local pioneer groups who have worked alongside them.  Together we can raise awareness and provide alternatives to the destructive use of drugs and alcohol.

We can campaign together, the stronger we are on the ground the greater part we can play in changing attitudes and promoting treatment and care for all affected directly and indirectly by misuse of drugs and alcohol.

You are 111 years on the go, we are only 11.  But like a penny-farthing bicycle, you the big wheel, we the tiny one, we can journey and progress together as long as we are anchored in prayer and self-giving that reaches out to the most in need.

Alcohol has been a problem in post-Famine times, in Celtic Tiger times and post.  It does not time out, it clings on like a barnacle. 

In today’s Gospel when Jesus saw the crowd he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them at length.  We live in a drink culture that needs leadership. That leadership from government is hampered by its heavy dependence on revenue from its tax and excise duty on alcohol. That leadership from the Drinks industry is hampered by its financial vested interests. That leadership from sporting organisations is hampered by dependence on sponsorship. That leadership from media is hampered by its dependence on advertising. Financial neutrals like us may be the ones to provide leadership in a drinks culture in need of a good shepherd. Together we can play our part.