Four Jesuits facilitated a ‘Week of Ignatian Wisdom’ at Knock Shrine from 26 – 31 July. The week of guided prayer was part of an interprovincial project involving groups of Jesuits of North West Europe. Terry Howard SJ of the Irish Province, Rob Faesen SJ from the province of Flanders, Peter Peelen SJ from The Netherlands, and David Smorlira SJ from Britain worked with the Prayer Guidance Ministry in Knock to deliver a five day retreat ‘Meeting with God and Walking with God’ at the Marian shrine. During the retreat they offered a programme of two daily seminars exploring Jesuit Wisdom, a twenty minute talk which sought to help pilgrims at the Shrine to set the context, tone and direction for their prayer by offering some reflections about the characteristics of Ignatian prayer and linking it with the way that Pope Francis prays himself but also encourages other people to pray. A different scripture text was suggested each day for prayer as part of the retreat, and participants also had the option of meeting with a prayer guide who listened to their prayer experience and helped them with ‘the next step’.
As Terry Howard explained “We’re offering the pilgrims that come to Knock a ‘Week of Ignatian Wisdom’. We give talks twice a day for six days a week and we also offer a week of guided prayer, with a short talk each morning. We do some Masses in the Parish Church and the Basilica as well in the week leading up to Ignatius day. We’re bringing the wisdom of the tradition in which we’ve been trained and educated in, offering it to people. It’s a very simple wisdom of God meeting us directly face to face in our prayer and trying to help people tune into that in their own particular lives. Our sole goal this week is to try and present it to people in a way that makes sense and catches on to their own experience and we hope to be able do that”.
David Swoyer outlined how the guided prayer worked in practice. “We had a group of people come in, pilgrims mostly and some local religious sisters as well. The first talk this morning was Praying with Pope Francis. We were trying to talk about the characteristics of Ignatian prayer and link it with the way that Pope Francis prays himself but also encourages other people to pray. I’m very influenced by his Ignatian Spirituality, the way that he has in our traditional language a preferential option for the poor, a commitment to justice, his desire for compassion but also the centrality of prayer as the way of being able to develops one’s relationship with God. In all sort of ways he’s living Ignatian Spirituality and that influences the way he thinks, speaks decisions and leads the Church”.
David went onto explain the significance of Mary in the Ignatian tradition and how she is leading us closer to the Lord in our journey of faith. “I think as Jesuits we have Mary as Queen of the Society. One of our important feast days is Mary, the mother of God. Very much I think in the the spirituality of Ignatius, Ignatius himself and Mary had a very prominent and important role. I think in the Catholic tradition Mary has never been an end in herself. Mary is someone who points the way to the Lord. She was an ordinary human being and that I think is in some ways part of her attraction, that an ordinary human being living a life dedicated to God, pointing us towards her Son. Having a sense of being able to identify with Mary I think draws us closer to the Lord.”
The Story of Knock began on the 21st August 1879 when fifteen people from the village witnessed an Apparition of Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a Lamb and cross on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church. The four Jesuits were very struck by the story of this Marian pilgrimage centre. Terry Howard explained the significance of Knock to him. “Our Lady appeared here at a particular time in the history of Ireland. This was a very very poor place. For me her appearance here is similar to her appearance in other places. The only difference being that she did not speak here and she spoke in other places. It’s not so much even her appearance here, the way in which she appeared included other figures as well and that’s part of the mystery of Knock that needs to be brought out I think a little bit more. It’s not just Mary, it’s the altar, it’s the lamb, it’s the Cross, it’s the Lamb, it’s the angels, it’s John and it’s Joseph. That didn’t happen in other places.”
Rob Fassen was very much struck by the scene of the apparition itself and how coming to Knock helps pilgrims in their journey of faith. “What these people have seen is the altar with the lamb on it and then Our Lady and John the Baptist and Saint John. I thought it was a very profound vision of Christ and these three major saints referring to Christ. Christ as a vulnerable lamb offering himself as a sign of the vulnerable love of God. I think it’s very warm to see how people come to express their faith. There is certainly a sign that it’s life-giving.” Meanwhile Peter Peelen expressed the view that Knock is a very unique pilgrimage experience.“It’s different from Fatima and Lourdes, it’s very Irish I think. The people are very local Irish people and just normal Irish hardworking people, a lot of sick men and women, and elderly. It’s a window to God, it’s a piece of light of heaven, it’s more touchable”, he said.