On Sunday, I made a pilgrimage to Knock, with my wife and a group from our parish. Neither of us had been there before. This year is the one-hundred-and-fortieth anniversary of the apparitions which took place there.
We visited the Chapel of the Apparition, on the very spot where Our Lady, our Lord (as the Lamb of God), St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist appeared, on a rainy day in 1879.
Afterwards, we attended Mass in the enormous basilica, which was filled to capacity. There were a great many members of the Franciscan order there, including secular Franciscans, as they were celebrating an anniversary of some kind.
I began writing a blog post describing my thoughts and feelings on the day, but then found myself deleting what I'd written. Right now, it all seems too personal and inchoate. Perhaps I will write about it at some time in the future. In the meantime, here are some pictures my wife took. The first picture shows a section of the original gable wall before which the apparitions appeared.
I've mentioned my desire to set up a Christian writer's group before. Although I hope this to be a group where people actually get together, I thought Facebook would be a good springboard for it. If you're on Facebook, and you want to join the group, go to this link and send a request to join. You don't have to be Irish.
"Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheater; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonization of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God."
This is a poem I wrote in 1997, but (strangely) never blogged until now. I actually think it's pretty good. The poetry of my late teens and early twenties was actually better than most of the stuff I wrote when I was older. I was much more painstaking about it. I'm quite proud of the would-be-Keatsian flourish at the end of this one.
It's interesting to me to read back on this twenty-one-year old poem, and to see how the same themes that preoccupy me now, also preoccupied me back then. Most obviously, a fascination with dreams and the dreamworld, in all the many meanings of the word "dream". I've written about that in many blog posts, but especially in this one about The Wizard of Oz. As well as this, a fascination with history and tradition and the living past, and with mystery. And then there is the dialectic of memory and oblivion, which I was writing about very recently.
The morning lights the room as dreams disperse. I climb into my clothes in awkward haste To chase the morning bus I've often chased. But from forgotten dreams strange spirits hang Like half-remembered lines from an old verse And fill the world with an elusive tang.
Where do dreams come from? What mysterious zone Cut off within the dark side of the brain? And why do these vague vestiges remain? No answer-- so I shove the questions down. But as I move my thoughts don't seem my own. They frolic as the bus moves into town.
And suddenly the streets become a dream; Their concrete blocks and Georgians facades Seem unconnected thoughts some dreamer adds Together in a surrealistic brew. I feel life come unstitched at every seam And everything I see, I see anew.
And as I disembark into the crowd I think of how old times, long since played out, Live on in noises made in every mouth. All history becomes one ancient day. I look around the street, absurdly proud Of man, as if I watched from worlds away.
These streets, these channels of a common mind, What were they raised from? Wilderness and waste. There is no province man has not embraced. His thumbprint lies on everything I see. Where did we come from? Nowhere I can find The footprints fade into antiquity.
And let them fade-- my head begins to swim, This many-coloured morning wracks my brain. Let life's exquisite mystery remain, Leave unrevealed the roots from which we clamber! What is a dream, but life, confused and dim? Where is the past, but locked in living amber?