Our Silent, Mysterious Lady of Knock

shutterstock_42807379 - 2They swoop down, around, in and out.  They seem to come from nowhere, though I know, rationally, that they live in our barn.  They are, after all, barn swallows.

I have never grown tired of seeing swallows performing their acrobatics.  I first saw them in my younger years, growing up at a Christian summer camp.  I would mow for hours, and at the right time of day, at the exact moment the heat seemed to let up ever-so-slightly and the evening seemed to start, the tree swallows would appear, plunging through the air in impossible dives, rushing and zooming to get the bugs that were disturbed by my mowing.

I’m not sure they noticed me, all those years ago, zipping from one end of the field to the other on a red Yazoo mower, brown from a summer in the sun.  They noticed the bugs, though.  And I noticed them.

The barn swallows appear at the same brink of evening, with the same flourish and pizzaz I noticed in their cousins.  It’s as though they appear from thin air, though there are days that I remember this feeling and I look for them in the dark coolness of the barn or on the electrical wires stretching across our lawn from the barn.  Sometimes I see them.  Sometimes I don’t.  I think they’re there either way.

It’s that way with much in my spiritual life too.  Whether or not I feel God’s presence, He is always beside me.  I’m often surprised, astonished, and perplexed to feel the touch of His hand in what I consider the most mundane details of my life.

Why does He care whether I get my writing time or not?  How, exactly, does my highly demanding child suddenly become self-entertaining, just when I need her to?  Who do I think inspired that friend or family member to reach out to me just as I was about to lose the last shred of my sanity?

I feel God’s touch a lot through His mother, Mary.  Oh, you can roll your eyes (as I roll mine) and call me crazy.  I wonder about that myself much of the time.  But it just seems like too many coincidences appearing at just the right moment, too many small things lining up to form a cohesive whole, too many details that just work out in ways that I couldn’t have planned if I had tried.

It’s a lot like how the barn swallows appear, suddenly and without any announcement.  They chirp their way through the bugs in my lawn, especially when we’re mowing, but they don’t sound a trumpet to let us know they’re coming.  They perform their breathtaking aerial stunts without pausing for admiration, continuing along to the neighboring fields.  They finish their work through dusk and go back to where they were, presumably the barn.

Mary has a habit of doing that in her various appearances, too.  Looking back, I’m sure people wonder to themselves if this or that had anything to do with Mary’s upcoming appearance.  At the time, though, it probably just seemed like a detail that wasn’t such a big deal.

Did Mary Beirne look back over the events of August 21, 1879, in her little town of Knock, Ireland, and wonder if there had been signs of what was going to happen that evening?

I imagine her brother, Dominick, after dinner, asking her if she minded running over to the church to lock it up for the evening.  Miss Beirne might have traded him dinner dish duty for church lock-up duty.  Mary McLoughlin, who was at their home, went with her.  They probably enjoyed a walk in the cool summer air.  What would they have discussed?

Would Miss McLoughlin, the priest’s housekeeper, have mentioned the “wonderful number of strange figures” she had glimpsed passing the church earlier in the evening?  She thought that the priest had acquired them recently, and so she hadn’t mentioned it on her other visits of the evening.

It would have taken them a few minutes to get to the church, but once there, locking up the church became secondary to the vision before them.

There stood the Virgin Mary, standing a few feet above the ground in a white cloak that was fastened at her neck.  She wore a crown and was deep in prayer, eyes raised to heaven and hands lifted to her shoulders with palms inclined slightly.  Saint Joseph was on Mary’s right, also wearing white robes, his head bowed forward toward the Virgin in respect.

On Mary’s left stood Saint John the Evangelist, clad in long robes with a bishop’s mitre on his head.  He was turned partly away from Mary and Joseph, holding a book in his left hand and acting as though he were preaching.

There was an altar to Saint John’s left, with a lamb on it and a cross on the altar behind the lamb.  Angels surrounded the altar.

It didn’t take long for the word to spread throughout the village of Knock.  Miss Beirne went home — probably at a running pace that would have set records — to get her brother.  She sent her niece, age eight, to bring her mother, Mrs. Margaret Beirne.

Can’t you just hear the exclamations?  Of course Mrs. Beirne had to alert some neighbors, who in turn had to go for themselves right after they told their neighbors, or the people who were visiting for dinner, or the folks down the road.

Thirteen witnesses reported the details of the apparition, which lasted three hours through pouring rain.  They stood there, praying the rosary, as united as any group ranging from ages five to 75 ever can be.

When the apparition began, between 7 and 8 that evening, there was plenty late evening summer light.  As it got later and darker, everyone could still see the figures distinctly.  The apparition did not flicker or move in any way.  The ground around the apparition stayed dry during the apparition, despite the downpour, and the figures likewise remained dry.

Perhaps, some say, the purpose of this apparition was to point us toward the humility of Saint Joseph, the prayer of the Virgin Mary, the teachings in Scripture represented by Saint John, and the sacrifice of the Mass symbolized by the lamb on the altar.

For me, the lesson from Our Lady of Knock is found in the other title associated with this apparition, Our Lady of Silence.

In a land famous for poets and bards and blarney, what could have been more appropriate than the imagery and the silence of the Knock apparition?  The picture is worth so much more than the thousand words we allow.

Mary didn’t need to say anything at Knock.  She didn’t need to disrupt people’s thoughts with her words or even her Son’s words.  From what they saw, from the conversion they must have felt that night in the pouring rain, they didn’t need words.

Though I am a woman of words, filling pages with thoughts and notes, processing the world around me through a keyboard, and communicating with language, I appreciate this silence.  In it, Mary reaches across the centuries to me, to the pain that’s been shoved off to the side, to the burden I carry inside.

In the silence, Mary does something as amazing as the barn swallows’ gymnastics: she guides me to my Father’s arms.  I don’t need to hear about how great it will be once I’m there; I don’t need assurances that He will make everything better.  I know He’ll take care of me, but I’m not always so great at believing it.

In the silence of Mary as Our Lady of Knock, though, I feel myself nudged, slightly and yet significantly, closer to where I’m supposed to be.  It’s there, in her open arms, in the shadow of her Son on the altar, that I realize that I am capable of more, because of Him.  It’s then, in the moment of her embrace, that I perceive that the more could include things I can’t fathom just yet.

Just like the swallows in my yard, Mary never fails to impress me with her abilities.  She’s there, in company I can’t ever hope to equal, and yet she crouches down to be eye level with me, inviting me to join her.  How can I say no?

 

Image credit: shutterstock.com

Sarah Reinhard

By

When Sarah Reinhard set off in her life as a grown-up, she had no idea it would involve horses, writing, and sparkly dress shoes. In her work as a Catholic wife, mom, writer, parish employee, and catechist, she’s learned a lot of lessons and had a lot of laughs. She’s online at snoringscholar.com and is the author of a number of books.

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  • Teresa Meyer

    wow! what a beautiful article! It felt like I was back in time when the event happened! i’m 18 and me and my family just came back from our pilgrimage to Ireland and medjugorjie! we went to Ireland last year and were lucky to go again! especially to go back to Knock! Last year was to see where my grandma grew up and this year I got to know what my ancestors went through with the potato famine and how strong they were to give up everything for their Catholic faith. That’s why I think that Our Lady didn’t need to say anything for the Irish People to believe Her, because seeing her was comfort enough, and that she was proud of Her people for keeping their faith! But I think our trip got me even stronger with my faith like it did for my ancestors in Ireland.

  • Yvonne

    Beautiful article, Mary truly is our Mother… She is so protective of us and wants each of us to love and honor
    her Son.

  • oyecomova

    … do you see any connection between Knock and the ‘moving statues’ of Our Lady reported around Ireland at the end of the 80′s? ….. no spoken messages in all these cases….. yet firm conviction of authenticity by many witnesses who had been skeptical before witnessing ……..

  • Richard III

    This is a wonderful piece, Mrs. Reinhard, and don’t worry, you’re not crazy and I will not roll my eyes at you for sensing God or Our Lady’s presence nearby at times. I’ve felt St. Thomas More (my favorite saint) to be near me at different times. I can’t see, hear, or feel him physically, but at those times I feel drawn to converse with him either mentally or in a loud whisper. Sometimes his presence is so strong that I almost can’t stop talking (not that I’ve ever tried to), and without seeing, can approximate where he is (usually close by on my right).

  • Lee

    Sarah, you always make me feel good as I read the ease that you write with. Isn’t it wonderful to be in love with Our Mother Mary and her son Jesus. Peace and joy to those who know and prayers for those who yet seek to believe.

  • JimmyChonga

    Sarah, you’re precious. God bless you.

  • CELTICFIRE

    Beautiful article, thank you.
    I was in Knock on the 15 August for the Consecration of Ireland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, what a day for Ireland!!!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN0HiEzoo6A&feature=share&list=UU0LS3E7EGw5t_owhdeOuTbQ

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    Teresa, such a beautiful story you have! Thanks for sharing it…I hope to get to Ireland someday so I can see it for myself. :)

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    To that I can only say: BOO-YAH. And WOW. :)

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    I’m not familiar with the stories of the moving statues. I’m going to have to look that up!

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    Well thank you…and I converse with Mary and my angel and a few other saintly friends all the time. Literally. But I’m glad I’m not the only who’s that way.

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    Well thank you. :) God bless you too.

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    Thanks, Lee.

  • oyecomova

    ….. listen here: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/radio-documentary-moving-statue-ballinspittle.html
    there are 2 radio documentaries 1 better than the other…. not sure now
    which this is, but enjoy…. you’ll find them both on the RTE site…..
    one police sergeant originally very skeptical, overwhelmed by self witness well observed that he felt it significant that these happenings occurred just before the trials of the Irish church and horrors shortly later to unfold…… as a writer you could work on that? May the road rise up to meet you and the wind be on your back …… God Bless

  • oyecomova
  • lightedlamp97

    So beautifully written. I felt like I was right there on that mower(could even visualize the color of the mower…brown from the summer sun). I go in and out of spells of much praying of the rosary and then a fast here or there from it. But I had a great grandmother who died long before I could meet her, but she is said to be remembered by her little rocking chair with a rosary being prayed as her little ones would sleep. I get chills when I think of that little polish immigrant (who never spoke a word of English), must have prayed for. Her children’s protection and safety must have been key. For generations now, many children and children’s children have been physically healthy. And I believe their faith carries on because of the efforts of her and her love for Mary. I have that little wooden rocker in my home:) I guess that’s Mary’s call to me to carry on these prayers. What efforts Mary must do on our behalf that we could not even imagine. Just like the Wedding Feast at Cana, we too are given our needs, our desires, her affection. Thank you for speaking to me so deeply through this wonderful reflection. What a gift you have through words.

  • Delene

    I was at Knock twice during the last week, on the 15th of August for the Consecration of Ireland to Our Lady, and on the 17th for our diocese pilgrimage. I live about 2.5 hours drive away, and try to get there at least once a month during the pilgrimage season. http://www.knock-shrine.ie

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qswm7lHp7oY Seeker8

    Wow!

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