I can’t let August go into the history books without recognizing the memorial to Our Lady of Knock on August 21. This is a great day of celebration to the people of the small town of Knock, Ireland, and to yours truly.
On August 21, 1879, an apparition of our Blessed Mother, along with St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and a lamb standing on an altar before a cross appeared on the side of the Knock Parish Church in a rainstorm to 15 locals for about two hours. The apparition was examined by two commissions of enquiry that deemed it to be true. Today Knock is one of the most important Marian sites in the world.
Fast forward to 2013, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Yours truly was a sick man, suffering from an unknown malady that was causing extraordinary fatigue due to low oxygen levels in my blood.
For many years, I had been a long-distance cyclist, taking part in 100-mile rides with thousands of feet of climbing, at high altitudes, and reveling in it all. The mysterious illness ended those, however, as now I had a hard time walking up a flight of stairs. When I did go up the stairs, I had to catch my breath at the top.
For a year, we – my wife Sherry and me – traveled to doctors in the region and across the country, seeking answers. I had over 100 medical tests and procedures done in multiple medical facilities, and there were no answers forthcoming. We knew no more after the hundredth procedure than we knew before the first one.
For all the advancements in medicine, there is still so much that is unknown about the human body, and I was living proof. The docs kept telling me there was nothing wrong, but they couldn’t tell me why I could not walk up a dozen steps without having to rest at the top.
Nothing made sense, and the mystery was the source of great stress. Sherry and I both witnessed the manifestations of this mysterious illness and were unsure whether or not something was killing me. The best minds in medicine had no answers, and were unable to point us in a direction to find answers.
We needed a break.
Sherry asked if we should visit our dear friend Ginny in County Clare, Ireland. We had been there years earlier and carried wonderful memories from that trip with us. I thought that was a great idea, and she set about searching for travel arrangements.
The first place she looked was into United Airlines frequent flyer miles. We had acquired lots of miles over the years, but finding them for travel to Ireland, and on short notice, was next to impossible. We both knew that, but it was worth examining nonetheless.
Yet there they were. Two tickets to Shannon in about a month. We bought the tickets and got ready for the trip.
In the meantime, no improvement on my health. Oxygen levels were still low, and I still had to rest when I went up the stairs.
Finally the day came for us to head across the ocean. On the way to Denver International Airport from Cheyenne, I received a phone call from my good friend Tom asking if we were going to see the Marian shrine in Ireland. Asking where it was, he offered that he didn’t know. I told him we would look into it.
Our trip was unremarkable, and we arrived at Ginny’s doorstep in no worse shape than when we left. She had errands to run in Limerick, so a little later that day we piled into her car for the short trip to town.
We went into a religious goods store looking for some St. Patrick medals to take home with us. When we went to pay for the medals, there was a book at the checkout stand about Our Lady of Knock. I mentioned to Sherry that this must be what Tom was talking about.
We went to another religious goods store where the same process was repeated, this time with a different book about Our Lady of Knock.
The next day I was listening to Wyoming Public Radio via the internet when I heard a story about Knock, Ireland. That was too much. I went to Sherry and Ginny and said we need to go to Knock.
It turned out that Knock was just a couple hours away from us, so we made plans to drive there the next day.
The campus at Knock is huge. We went to Mass in a chapel adjoining the church where the apparition was seen. We went to confession in one of the 20+ confessionals in a building designed specifically for that purpose. We prayed the Stations of the Cross outdoors with large crowds moving from station to station. Then we prayed a rosary with another large crowd.
The rosary was led by a priest inside the church, broadcast over loudspeakers for those outside. While he prayed, we did too, marching around the church counter-clockwise (a tradition in Knock) offering our prayers to God through Mary.
Then it happened.
On one lap around the church, I felt something leave my chest. Not an emotion, but a physical action. Not painful or frightening, but more of an expansion followed by what I would describe as “space” in my chest cavity. Something that used to be there was no longer.
I held onto this occurrence until we were back in the car on the way home. I asked Ginny and Sherry about their experience at Knock. “Peaceful.” “Holy.” “Very nice.”
Then I told them what happened to me. They both looked at me in disbelief.
My symptoms disappeared that day and have never returned. That was six years ago.
A miracle? Judge for yourself. I believe it was.
I also believe that these things happen every day, coming to light in a thousand different ways. I’m not special, but I was primed to see this take place. Most of us chalk it up to coincidence.
Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.