December brings with it the darkest time of the year. Often the issues that we may live with throughout the year are heightened as we soon celebrate Christmas.

Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Carlow Nationalist.
This column appeared on 3 December 2008

December brings with it, the darkest time of the year. This is a difficult month for many people. This may well be a time often when our wounded selves can be at its most vulnerable. Often the issues that we may live with throughout the year are heightened as we soon celebrate Christmas, in the context of our family lives together with our friends and neighbours. Issues such as bereavements, family breakdown and separation, addiction, financial worries and unemployment can overwhelm and cause great pain and burden on many people as we get closer to Christmas itself. Perhaps it makes sense in this time of winter darkness to focus on the light and hope that Christ wants to plant in all our hearts as we journey through this liturgical Season of Advent. We can never fully appreciate or embrace Christ in our hearts until we grow in our awareness of the places in our story that are wounded and longing to be healed. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a

“People who walked in darkness, have seen a great light,”

I recently encountered a wounded man, who shared with me his darkness and how in the depth of misery, he got a glimpse of light that began to offer him an opportunity to begin again. Addiction took hold of him and as his alcoholism escalated he began to suffer more and more. He lost everything, his wife, children, family and friends. In utter desolation he often pondered on suicide. One morning as he awaited an off-License to open early, he was so weak that he could not physically stand and went into a local church to sit and rest.

It was his first time in a Church in many years, he felt that God was absent, removed from his life. His body was so sick that he felt cold all over and noticed that there were candles lighting at the top of the Church. He stumbled closer to the light and rays of warmth that came from the lighting candles. As he warmed his shaky hands he began to gaze at an icon of Mary Mother of Perpetual Help. This image disturbed him, as he looked at the beautiful image of Mary lovingly holding and protecting her Baby Son he longed for the unconditional love that is at the heart of all mothers. Soon tears began to flow and he found himself in sacred place. A place where in the midst of great suffering and pain healing was been given to him by the unconditional and abundant love from the God who created him.

Thankfully the taste of that love gave a new hope to that man. He found the strength to ask for help and treatment and now has renewed friendship with his family and has a new taste of life. The light of Gods love will visit us where the darkness and shadows of fear and uncertainty may overwhelm us most. Christ’s light is greater than any winter darkness and his presence is as gentle as a candle that gives us enough light to take one step at a time, day by day. May we grow in the light and hope that God wants to plant in our hearts.