In this week’s blog Fr Paddy writes about Hope and Darkness, reflecting on conjoined twins Hassan and Hussein’s fight for survival and  Nuala O’Faolain’s terminal cancer.

Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.
This column appeared in the edition published  30 June 2010.

Mid-Summer brings with it the brightest and perhaps the most hopeful time of the Year. Long bright days are good for our well being. Recently two events touched me greatly. Firstly the successful operation of Conjoined Twins Hassan and Hussein, secondly a very thought provoking book I have just read by John Waters, “Beyond Consolation.” Both situations brought me beyond the present moment, to a place of questions and mystery. The light of the twins and the darkness of Nuala O’Faolains terminal cancer, the context of John Waters reflections.

In the late spring of 2008 the acclaimed Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain went on the Marian Finucane Radio Programme to tell the Irish people she was dying of Cancer. She did not believe in an afterlife and found no consolation in religious ideas. She was terrified of death and surveyed in despair the short time left to her. The interview, which transfixed Irish society, seemed to give voice to something hitherto unspoken in the culture of a society on the verge of sliding out of a brief period of prosperity and optimism. What marked out this personal and profound interview was that someone was sharing such thoughts at all and the great courage and honesty involved in telling her story. Nuala said at the outset that she was speaking out like this in search of some kind of comfort, reaching out to those whose lives she had touched before, perhaps in the hope that someone, somewhere, might be able to extend her some convincing form of consolation.

Asked by Marian Finucane if she believed in an afterlife, she replied in a whisper, “No I do not”. Asked if she believed in God she said, laughing a little, “Well that’s a different matter somehow. Often last thing at night I have walked the dog down the lane and I look up at the sky, illuminated by the moon and behind the moon the  Milky Way and the Milky Way and the Milky Way, you know – you are nothing on the edge of one planet compared to this universe unimaginably vast up there and unimaginably mysterious”. In the darkness of despair Waters brings us to a place of mystery and light. Nuala in her final days found light. This book poses challenging questions on the darkness of so many structures that has taken our light and perhaps hope.

St. Paul speaking to the early Christian Community asks people to be able to articulate the reasons they have hope in their hearts. In a time when so many are disillusioned and stuck in questions, the challenge is to tap into hope. The story of conjoined twins Hassan and Hussein speaks loudly about our innate resilience, courage and will to survive. Their parents are truly fantastic Ambassadors of Hope. Their mother applauded the wonderful support they received in a time of crisis and great difficulty. She said, “With the prayers of a nation behind us, God carried us and brought us closer to his light,”echoing the words of the Archangel, “Nothing is impossible to God”.

May we take time this mid-summer to rest and be nourished by the light and beauty which brings us hope.