Readers in the UK will know that many people are beset with huge problems caused by storms and what meteorologists have called a “once-in-a-thousand-year-rainfall-event”. For those waiting to go home to see just how bad the damage to their homes has been – for the rescue workers and emergency services – for engineers trying to ensure the safety of highways and bridges – for teachers and students wondering whether schools should risk reopening – for all of these folk, the reality of the next few weeks as we approach the Christmas festivities will be bleak indeed. It all probably feels pretty apocalyptic – echoing some of the readings that the Church puts before us at this time of year. For all of us in the northern hemisphere, the nights are going to draw in still further until we reach the winter solstice – the weather will get colder – possibly wilder, windier and wetter – winter really is strengthening its grip … and for some of us, the idea of hibernation for humans seems an increasingly good idea!
But the Gospel messages of the weeks ahead will be “Stay Awake!” “Be ready!” Rather than curling up somewhere cosy and letting the world go by until the warm weather returns, we are exhorted to stay awake – to be ready – to read the signs – to keep faith.
Many places will be preparing to celebrate the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome, marking a new stage in the journeys of faith of catechumens and those preparing to be received into the Church. It often seems appropriate to mark the beginning of a new Church Year by honouring this new beginning for them. And, in the midst of deepening darkness, this shared looking ahead to the new life of baptism and Easter is a powerful sign of faith and hope – for those at the “receiving end” and for the parish communities witnessing it.
The Christian message is that, when things seem at their darkest, there is hope -the promise of light. Unless people have walked in darkness there is no need for a prophet to assure them that they will see a great light. If people have not known oppression (in one of its many forms), there is no reason for them to long for liberation. If we have not experienced the weariness of journeys (actual or of life itself), how can we welcome the promise that rough places will be made smooth for us, paths that seem to be going nowhere will finally show us the way forward – that insurmountable obstacles will be laid low and valleys of despondency raised up? Life’s experience takes us through the dark as well as the light. We have four more weeks of days getting shorter to get through – and several more months of wintry weather – but in these days, we know things are on the turn. We have the witness of people who have found in our communities something that has been as a light to them – something (or rather Someone) they have chosen to follow.
Suggested ritual for the Turning of the Year
Either on your own – or with a group – reflect back on the year just gone… and name some of the blessings received.
Dim the lights – if possible aim for total darkness – and reflect and, where appropriate, name some of the dark things that have affected you and the world over the year (and, possibly, longer). Simply let the words drop into the darkness – don’t judge or, if in a group, comment or engage in conversation about them …
When you feel ready – or people in the group have shared all they wish to, light a taper or candle (a lit tee-light tucked out of sight can make this a little less obtrusive than lighting a match!). You might like to use a psalm – part of Ps 27 or 43, for example, or the second of the Opening Prayers for next Sunday’s Mass;
Father in heaven,
our hearts desire the warmth of your love
and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.
(At this point, you might wish to light a candle, perhaps the first in an Advent wreath)
Then continue (perhaps have the words below printed for the group to join in)
Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour
and give us the strength to grow in love,
that the dawn of his coming
may he find us rejoicing in his presence
and welcome the light of his truth.