Well, this is it. My last offering before I do the Christmas thing and by virtue of which I will step away from my screen and draw closer to the Baybee Jeezus.
What a vile year it has been (for me at least). I have acquired health disorders like they were going our of fashion and I cannot now drive a car. I am far greyer than I was in 2012 and I have discovered that more than a few of the priests I looked up as a child were bound over by some destructive behaviours. Yes, I will be glad when 2013 ends and 2014 begins as there is always that due sense of a new beginning.
But I must not be too hasty. I look back on the last twelve months and yes, the headlines were, as with the newspapers themselves, the paradigmatic bad times where I have failed, been failed, or witnessed the failure of others. That life is not the headlines is also reinforced for me. Actually, if I am honest, there have been some cherished moments of profound and God-given grace that I must surely regard this 2013 as nothing less than a blessing.
One of the harder parts of this year for me is that it robbed me, for a time, of the optimism that I have for life and that colours my perspective. The hues seen in the light became polarised and its greyness was amplified as a result. I can normally cope with whatever flies my way and have become resilient. The thing with losing the colour of life is that when it returns, it is all the more vivid and welcome. The thing with being exposed to life's shadow is that one is introduced to an aspect of living hitherto unknown. Another blessing. I 'see' people altogether more clearly, and then too the society in which I am a member and called to serve. In some very clear ways, my vocation within my priesthood has changed - and I think for the better. I have learned, perhaps a little late, that I am called and ordained to be a priest and not an ecclesiastical administrator; a spiritual person not a task-orientated person. Indeed, I think of those folk in the Bible who seem to be a little hard-done by from my point of view - the blind-man or else dear Simeon. One's calling was to have his sight restored so that others may see; the other to wait until his dying breaths in a state of constant expectancy, to bear witness to the Christ-child and attest for the rest of humanity the nature of the miracle in his arms. The simple fact seems to be that God uses the dark as well as the light to enhance and edify us - to draw us close and to show us the better way.
I love Christmas for all the reasons that you do, but there are magical moments that do much to lift me higher. Standing before a church filled beyond safe capacity with Christmas-Eve kids, all wearing the precious mask of eager expectation; falling into bed after the Midnight Mass and after a single-malt (my own personal relaxation ritual); the kids' faces when they wake on Christmas morning; closed shop-fronts; awful music and choral interwoven everywhere; and that time on Christmas night when I am wrapped up in the arms and legs of my family as we watch some appalling television through the unique and golden Christmas light that always seems to permeate the room each year. Wonderful. Perfect. Gracious.
So, thank you to you and thank you to 2013. To you for bearing with my relative absence but still coming back when I deign to write (and often in a grumpy state I notice); and to 2013 for showing me more of a life that I thought I had sorted but in fact had hardly scratched the surface of.
May I wish you, and all those you love, a peaceful and blessed Christmas. May your 2014 be a time of the richest of God's blessings. See you next year!