21 Jan 2022

Offaly man stresses the importance of Advent


Ronan Scully of Self Help Africa

The lighting of candles at Advent and at Christmas is one of the most beautiful of all Irish traditions and if anyone knows me well enough, will know I adore lighting candles for people who ask me to light one for them and I love to do it all year around but love it even more at Advent and Christmas time when I light my candles especially my Advent candles for everyone to see.

The candle lighting in the window at this time of the year is not just an emblem of welcome but is also a light of hope. Candles or not, the choice is ours. God’s Spirit resides in us and pausing to be aware of that makes any moment or any location sacred. In the midst of another busy Advent season are we making room for Jesus to enter more deeply into our hearts? For me, Advent was and still is a season of hope and the lighted candles give it the simplest and maybe the most beautiful expression of all.

According to my Nana Scully, lighting a candle at Advent and Christmas time was and is like saying a prayer, signalling as it shone a willingness to make others feel welcomed and the chance to embrace hope, love and mercy which is the promise of the Christ child at Christmas time itself. The lighting of the candle for me and especially at this time of our year is a heartfelt prayer, a prayer that we can share not just with our friends, colleagues and neighbours and with those who asked us to light a candle for them but a lighted candle we can share with the whole world. The world news continues to bring the most horrific images of war, conflict, loss, disease and greed into our homes, so it is a fitting prayer that we light a candle for peace and healing at this time again and always. It is no great wonder that so many of us feel so helpless, so powerless in the face of so much worry in our world. However, as my Nana Scully used to say, "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness". So let your Advent and Christmas candles light shine as a sign of welcome in our homes and hearts, not only for the Christ child but for all who accompany us on this journey we call life and all those who are in need of shelter, food, water, a bed, a meal or whatever need there may be. It is an echo of the comforting message of the angels, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will". As usual a story from my Nana Scully's prayer book by a famous author Leo Tolstoy might help explain better.

The candle in the window

"Gusting winds blew the falling snow into little eddies and drifts, but otherwise the streets were quiet, everyone was at home, preparing for Christmas. Well, not everyone. On a cobbled street there lived a tailor named Leo who was hard at work, sewing and trimming and hemming. Leo liked to stay busy, for when he stopped working, he thought of his beloved wife, Sonia, who had died a few months earlier. He could not imagine a celebration without his Sonia. So he decided to ignore all holidays, even Advent and Christmas. Suddenly Leo heard a knock, but before he could answer, an elegantly dressed lady swept into his shop. "I need this dress fixed for tonight, no later than sunset," she said, thrusting a bundle at him. Leo peered at her. "Impossible," he began to say, but she cried, "Fail me, and everyone shall know that Leo the tailor is no longer good at his work. I'll see that you are ruined." Then she was gone.

Leo stared at the badly torn dress, impossible to repair. "I'm ruined," he groaned, and in despair he lay down on his rickety cot and pulled the blanket over his head. Soon he was asleep and dreaming, and a beautiful girl with golden curls appeared to him. "You must celebrate, Papa Leo," she said cheerily. Leo looked into her face, and he saw his beloved wife. "Sonia?" he whispered. Sonia was the only person who had ever called him Papa Leo, and this was exactly as she had looked when they first met. "Is that you?" "Yes," she said, "and look at this mess!" She began to tidy up around the room, and then disappeared into the kitchen, reappearing first with an exquisite gingerbread house, decorated with candy canes and covered in icing, then with the creche Leo had hidden in the back of his shed. "You've forgotten this," she said, placing the creche upon the floor. "And our holly wreath," she added as she hung this upon the door. Leo watched, amazed. In his dream, Sonia was just as she'd been in life, joyful and lively. He listened to her sing his favorite carols, the music he'd refused to listen to all season long. Now his heart was bursting with pleasure.

"One more thing," Sonia said, and she carried a candle to the window. When she lit it, the room seemed to glow. As the light flickered over his face, Leo sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Sonia!" he cried, but now there was no one in sight. And yet the gingerbread house stood upon the table, the creche upon the floor, the holly wreath hung on the door, the candle glowed in the window. Leo smelled bread and cookies baking and soup boiling. "Sonia?" he called again, but there was silence. Dazed, he heard a knock. When he opened the door, he saw a woman with a baby cradled in her arms. "I'm sorry to bother you, but we were drawn to the candlelight in the window as we were walking home," she said. "Come in," Leo said, and he watched the woman's eyes light up at the sight of the creche. "How beautiful," she said. "I once lived beside a church where there was a creche exactly like this one. May I touch it?" Leo nodded, and as she touched the figures in the manger, she wept with happiness. "Please," Leo said, "take it. For you and your baby."

The woman's tired face seemed to light up. "You are too kind. This would make our Christmas perfect." "It is yours," Leo said. "Merry Christmas." The woman gathered up the figurines and left with a parting smile.

But soon another knock came, and when Leo opened the door, he saw a man in tattered clothing, his face dirty from dust. "Excuse me," he said, "but I am a road sweeper. With this snow, I have no way to make any money for a meal. When I saw your candlelight in the window, I felt you might welcome a poor man." "Come in," Leo said, and the man followed the scents toward the kitchen, where he discovered freshly baked bread and a pot of soup. "Eat, eat," Leo said, and the man sat and ate heartily, seeming to grow healthy before Leo's very eyes. "How can I thank you?" the man asked Leo. Leo leaned close and said earnestly, "I believe the Christ child plans to visit me tonight, so I need nothing. Do you think I'm mad?"
Before the man could answer, another knock came, and now the imperious lady stood before him, demanding her mended dress. Leo handed her the bundle, but he said nothing. "You've done no work at all!" she cried, furiously. Leo only smiled. "You shall have to dance in another dress, my lady. Merry Christmas to you," and with that he led her outside and closed the door. The street sweeper stared at Leo. "Aren't you afraid of such rich people?" he asked. "You shouldn't waste your time on poor men like me. You should have mended her dress."

"Nonsense," Leo said. "I have done what is right." The poor man peered up at Leo. "All I have to thank you with are these small boots I found when I was sweeping," he said, handing them to Leo. "Perhaps these will fit the Christ child?" he asked. "Do you think he will truly come?" "I've a feeling that all will be well," Leo said, and he took the boots and reached into his closet. He pulled out a long woolen coat. "And you shall take this coat for warmth. I have two and need but one." "But sir ..." the beggar began to protest."Merry Christmas," Leo said as he walked the man to the door. T

here he stood, looking at the fresh coat of snow, and then he looked up at the bright moon. Then Leo heard a whisper at his feet and looked down to see a little boy dressed in rags. "Sir, I saw your candle lighting in the window and I wondered if you might have some food for a poor child." "Come in," Leo said, and then he realized the gingerbread house was for this boy, and the boots, of course, the boots from the street sweeper. They fit the poor boy perfectly. Leo's spirits danced with the light flickering from the candle.

"Why are you so happy?" the little boy asked as he devoured the cookies and drank some soup. Leo smiled. "Listen to this," he said, and he reached for his Bible. "Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry and ye fed me; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in. Naked, and ye clothed me ..." "Have you done all this for the Christ child?" the boy asked. His eyes were as big as saucers. "I have," Leo said, "for the Book of Matthew tells us: 'As ye have done it to one of the least of my brethren, so ye have done it unto me.'" "What does that mean?" the little boy asked. "It means, child, that my beloved Sonia is an angel, and that we who give are blessed." And Leo looked into the candle's dancing light and understood he had always been surrounded by love."

Thought for the week

As your thought for the week, let’s not give each other more stuff this Christmas and instead give each other more love and that the story above of the candle lighting in the window and having always been surrounded by love will hopefully provide some inspiration that faith, hope, love and peace will win out in the end. If you are going through dark days then I can only wish and sincerely pray and light my daily candle for you that you find the Faith, Hope, Mercy and Love required to provide the light you need to get through these dark days.

Let’s not gift products but instead gift experiences such as experiences of connection, compassion, acknowledgment and belonging. And if we find ourselves in a place of relative abundance, let’s offer what we can to ease the suffering of our fellow humans. According to St. Mother Teresa, "the greatest good we can do for someone is to turn their darkness into light", and even in the smallest of ways, it is an ideal that still has meaning today. Not just at this time of the year, but all year around. A candle will be lighting for all your intentions this week and always especially for those most in need.

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