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Father Ronan: Awaiting the Dawn

A weekly column by the pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown.

It was painful to move any part of my body. The pain medication lasted only a couple of hours and barely diminished the intensity. Nights were very long and I recall once looking out the window of my bedroom toward the east where the ink-black night was ever so slowly fading to the hope of a new day. Gradually the slightest tinges of color became visible and I found within myself a quickening expectation that at the dawn of the day, the pain would be easier and I could find a way forward.

That chapter of my life is more than 10 years past, and after a few months the peculiar autoimmune disease that was ravaging the muscles in my body was brought to remission and I recuperated. Yet from time to time I remember clearly how anticipation of the dawn was a moment of hope. Perhaps you have known similar experiences when the night has been long and hard and with first light clarity in all ways seems more possible.

The birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem so long ago in a very real sense holds the promise of the end of our long night of suffering. For all humankind has been searching for hope and the possibility of a just and peaceful existence. Every man, woman and child longs for a better world wherein each can achieve their fullest potential and no person ever goes hungry. Hunger for food, for justice and love is no more. I believe this longing of the human heart is also God’s wish. And to bring such a dream to fruition, God has given us the greatest of all possible gifts, His Son, Jesus.

Christmas time is so very pregnant with hope for exactly this reason. Christ is born —we have a Savior. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, professed most eloquently that his child would go before all others to prepare for the coming of this Savior and he explains God’s plan this way: “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:77-79).

All of us are waiting the dawn in our own lives in so many different ways. And we have all known somehow the anguish of the night. Sometimes we blame ourselves for the anguish and often there appears no one at fault. And yet even in these moments I find many of us will wonder, “What have I done to deserve this?” Other times we will answer the question pulling out some failure or another and see our anguish as a punishment … I recall asking “Why?” It seemed so strange that a parish priest could not go to his ministry and care for the people—why would God want that to happen?

The disease brought me to a new level of trust in God’s love. So helpless had I become that I had no other place to go! And now years later, looking back on that chapter, perhaps that was God’s plan in the first place. The Dawn from on high really can lead us out of darkness and into the light of hope.

The Sacred Scriptures for these days speak of how the expected One will open a highway for us, bring about the blooming of deserts and make crooked ways straight —and so much more. Yet the fruitfulness of God’s action is dependent on our response. That is, will the anguish of our night draw us more deeply into darkness and self or open us to the Dawn?

The darkness and anguish of our world is crying out for light and hope. God hears and responds with unconditional generosity. The response is found in Bethlehem and in the person of Jesus, Son of God, Light of the world, Prince of Peace. He is there for you—waiting.

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