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As the oldest Marian shrine in Ireland Our Lady’s Island welcomes pilgrims and tourists all year round and aims to present the life-changing truths of faith in a manner and language that is appropriate to all ages in this current age.

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The Parochial House,

Our Lady's Island, Wexford

info@ourladysisland.ie

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Advent 1st Week ’18

This weekend marks the beginning of the Church year and also the start of the Christmas season. For anyone involved in sales and marketing it naturally begins a lot earlier. Christmas is just a day and yet it puts so many under enormous pressure. The average extra spending for a normal family is something like 2800 euro with about half going on presents alone. Personally I tend to think that something inexpensive that has meaning and with a bit of thought put into it is far more significant than something that costs the earth. It’s a well know fact that jewellers do their best business in the last hours before the Christmas break with men rushing in and buying a last minute present for the wife. Usually no thought has gone into it and even though it might be expensive its still not valued. In Nelson Mandela’s Book The Long Walk to Freedom there is a story about a boy who brought a lovely shell he had dived for himself as a Christmas present for his teacher. She was delighted and thanked him for thinking of her. However she was also aware that such shells were quite rare and only to be found in an area many miles away along the coast. So she also said how much she appreciated the effort he had gone to and the miles he had to walk. Well teacher he said, ‘the miles walked are part of the present.’

With the inevitable family upsets and disagreements that any year can bring Christmas affords an opportunity to be the first to make a gesture of reconciliation. Any issue that is not addressed tends to fester and continue even for generations. A few well chosen words on a Christmas card like, ‘If you were closer to me I could be closer to you’, might make a big difference and open a door for peace in the season of goodwill.

Then each year commercial interests hijack the deeper significance of Christmas that bit more to the extent that its now like a huge birthday party where the one whose birthday is being celebrated is not just not invited but where its unacceptable in some circles even to mention his name. Many schools in the UK for instance no longer celebrate Christmas on the basis of offending the Muslim population. Thankfully some have come to realize that celebrating Christmas causes little or no offence to any minority faiths while banning offends almost everyone.

How common it is to hear someone say how much they dread Christmas. Memories of times past and loved ones no longer present, mean that it can be a sad and lonely time even if it only lasts for a few hours and is over in a flash. The perception is that it is a time when families cosy up together and everyone is having a great time. The reality is all too often quite different. The lack of communication that was present throughout the year can come to the fore at Christmas and create unbearable tension. Many find that parts of their lives that they are able to cope with throughout the year become overbearing during the Christmas season. So it is also a time when breakups occur and refuges just overflow. For those who suffer from loneliness it can be a dangerous time when many will self-harm while for the ever growing numbers who are homeless it has to be just an unbearable time.

We are all too aware of the unprecedented homeless crisis in our country at present and how many families will be without a roof over their heads this Christmas. To put the number in perspective, its roughly equates to the population of Wexford Town. The reality is that if all who could do their bit did their bit, and not just blame the government, the problem wouldn’t be near so acute. Over the years from book sales it has been possible for me to look after a number of such needy cases each year but I know of some families that are absolutely desperate that I cant reach on. If any of you who can do so would like to house such a family before Christmas by providing a deposit and/or first months rent you might let me know and I will set it up. To give out of our abundance is part of our Christian calling and in the end of the day we own nothing and are but stewards of whatever resources that are at our disposal. One day we must all give an account of our stewardship. Our giving needs to be thought of, not in terms of the amount, but more in line with what is left in the pocket after we have given. In that sense 20 from someone on a pension could be far more generous than a deposit and first months rent from someone who has an abundance. As the Dali Lama says:

‘Taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.’

While getting into a nice warn bed on a freezing cold night there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that another family are enjoying the same comfort because of my generosity. It’s a level of happiness that far exceeds seeing a few figures on a bank statement that in the end may be left to someone who already has more than enough.

For far too many Christmas has no deeper meaning and amounts to a marathon booze up. To add to the senselessness we generate so much waste paper that is the equivalent the weight of 500 elephants.

Our dustbins will hold 60 million beer cans. 20 million beer bottles. 20 million wine bottles. 4 million spirit bottles 5 million plastic drink bottles 28 million soft drink cans 4 million cardboard chocolate boxes 3 million cardboard toy boxes 4 million sheets of wrapping paper.

What a load of rubbish! And all of this is our way of commemorating a baby who was born to an unmarried mother, in an outhouse with a couple of low life shepherds protecting him and a few animals keeping him warm. If you can’t make the connection between the two don’t be too worried because it’s unlikely that there is any. The big challenge for each of us is how can we put Christ back into Christmas?

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