As We March to Our Church Tonight, We Will Rekindle a Faith That Flickers. but Still Lights the Whole World; Christmas ESSAY

Daily Mail (London), December 24, 2014 | Go to article overview

As We March to Our Church Tonight, We Will Rekindle a Faith That Flickers. but Still Lights the Whole World; Christmas ESSAY


Byline: Paul Drury

THE candles flickered and guttered in the gloaming - just as they had done 150 years ago when this little parish church first opened its doors to worshippers. Back then in 1864, here in rural Rathmichael in the foothills of the Dublin mountains, candles were all they had to illuminate the newly built church.

Today, although it is still surrounded by woods and fields, my parish church has electric light, an amplification system and all the other trappings of modern technology. But, as we gathered the other evening to celebrate its 150th anniversary, we still lit candles - on the altar, in the window embrasures, wherever we wanted to keep darkness at bay.

Of all the symbols of Christianity, only the cross itself is more enduring.

That is especially the case at this time of year, as Christmas approaches and darkness claims dominion over all but a few short hours of the day.

One reason, I suspect, is because a candle flame - so often struggling to remain alight in the face of chance winds and draughts and yet so difficult to entirely extinguish - is a powerful metaphor for what passes, with most of us, for faith.

For most of the year, except in times of crisis, it gutters away to almost nothing.

We claim token allegiance to one faith or another; we may or may not attend Mass or some other form of religious service on a Sunday. But, if we are honest with ourselves, for 11 months of the year Christianity has very little place in most of our modern, materialistic lives.

And then, miraculously, as Christmas approaches and despite the howling winds of materialism, that flame suddenly flares up anew - full of brightness and hope.

It is a hope that has sustained mankind for more than 2,000 years - the hope that was born in a stable in Palestine and that has lit up our innermost souls ever since.

The modern Christmas, of course, is about much more than that: it is about eating and drinking to excess, about giving and receiving presents, about family reunions and office parties, about sometimes shameless self-indulgence.

BUT, at its very heart, Christmas is still about one thing only: the birth of Jesus Christ. Down through the years, year after year without fail, Christian men and women have gathered together at Christmastide to celebrate this, the greatest miracle of them all.

Tomorrow, churches up and down our land will once again be packed - in many cases, for the first and only time this year.

For most of us - even those who have not darkened a church door in a year - Christmas Day without some form of worship would be like the dinner without the turkey.

It is, as I have said, exactly 150 years since the parish church where I myself will join in those celebrations was consecrated. It is a simple but truly beautiful building, designed in the Hiberno-Romanesque style by that gifted Victorian architectural team Woodward and Deane.

There could be no more magical place in which to mark this most magical of occasions.

So tonight, as the clocks count down the minutes to midnight and the church bell peals out in the still night air, I will walk there through the darkness - as I have done, health permitting, on almost every Christmas Eve for the past two decades. But, of course, Christmas has been celebrated here in the shadow of Carrickgolligan, where the mountains sweep down to meet the sea, for a lot longer than 20 years or even 150 years.

The modern church building replaces another, much older building high up on the hillside that had fallen into disrepair.

Its ruins, however, are still there - surrounded by a tiny graveyard where local families still have burial rights.

Today, it is a wild and lonely place where I love to walk, especially at this time of year when the trees are bare, the bracken is tinged a golden brown and the frosty ground crunches reassuringly beneath my feet. …

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