This is a difficult time of year for many people. It is often hard to return to the realities of "normal life" after the holiday season with all its celebrations and hopes.
Also challenging for many in our part of the world is the lack of respite from the long dark nights. The lengthening of days that began a month ago has not yet brought us into the end of winter and anticipation of spring and light. The gloom that can settle upon us this time of year can prepare us to hear Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew.
"The people that sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those that sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned."
There are many ways that people experience darkness and the shadow of death in their lives. A season of change, loss of dreams and hopes, depression and discouragement - these are only a portion of those things that can lead us into a time of darkness.
In the midst of that it may be difficult to find hope for light, just as this time of year can hold little promise for the lengthening of days.
This week is dedicated to prayer for Christian unity. Here too it can be difficult to find hope; so many are entrenched in a need to be right and to convince others of their error that the common ground, the core faith that we do share, becomes overshadowed by bickering and sniping.
Where then do we find that light that God has promised? How do we turn to where that light does dawn, turn away from the darkness?
The answer is both simple and difficult. Jesus himself is that light, and yet we get so entangled in the darkness, so discouraged in seeing the darkness in the lives of those around us, that we can have difficulty staying fixed on the light, allowing that light to accomplish in us the freedom and joy that is promised, and thereby bringing that light to others.
We're not the first to wrestle with these difficulties. Pain and suffering have been here for a long time, and better minds than mine have concerned themselves with seeking understanding.
So here is just one thought: we won't defeat the darkness by battling it, we won't be able to answer all the questions and dilemmas posed by the darkness itself. We must simply learn to live a different way.
A well-known story about Mother Teresa recounts her speaking at a National Prayer Breakfast where then-president Bill Clinton was in attendance. Her focus on abortion was, of course, not in line with his political stance, but when asked for a comment on her presentation, he simply said, "It is hard to argue with a life well-lived."
Saints throughout history have reached the same conclusion - just live life differently. Let our lives themselves be lights, let our way of daily living saying "yes" to God transform us and warm those around us.
"It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)