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Dark night of the soul

The night is always darkest just before the dawn. For the three Wise Men, following the Star, this was certainly true. That Star had been the dominating force in their lives for two full years. It had led them across deserts into lands they did not know. And suddenly, when they reached Jerusalem, the Star went out. It was gone. They could not see it anymore.

In their misery, they looked for help. They went to the Jewish Governor, Herod. And this was a mistake. The man had all the vices at once. He was hungry for power. Ruthless. He was a killer. He told them to find the new born King, and come back and report to him. They touched him in his most sensitive spot – power. There was a new King being born, who would rule the Jews, overthrow him, take his place. Herod was determined to kill this King while he was still a baby.

The Wise Men left Herod’s Palace and went out into the dark. There was no Star. The heavens were black. After two years they were up against a blank wall. Strangers in a strange land. They did not know where to go, or what to do. For them, it was really a dark night of the soul.

And not only for them! On the hillside were shepherds, guarding their sheep. They were a subject people, living in a country that was beaten, conquered, in the possession of Rome. They were bowing to the Roman Soldiers at every crossroad.

They were waiting for the Messiah, the one who would be sent by God, the son of David. They expected this Messiah to do what David did. David broke the power of the Philistines, making Israel an independent nation, a leader of the countries around the Mediterranean. They expected the Messiah to break the power of Rome. But they had waited for centuries, and the Messiah never came. They were not only poor, and hungry. They were in abject submission to the Romans. For the shepherds, it was a dark night of the soul.

Right now, here in the Philippines, we feel very much like the Three Wise Men and the shepherds. We are deep in an economic recession, at the bottom of the Asian barrel. One thousand hospitals have closed in the last year. Even Makati Medical, which we thought was one of the finest hospitals in the world, is bankrupt. The Asian Hospital in Alabang, built by Doctor George Garcia, who is probably the best heart surgeon in the medical profession, has been sold to businessmen from another nation.

And so many individuals are suffering from private calamities. Parents weeping because they do not have enough money to enroll their children in school. Young men and women, deeply in love, but afraid to get married because they do not earn enough to maintain a home of their own.

So many are under-employed, or unemployed. We see no light at the end of the tunnel, because all the money that comes into the country somehow does not seep down to those in need. It disappears into the pockets of the politicians. And prices keep going up. Our employers want to help those who work for them, but they can not afford to pay a living family wage. If the government forces them to do this, they close up. It is really dark night of the soul, for many people, in many places, right here, right now.

When I was a very young priest, I was the acting chaplain in Georgetown University Hospital, for about six weeks. One of the patients was a nurse, on the critical list, bleeding internally, dying. The nuns working in the hospital said to me: "Please! Give her the last sacraments! She is a very good girl! But she has not gone to the sacraments for more than a year!"

When I spoke to the patient, she said: "I can not go to the sacraments. I am civilly married to a man who was married in the Church years ago. I love him. I can not promise to give him up." I said: "But you are dying!" She answered: "I can not promise to give him up provided I die! If I get well, I know I will go back to him! I can not lie to God on my deathbed!"

This made me blush. She was really honest. The man was walking up and down outside the hospital room. I talked to him. He had been married, years ago, but it lasted only four months. The girl he married was 26, when he was 18. She took all his money and disappeared. He said: "Look. I love her. But if I am standing between her and God, I’m willing to go away." I said: "No way. If she dies, some one has to take care of the body."

Strangely enough, the nuns liked this man. They gave me mean looks and said: "What kind of a priest are you? Letting this poor girl die without the sacraments!" I really was having dark night of the soul. So was the girl who was dying. And so was the man she loved.

That evening, at table in Georgetown University, I explained my problem to an old Belgian Jesuit named Verhousel. He had almost been elected General of the Society of Jesus. He said: "Father! Do not say to this girl: ‘You must give up this man you love!’ Say: ‘Will you do your best to cooperate with the grace that God gives you?’ That’s enough!" At the end of supper he took me by the arm and said: "Father, do it!"

So I did it. The girl wept and said: "Yes. I will try to cooperate with the grace that God gives me. But you explain that to the Sisters, I can’t". So I gave her absolution, Communion, and anointed her. The nuns were there, on their knees, crying. Everyone was crying. Even me.

She was supposed to die at midnight. But at midnight the bleeding stopped. In the morning, when I brought her Holy Communion again, she said: "If necessary, I will give him up". . . . . . But she did not have to give him up. It was a complex case, but Fulton Sheen, who was then Bishop of Washington, D.C., gave them permission to live as brother and sister. Actually, they had never committed sin. The man was suffering from cancer of the lymph glands, and was not capable of marital union. She recovered and they are now living peacefully together.

The dark night disappeared. The dawn broke, for that man and woman. And for me. . . . . .All that God asks of us is to try! When everything seems hopeless, if we carry on in the darkness, if we persevere in doing what we know is right, if we keep on looking for God - he comes to us.

The Wise Men walked out into the night, and continued on, in the dark, looking for the King. And the Star come out again, in all its glory. They found the Baby in the stable. . . . .And the Star came out for the shepherds! The angels appeared over the hillside, and sang!

The light of heaven fell all around them. They went down the hill, and found the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

And so it will be, for all of us. The night is darkest just before the dawn. All God asks of us is to try! When the night is pitch black, and your soul is sunk in depression, don’t give up! Try! And the Star will come out again. Actually, the Star is always there. It is just that, sometimes, we can not see it.

* * *

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will say his Midnight Mass for Christmas on satellite television, in Saint Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican. At noon on Christmas Day he will deliver his Christmas Message: "To the City and to the World."

* * *

All six national TV networks, in the Philippines, will telecast this. Here is the update on the exact times: for each.

• Channel 5, ABC, will carry the Mass live from 6:55 a.m. to 8:50 a.m., on Christmas morning. Their telecast of the Message will be delayed. They will present it from 10:00 to 10:50 p.m. on Christmas night.

• Channel 4, NBN, will carry the Mass, delayed, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Christmas day; and the Message, live, from 6:55 to 7:45 p.m. on Christmas.

• ANC, the news channel of ABS-CBN, will telecast the Mass from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon; and the Message, delayed, from 11:00 p.m. to 11:50 p.m.

• Channel 13, IBC, will carry the Message, live, from 6:55 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

• Channel 9, RPN, will carry both Mass and Message, delayed, from 11:00 p.m. until both are completed.

• Channel 7, GMA, will televise Mass and Message, delayed, from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. on Monday, December 26.

* * *

There is a daily texting service called: "One Minute With God."

You can reach it on Globe by texting: "Reuter @ 2978"

You can reach it on Smart by texting: "Reuter @ 326"

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