I listened to Ciarán Mullooly on Mid West Radio the other day. He was speaking about a forthcoming documentary on RTE 1 about the restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford. Sadly the Cathedral was gutted in a fire on Christmas Day 2009. Five years later, it will again open its Sacred Doors to a faithful people and become again a “house of prayer”. Truly a time for rejoicing in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise.
One of the items of interest in the forthcoming documentary to which Ciarán wished to draw our attention is a picture of the Holy Family. Remarkably, though all burned around it, the image survived virtually unscathed. It is likely, almost certain in fact, this will become a legend in time to come. I can see this picture drawing much attention in the short term and increased devotion in the long term.
It seems so appropriate that the Holy Family is at the centre of this story. They, who looked for shelter on that First Christmas, remained united as the Sacred Shelter that is St Mel’s went up in flames and continue as such when its doors, so joyfully, reopen this Christmas. It is even more appropriate that the Holy Family take Centre Stage during this season that is about their journey to Bethlehem. When much around wants to remove them from the story being told and, even more so, sideline the birth of the Christ Child, there is no little irony in the fact that whenever this story of Longford is told, the Holy Family will be at the heart of it.
St Joseph, an honourable man, came to terms with the most difficult of truths. The woman he planned on marrying was “with child” and he was not the father. Everything in him must have felt betrayed by that truth. It’s almost certain he’d have wanted to walk away but he didn’t. We are told that he was reassured in “a dream” that the child being carried was “God’ Child” and that Mary should still become his wife. Waking from that dream, to the reality of a new day, somehow he accepted the delivered message and continued along the road he had hoped to travel.
Mary, all things being equal, wanted no more than to be the carpenter’s wife. Her plans too were thrown head over heels and, again, somehow and from somewhere deep and rooted, she found the ability to say “yes”.
Jesus, an infant, was born into poverty and spent most of his childhood in exile. Away from home, family and the friends of his parents, he sought to grow to maturity and allowed his path to be shaped by the Will of The Father.
Not simple stuff – the life of The Holy Family. And yet, they remain our model and guide. In many ways, the complications they endured, lived through and overcame, should be sure consolation to us that, in the midst of our own dark days and confused nights, hope remains. It is in finding direction and peace in God’s will that we too can find purpose and certainty.
May this image of the Holy Family in St Mel’s Cathedral ever remind all who see it or hear its story, that hope remains and peace will follow.
‘The Longford Phoenix’ – a Would You Believe special documentary – goes to air on RTÉ One on 30 December at 6.30pm