A girl in St. Peter’s Square holds baby Jesus figurines for Pope Francis to bless during his Angelus at the Vatican in this Dec. 16, 2013 file photo. Children observed an annual tradition by bringing their Nativity figurines for the pope to bless. (Paul Haring/CNS)

By Maureen Pratt
Catholic News Service

Perhaps it’s the compressed calendar, or the external decor that grabs our attention with “Celebrate the season!” Or, maybe it’s the emphasis on reunions — bringing loved ones dear to us near to us for joy-filled sharing.

Whatever the reason, emotions are often more heightened at the holidays than at any other time of the year. And although many welcome the amplification of goodwill and cheer, for some, the glitter and glow of it all can bring on or exacerbate less festive feelings.

Grief, depression, anxiety, loneliness — these and more can settle as surely as a blanket of snow on the soul, making it so very hard to connect with any of the light-filled sentiments that shine all round. And as this winter sets in more firmly, the very faith-filled truths that are the substance of the season can seem that much more distant, meant for “someone else, not me.”

Maureen Pratt writes for the Catholic News Service column “Living Well.” Her website is maureenpratt.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maureenpratt.

There have been Christmases for me that have come rapidly on the heels of profound loss or serious illness, and these times evoked the muffled sense of blanketing and detachment I describe here.

My grandmother died in a November, and the chill present in the air at her funeral lingered well into Christmas. Another year, I was grappling with the possibility of going blind that cast a somber pall even as I saw the beauty of trees, church and homes “decked to the halls” and beyond.

Others I know have been in similar situations because of ongoing health problems, grief or the pressing stresses of financial, professional or other worry. With these worldly worries, there is no way to go around or put off the circumstances so at odds with the calendar’s relentless schedule.

Advent shall unfold. Christmas shall come. We can’t expect the world to rearrange itself for us, nor can we shake off the profound events so close to home.

But there is something we can absolutely do to sustain us through the rocky, emotionally charged holidays: Draw close the promise fulfilled centuries ago that we hear of, once again, in the Christmas Vigil reading:

CNS graphic by Shelly Connor

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Mt 1:22-23).

No jingle bell advertisement offers such light. No calendar packed with parties brings such strength. No isolation or grief, harsh as it may be, can remain with such love poured out.

“God is with us.”

Unwrapping this simple message, we find many wondrous layers to God’s great gift to us — and not one of those “trick” packages, where, with each layer, the box becomes smaller and smaller, but rather grows and grows!

No matter where we are or how deeply we hurt, God is holding onto us.

No matter how alone we feel, God never abandons us.

No matter the length of our journey with pain, God is with us for the duration and beyond — all the way to heaven, all the way to eternal life.

Sitting in quiet, heart open to receiving God’s comfort, enables us to accept these assurances. Seeking fellowship with our Church enables us to find support in family. Embracing the life we are given enables us to move and do, once again, with joy.

As the essential message of Christmas breathes around and in us, the blanket covering us, keeping us from grace, dissipates. God’s love breaks through. And a blessed thaw begins.

“God is with us.”

Now and forever. Amen! Alleluia!