This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.
I received a Christmas card from a reader. Naturally, I was chuffed with it. Tempted to carry it around in my back pocket and show it it off to friend and foe.
I have removed the writer's name and hope she does not mind my publishing it here. Good to know I have at least one fan.
Here's what she wrote:
"Dear Father Commane,
I just thought I would wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas and new year.
Thank you for the words you write. I am a 'Catholic' in many senses but probably of the 'a la carte' variety and I used to be the other devout kind as a young child and young adult.
I disagree with too many ideas of the Church now (although I am no expert on my own religion) but
I still believe in community and goodness.
I don't suppose I will ever figure it all out. I struggle on!
However your words and opinions and open questioning nature makes me feel that there are others like me out there wondering about it too.
Sorry about the writing! I am balancing a three-year-old on my knee!"
Occasionally I receive feedback. People send a personal letter, they might phone or send a letter to the Letters' Page of the newspaper.
Some years ago, a fellow priest wrote a letter about me to the editor of a newspaper. It was a reply to a column I had written. I found the tone of his letter unpleasant and smart-alecky and he made some personal references which required editing before it could be published.
In brief, it was criticising what he thought was a criticism of mine against the hierarchical church.
The priest also sent a copy of the letter to my then provincial. But guess what, he never thought of sending me a copy of the letter or phoning me to suggest we have a chat. That's how some priests work.
Everything about it was a complete antithesis to the text above. This Christmas card is such a lovely note of genuine kindness. It's clear the woman struggles with her faith but is also serious in finding her path to a living God through the church into which she was baptised. There is something so real about it. Its honesty jumps off the page. Nothing pompous, not a hint of 'I know more than you'. A young woman, I presume she is young because she has a three-year-old on her knee, though she could be a grandmother, who is genuinely interested in her faith.
What is so interesting is that there are so many people like my Christmas card writer.
Only last week I was speaking to a woman who had come from Sunday Mass. She is articulate and intelligent and she is not someone who is 'anti' church. But on this occasion she just could not believe the nonsense the priest spoke during Mass. "I just wonder how they get away with it. It would happen in no other job," she said.
On what occasions do bishops or provincials call their priests aside and give them words of advice? Of course, on all matters of sexuality there is a line which no priest dare cross but it seems in all other areas, priests are free to say whatever they like, no matter how crazy it is.
Our paths to God are varied and require great care and love. Wise and gentle nurturing too.
Thank you Christmas card writer. Lovely to hear from you and I think I know exactly how you feel.
Join the club.