Remember, Christmas really doesn't have to be just for Christmas...
Published 28/12/2015 | 02:30
There's a saying often used by dog lovers - 'A puppy is not just for Christmas'.
So the lovely little fluffy puppy with the dewy doe eyes is hugged all day Christmas day but then when the family gets sick of having to mind him the whole year round, off he's sent to the pound, or worse.
I found myself in our parish church just after dark, just before Christmas. The church was silent and serene. Candles flickered and the church was half lit.
The peace was incredibly soothing, like when you turn on the hot tap with your toes in the bath and that surge of warmth travels all over you.
I noticed myself breathing easier. Outside, the town was busy with the Christmas shopping and the speakers were playing Christmas songs.
I could see the stress in the faces of the people going by as they rushed about trying to make sure all the shopping was done in time for Christmas Day.
I walked up to see the crib. Canon Declan came out to the altar. There were just the two of us in the shadows and shades of the old church.
He's a nice man. And he never tries to shove his views on to you. An unsung hero, Canon Declan goes about helping the sick and the lonely in his own quiet way. Canon Declan was very good to my mother in her dying days.
"Where's the Baby Jesus?" I ask. "Billy," he said, "he hasn't been born yet. We'll put him in at midnight mass on Christmas Eve."
We spoke of the architecture of the church and the thousands of tiny pieces of coloured mosaic on the walls. Each piece was cut in to shapes and that made the big picture.
"The mosaic was done by Italians a long time ago," explained Canon Declan.
For some reason, I had to explain that I didn't get in here very often.
Maybe I was afraid of being struck by lightning.
"I'll leave you in peace. I have confessions later on." And as Declan turned away towards the sacristy, he said: "Wouldn't it be lovely if we had all this goodwill all year round?"
So I took my seat, hoping no one would come in. I said my few prayers and soon enough my thoughts drifted in to thinking time.
I looked up at the high ceilings, and the timbers up above the centre aisle were in the shape of an upturned boat. Life is a voyage and here I was resting in the shallows taking stock. So much had happened here in this church.
I was given my name in this place, made the first communion and confirmation.
Sat up at the front seat for the funerals of grand-parents and parents, baptised our children, and here I was watching a whole history of a life unfold before my very eyes.
There was the midnight mass old Jimmy Boylan of The Butter Exchange Band in Cork played the French horn. Jimmy had been to confession for the first time since he was a small boy only days before.
Jimmy's dad died from eating a contaminated tin of salmon and then his mother had a stroke and was unable to mind him. Jimmy was put in care and the priests were very cruel to him. He turned against the church.
We adopted Jimmy at 70 and he always spent Christmas with us.
Fr Michael O'Docherty was our curate at the time and he was great pal of Jimmy's. Michael was before his time. He loved a few beers in the pub and he was a natural with people. He saw his ministry as extending far beyond the parochial house.
Jimmy had few sins and he was anxious enough to get a full pardon. Fr Michael brought him in to our kitchen and Jimmy confessed his few harmless breaches of the 10 commandments.
Later that night when Jimmy had a few beers in, I asked him about the confession.
Said Jimmy: "I just said 'Bless me father for I have sinned. Father, I done it all'."
And his penance was two 'Hail Marys'.
So all the bad things you do can be forgiven if you are really sorry.
I think that's the way confession works.
Jimmy was a new man. Born again and he nearly took the roof off St Mary's with his French horning of 'Panis Angelicus' at midnight mass.
So much so, a drunk woke up and cried out "It's the end of the world" and his little dog who was smuggled in under his coat howled like a lost wolf.
So it was I rediscovered all that is good about the church.
I'm still for gay marriage and always will be and I will never understand why women cannot be ordained priests. This piece isn't about the faults but the good priests and nuns who look after us so well and the tranquillity of a church before the people come in.
Thoughts turned then to keeping this feeling of peace within all year round.
Canon Declan casually dropped a seed. "Wouldn't it be lovely if we had all this goodwill all year round?"
There's no reason why we shouldn't have Christmas every day. We do not need to spend a fortune and cook big dinners.
It's as easy as just being good to each other. It's as easy as keeping an eye out for each other.
I spoke to someone who suffers from depression and he told me Christmas isn't the worst time for him, which sort of surprised me. I thought the opposite might be the case.
He explained it like this: "I have family and friends calling by at Christmas and there's great support for me. I feel loved at Christmas."
Christmas isn't just for Christmas.