Take a seat for a lesson on genuine warmth and kindness

Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

Sunday, December 31, was the feast of the Holy Family in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Over the years I have heard priests and bishops use the occasion to preach on the family and family life.

Surely there is no such thing as a perfect family. Every single family is different and no one ever knows what goes on behind the door of any family. Some families have charmed lives, others experience hell on earth. In the last 20 or 30 years we have seen a glimpse of some of the horror that can take place in families. These days there is a myriad family styles. To talk about the perfect family is absurd; indeed, it's a great oxymoron.

The day before the feast of the Holy Family I was on a train from Mallow to Dublin. It was surprisingly busy and at Limerick Junction an elderly woman boarded the train with her three grandchildren and they sat beside me. I like travelling on quiet trains so I was irritated that I had lost the free seats beside me. Awfully cheeky of me, but that's the way it is. The granddaughter, who was 17, asked me if they could take the seats. I half-jokingly, half-seriously said I'd prefer not but yes they were free. She smiled, said nothing and they sat down in the seats. The other two children, a boy and a girl were probably 13 and 15 respectively.

The train pulled off. The young boy put on his headphones and granny asked the 15-year-old for the pack of cards. The granddaughter was stylish, nail varnish, eyelashes, a smartphone and long blonde hair. Her grandmother was small and probably in her 70s.

The train had hardly cleared the station when granny and the 17-year-old were playing cards. A while later the other girl, who was sitting across on the other side, joined in the card-playing. It's an hour and 34 minutes from Limerick Junction to Dublin Heuston and for the entire journey the three of them played cards.

That in itself was great to see but there was far more to it than that. I'm not sure I have ever seen people so kind to each other and relax in each other's company as they did. The gentleness and kindness, the 17-year-old showed to her grandmother was astonishing. It all came so naturally to them. I couldn't work out what card game they were playing but they were enjoying every minute of it.

About 10 kilometres out of Heuston I asked the young girl how old she was, so that's how I knew her age. Putting on my coat I asked her what class she was in and she told me fifth year. I was hoping she was doing German but no, French. When I said to her that she was a great advertisement for the young generation she smiled graciously, seemed a little embarrassed and whispered, 'thank you'.

Over the Christmas I read some of the seasonal greetings from political and church leaders. Some of it sounded hollow and cliched and probably written by their press advisers.

This granny and her three grandchildren who annoyed me at Limerick Junction taking 'my free seats' were a Christmas tonic for me. I have been thinking about it, thinking about faith, religion, liturgy, the state of institutional churches in Ireland but I have no doubt 'God's favour' was with my 'seat takers'. Wherever they go and with whomever they engage they will inspire and impress.