As some of you may know, during the second half of last year, I relocated to Canberra to work as the Communications Director and spokeswoman for the Coalition for Marriage, the official ‘no’ campaign in the postal vote on same-sex marriage.
On one of my visits home, one of my nephews asked about my public profile.
“Aunty Monnie, are you famous?” he inquired.
“No, darling,” I replied.
“Are you sure?”
I figured that he had seen me on television, heard me on the radio, seen my name in the newspapers and been around enough of my over-excited relatives to get the impression that I was some type of superstar, but I assured him that I was not.
“Then how come you get to be friends with priests?” he puzzled.
I grinned. I had thought that my new-found media presence was what had made him think I was famous. In fact, it was that I have the privilege and blessing of getting to encounter so many good priests in my day-to-day life.
And there are some wonderful ones out there, doing small and great things that often, we don’t get to know about.
Let me give you just one example.
Last week, I was chatting to a priest who was telling me a story about a youth gathering that occurred several years ago. Priests from all over Australia were attending the event, most of them signed up for numerous shifts of hearing confessions.
Anyone who has been involved with or attended a youth event would know that most of the kids attending would not have been to confession in years. Some who go to confession at an event like that would be making their ‘second’ reconciliation, having not availed themselves of the Sacrament since their primary school days. This priest mentioned that, in preparation, a couple of the young priests had designed a flyer containing an examination of conscience, a guide to confession and some other helpful information to make it easier for someone not familiar with the Sacrament to go with confidence.
The only problem was there had been no budget allocated by the organisers of the gathering to print the confession guides. Funds had been set aside for many other, dare I say, less critical, inclusions in the event, but not this.
Understanding how an experience of the Sacrament of Penance at a youth event can be profoundly life-changing (not to mention, soul-saving) for a young person, these priests decided to arrange for printing of them amongst themselves. Sending out an email to a number of other young priests across the country, each of whom contributed $100 or $200 of their own money towards printing, these priests ensured that thousands of flyers were available. From the length of the confession lines, they were well-utilised!
Only God knows how many of them found the courage to go to confession because they had been given one of these flyers. Only God knows how many kids who were intending to go made a better confession because they had been given a good examination of conscience. And only God knows how many still attend the Sacrament, flyer in hand. I know that I used the examination of conscience in the World Youth Day 2008 liturgy booklet years after the event.
Not only were these priests available to hear confessions, they were using their own money to make sure the young people could participate fully.
I was so moved by this story that I was relaying it to another priest friend a few days later. “Of course they would,” he said. “Laying down your life for your sheep isn’t restricted to liturgies or non-financial matters; it means giving everything you have.”
Fatherhood at its finest, if you ask me.
Priests have been getting a pretty bad rap of late. If you’ve read the Royal Commission final report, or heard some of the stories coming out of Pennsylvania in the United States, it’s not hard to see why. Even one abusive priest is too many. Even one bishop keeping silent is too many. It can be easy, as Catholics, to despair about our leaders.
But stories like this one are a good reminder to us that there is indeed hope. God continues to call men to the priesthood who love Him and who are dedicated to His people, particularly the young. He continues to lead the Church through, and not in spite of, His chosen shepherds. Even amidst the scandals, He is true to His word.