“Father, can you hear my confession?”
They are words that every priest is accustomed to hearing; and they are welcome words, words that we priests love to hear because it means that together with that brother or sister in Christ we will be able to celebrate the Lord’s amazing, infinite mercy.
They are not the words, though, I usually expect to hear shouted at me from across the quad, and yet that is just what happened to me this past football Saturday at Notre Dame. I had left the Notre Dame-Air Force game with about six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, not simply because it appears the Irish had the game in the bag, but because I wanted to begin preparing for the Mass at which I was presiding and preaching following the game.
I was walking across the quad near La Fortune, going over my homily in my head, when the voice cried out to me on the quad: “Father! Father! Can you hear my confession?” It took me a second to register that he was calling out to me, because, again, it is not every day that someone shouts out to me from across the quad. Yet this young man must have seen my Roman collar sticking out from underneath my green Notre Dame jersey – as I had to represent both for Holy Mother Church and for Our Mother’s football team!
I stopped, turned around, and called back to the young man, “Of course! I would love to hear your confession.” And so, we took a few steps off the path to find a little privacy, and there, underneath a tree, with football fans streaming beside us on their way to the Basilica, we celebrated the Sacrament of Confession. It was beautiful! I could not have asked for a better end to my game day. (Do not tell anyone, but even as much as I love Notre Dame football – which is a lot, just ask my brothers in Holy Cross – I would trade in celebrating a victory on the football field for the chance to celebrate the victory of God’s mercy in someone’s life in Confession any Saturday. Of course, I’d rather take both victories, like the Lord gave me this past Saturday!)
Little, surprise moments of grace like that one on the quad are what make me love being a priest so much. I am so thankful for my vocation as a priest. I thank God for it every day, and I also pray that he open the hearts of more young men to answer His call, so they too can hear shouted at them from across the quad, “Father, can you hear my confession?”