Growing up Catholic was quiet. You went to church to think and feel good and a good mass meant feeling better at the end of that hour. That quiet was a place needed at the end of a hectic week. A community of believers celebrated life and its fortunes.

I grew up in a time when priests were not questioned just by wearing a collar. Every day good priests carry the shame of their fallen brother. We have become a society of guilt by association and it is not just the church.

For a time in our lives we revered the priests of those churches. We admired their learned way, their calm demeanor and their being there when you needed them. They seemed one with us and our life being was most important to them. They seemed to understand the everyday man and they stood beside, willing to listen and to give strength when needed.

That parish priest hears all in that confessional. He hears of swear words and ill thoughts. He hears of betrayal and marital affairs and of all things worse and better. He works with death, life, new starts and tragic unexplainable endings. Most of us get choked up at one of those events and a couple of deaths a week after a baptism and a wedding is more than most of us could handle. Our priests are human after all and, like us, are mostly good people.

The parish priest is a leader of a family and like any good family man he wants to see his family happy. He has seen so many things from being the ear to the common man that getting in the way of a parishioner's happiness is the last thing he wants to do. He could care less how much money they have, the color of their skin or the orientation of their sexuality.

A lot of those old priests who heard my early confessions have come and gone. They left a legacy printed on the mind of a young man that treating ones neighbors with decency and respect was a very big part of not only a higher calling, but of everyday living.

I don't know how those old priests can still be talking today but it is said the real boss works in mysterious ways. Just maybe those old priests realize that then, as now, the men in charge had their priorities in the wrong place.

Merle Hanson,