They are a dying race. As are we all. Lighthouse keepers are not the only ones destined to disappear. Individually, and as a race, so are we. But there was one, atop Barrenjoey north of Palm Beach in Sydney, Australia, where he was the earliest lighthouse keeper, whose demise was dramatic. One stormy night in June 1885, George Mulhall went outside to get some firewood to warm his keeper’s cottage, got zapped by a bolt of lightning and ended up – or rather down – six feet under a gravestone bearing the following epitaph :
“All ye that come my grave to see,
Prepare in time to follow me.
Repent at once without delay,
For I in haste was called away.”
Traditional pious claptrap, perhaps, but also a reminder that death is our inevitable and universal destiny which can strike in sudden, unexpected fashion.
As a child, it was Parish Mission sermons (see my book “From Illusions to Illumination”, page 16) that put the fear of God into me by pointing out that some of the congregation would not be around the next time the Redemptorist Mission team came back for this periodic Catholic Revival. This “memento mori” was enough to scare us into the confessional.
Today, Australia’s Royal Commission revealing the use of that quaint confessional box by pedophile priests to molest juvenile penitents later or right there and then, has led to a marked abstention on the part of Catholics to seek sacramental absolution.
Hopefully, confessional boxes like manned lighthouses will soon belong to history. Ships still need the protection provided by lighthouses. None of us, especially children, needs the “spiritual guidance” provided by criminals in confessional boxes.