The Poems You Could Have Written

As a lawyer, Senator, then priest, Father Michael Tate has thought long and deeply about vocation.

“Every time a new Australian takes the citizenship pledge, that’s a great moment for me, because I wrote it.” 

Michael Tate has had many careers. In this episode of Life & Faith, he tells Natasha Moore about several transitions in his life: from a natural conservative to a staunch Labor Party member; from a student of law to the first Catholic to study theology at Oxford since the Reformation; from a Senator and Australian ambassador to the priesthood. 

A horrific car accident, the Vietnam War, and a painting and a poem were among the triggers for each of Father Michael’s vocational changes. From conversations with Les Murray and Pope John Paul II to his optimism about the “commonwealth” that is Australia, he reflects on how a rich and varied life fits together into a kind of unity. 

“I was reading a poem by W. H. Auden … When you appear before the judgment seat of God, God will recite, by heart, the poems you could have written. And you will cry tears of shame. Well, that hit me like a grenade thrown at me. Was I going to be crying tears of shame on my deathbed because I didn’t have the courage or the guts to write the ‘poem’ which God always intended me to write?”

Photo credit: Nick Osbourne