By Corey Close
Over the course of the summer I have been reflecting on the promises that a deacon makes on his ordination day, which for me is two months from now. I have previously written on celibacy and the Liturgy of the Hours, so I would like to reflect upon the last of the “big three,” which is obedience.
In a culture that values personal choice and freedom almost above all else, this promise, to follow the directive of another even when it goes against our personal wishes, may seem almost unthinkable.
Priests form a special bond between themselves and their bishop, putting into his hands the final say on where they go and what they do. Of course there is usually dialogue, feedback and discussion but, ultimately, at the drop of a hat, everything can change, and they can be given a new assignment. Almost every priest has his own story on when obedience blindsided him, and while I have not been ordained yet, I would like to share mine as a seminarian.
My story about obedience begins about the time I entered seminary. Beginning with my junior and senior year at the University of Iowa, I found myself living for extended periods of time in at least six different zip codes: Iowa City (52242) and Coralville (52241) for school, Normal, Ill. (61761) for an internship, Northbrook, Ill. (60062) which is my home, and Davenport (52804) when I lived at the chancery, and Mundelein, Ill. (60060) for seminary. I was sick and tired of moving. At the end of my first year at Mundelein Seminary, I was allowed to move into the room that I would use for the rest of my time there — five years. I was so excited! Finally, I wouldn’t have to move out of a room for five years! I promptly got in my car and drove to Bettendorf (52722) for parish work, but was happy knowing I had a permanent residence somewhere in the world.
After the summer, I returned to my little room at Mundelein and began the school year, ready to live my next five years there. But no more than one month into school, Father Marty Goetz, the vocations director at the time, visited my little room and said to me, “Corey, we (meaning Fr. Goetz and Bishop Martin Amos) think you should study in Rome.” I was crushed. I remember how I was in a daze that entire day. Because of the many moves I’d made in such a short amount of time, I eventually turned down the offer and went about the life that I had planned for myself.
However, more and more, I felt God tugging at my ear, and I began to realize that while my decision was to stay, God wanted me to go. I remember thinking: “Corey, one day you may be at a comfortable parish that you love, and the bishop may call you up and want you to move, just when you least want to. What will your answer be then?” This question haunted me, and eventually drove me to say “Yes, I will go to Rome.” The rest, as they say, is history. But as I review the intervening years, I would never change that decision for anything in the world. Has the road been tough, trying, and frustrating? Surely, but through it all, the Lord has formed me into the man I am today, and has prepared me to become a priest in ways I never thought possible.
And while certainly the institutions in Rome, the trials of living in a foreign country, etc., have shaped me towards this, the single greatest factor in all of it is that I was willing to say “yes” to God (and my bishop), even when my own self quaked and said “no.” Many times God has paths for us that are scary, unknown and even treacherous, but when we follow them with open hearts, he can change us in ways we never imagined.
(Corey Close is a fourth-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)