By Corey Close
I recently had the honor of traveling with a group of 15 young adults and teenagers, ages 16 through 21, and two adults on a service trip to the eastern edge of Kentucky.
We traveled to the Appalachian Mountains, where the young men and women on the trip had the opportunity to help impoverished people in the hills of Kentucky rebuild their homes and, in a small way, their lives. We departed from our parish, St. Joseph’s in DeWitt, early Sunday morning (July 17). We arrived the same day in Kentucky and spent five days volunteering there.
It was an experience I don’t think I will ever forget. Seeing the kids’ eagerness to begin the work and to keep at it until the last tools were in the cars on Friday was amazing to witness. Their example was truly inspiring. The two houses we worked on over the course of the week had major roof damage, which had in turn caused major interior damage. The kids had their work cut out for them, but they were up to the task. Having never done this before, I was a bit daunted when we arrived at the first site on Monday morning, especially seeing the extent of damage to the interior. But when I saw the kids go in without a second thought, it inspired me throughout the week to do the best that I could to help. So many times in ministry we find that we receive far more than we give.
While these moments were truly great, what I will always remember is that for the first time I felt a father’s love. In the time I was with these young men and women, over the course of the week, I felt a love and a sense of caring for them that I’ve never quite felt for another person in all my life. I knew that God has the gift of “spiritual fatherhood” for his priests, but this was the first time I experienced this in my own life.
I felt the youths’ joys, sorrows, excitement and frustrations as my own. When the trip was over and all the kids returned to their lives and parents and all the dust had settled, I found that I missed them, and wished I could give them more. But such is one of the crosses of ministry. All become your children, but they only enter your life for a little while, and then one of you must move on.
For the first time in my life, I felt like a priest, and while I will not be ordained for a year, I felt in my bones that this is my calling; this is what I was made to do. During the course of the week, many times I wondered: “What good am I really doing? It does not seem I am doing much. I am only here, spending time with these young men and women.” The following quote, I believe, is an answer to these doubts:
“What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” — Blessed Mother Teresa
(Corey Close is a fourth-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)