By Corey Close
As I sit down to write this article, I note the sense of awe I feel having been ordained to the transitional diaconate only a short time ago. I have yet to unravel what it all means.
Like an undiscovered cave with thousands of passageways, it may take a lifetime to explore what God has done for me. Hopefully last week you were able to read The Catholic Messenger’s factual article of my ordination at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City State, but now I would like to describe it in more personal detail.
One could say that my ordination to the diaconate was a moment where all the roads and paths of my life converged — those going back to my past, and those leading forward into the unknown distance. While I was sitting in the sacristy of St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 6, I thought on all the things that had brought me to that moment. Six years earlier, during a restless night, I finally had the courage to answer the call. From that moment of sheer privacy, of heart speaking to heart, had come this day in which I would proclaim before my peers, my family and the whole Church, my desire to more fully conform my life to Christ. Many times I am asked, “Why do you want to become a priest?” I feel my answer is the same as it has always been: “I don’t want to become a priest, but I hear God’s call, and I can’t say ‘No’ to him anymore. I love him too much.”
From the sacristy we processed to the Altar of the Chair, and the Mass began. For me, the Mass was the truest joy I have ever experienced. Telling the world publicly my desire to lay down my life by embracing prayer, obedience and chastity, not for love of gain, but for love of Christ, was something I’ll never forget. The moment that sticks out most in my mind, however, was Cardinal William Levada laying his hands on my head, and calling the Holy Spirit to come down and sanctify me.
From that moment, I ceased to be my own man, but rather, by giving up my “freedom” to do whatever I want, gained the true freedom of being a son who serves his beloved Father with all his heart. I became a man of service, which is directly where the word “deacon” comes from, meaning “servant” in ancient Greek. While the modern world may look in puzzlement at a man who would give up the very things that seem necessary to happiness, I can honestly tell you I have never felt happier than at that moment.
Following the laying on of hands, I had the enormous privilege of having Bishop Robert Gruss vest me as a deacon for the first time. The following day he celebrated Mass for me, my family and pilgrims at the Clementine Chapel in St. Peter’s (the chapel of the bones of St. Peter). I cannot help but remark on what extraordinary roads God had led Bishop Gruss and me on these past years. I vividly remember walking into the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City six years ago as a senior at the University of Iowa and sitting down with then-Fr. Gruss, who was vocations director for the Davenport Diocese, and filling out the initial paperwork for entry into seminary. He has been a friend and mentor ever since.
And so here I am, six years removed from a college senior who knew only that God was calling him to be a priest, and having the courage and trust to say “Yes.” The roads I’ve traveled these past years have been difficult, sometimes extraordinarily so, and the story that God is writing in my life certainly is not the one I would have written, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Truly, God is a masterful story teller, and while we never really know where the story will lead, you can be assured of this: it is always infinitely greater and more remarkable than the one we would have written ourselves.
(Deacon Corey Close is a fourth-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)