By Fr. Corey Close
Four weeks ago I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ, which I realize has both changed everything and changed nothing. I am the same man who knelt down before Bishop Martin Amos and the same one who arose after he ordained me. My faults, failures, weaknesses and sins I still carry with me; I am still an imperfect receptacle of God’s grace.
While the saints shine as brilliantly as stained glass in a great cathedral, I find myself despairingly dull and scuffed up in comparison. Yet here I am, with newly anointed hands that can perform the most amazing of all feats: I can heal and comfort the sick with oils, I can forgive sins and I can turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. As I celebrate these sacraments and look down at my hands, I wonder how this can be.
We may at times wonder how sacraments are possible, placing our trust in the power and mercy of God. Now, as a priest, I stand in awe before the power and mystery of the sacraments, for I know how unworthy I am to do them, and how impossible they are for me to do on my own power. Several people have said in the past few weeks: “Congrats on your accomplishments!” I just smile, knowing that “It is you, [O Lord], who have accomplished all we have done (Is 26:12).”
I wonder: “How can I do such things?” I was told once that the question for the priest is not: “Are you strong enough?” but rather “Are your weak enough?” Do you accept your limitations, your weakness and, above all, your complete dependence on God for everything? Do you accept that “I, [the Lord], will go before you and level the mountains; bronze doors I will shatter and iron bars I will snap” (Is 42:2)? So I stand in awe of the awesomeness of the priesthood and of the gift of the sacraments to the Church that flow not by human ingenuity, but by the grace of God.
This sense of awe is not the only thing I have experienced since ordination; I have also experienced becoming “Father.” Now that I am a priest and am called “Father,” I see how appropriate the title is, for something happens on your ordination day which can only be called a grace of the Holy Spirit. Somewhere in the midst of the rite, all the people of God become your children and you become their Father. The care I feel in my heart for others, my willingness to do for others, has transformed me in many ways overnight. As I stand up and say Mass and look out at the people of God, my heart leaps out for them, wanting to give them everything I have and am.
I can only liken it to parents, how they feel the night before the birth versus the night after. Things you might never have dreamed of doing before now almost become effortless, and fears you never dreamed you’d have become a daily reality. “Will my children grow up right? Will I do good or harm? What is the best way for me to be the best father to my children?” These fears can dominate us, but “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18), which is why the gift of the humbling aspects of priestly ministry is so important.
I am weak; I will make mistakes, but God has asked me to do this. If I work at it as best I can, his plan will unfold as he sees fit. I could worry endlessly about whether I’ll be a good priest or not, whether I will help or not, or I could give it all the love I have and trust that God will do the rest.
(Fr. Corey Close was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Davenport in June. He expects to complete a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America during the 2012-13 academic year.)