By Father Corey Close
As my summer comes to a close, I wanted to take this time to reflect on what I have experienced. These first few months of priesthood, filling in at multiple parishes over the course of the summer, have been a great blessing and a great learning experience.
We call priests “Father,” and I am shocked to see how quickly a community can become your children; how quickly you want to stay with them and care for them, but there always comes a time to move on. I have heard from other priests how gut-wrenching leaving a parish can be, like losing a family, and I feel I have experienced that this summer in microcosm. I have been able to visit old parishes I worked at and see old friends, and everything in my heart says, “Stay here, rest awhile, and be with your family.” But I am only a visiting priest filling in, and before long am back on the road.
Five years ago, when I was asked to consider going to Rome, my heart wanted to stay in a place where I felt so at home, but I heard the words of Christ: “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20, Lk 9:58). I feel this saying has an especial meaning for me, but truly so for all priests. We, like Christ, are signs of contradiction. We are Fathers who move from one family to the next, who are at home in the Church but move constantly, and who are married to none so that we are available to all.
I have in short time fallen in love with the communities I have been serving, only to be somewhere else the next week. Certainly, in the future, I will have more stability, but the question is: what is it the Lord wishes to teach me? I think in these circumstances, where one’s heart opens to others, to the inevitability of it being ripped away, there are only two responses. The first is to die a bit inside, to not open yourself as much, not invest as much, to protect your heart from damage. C.S. Lewis describes this way well: “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
For me, that is the only option: to live in a constant state of vulnerability, and this is to live like Christ. As he hangs on the cross, his hands nailed the farthest distance from his body, he cannot protect himself from harm, he is in the position of total vulnerability, and thus, total love. To love is to be open to heartbreak, as I have experienced in small ways this summer.
So what do we learn from all this? That love should be given and received freely, without fear of rejection or the pain that can and probably will result. Most of us don’t have to move away as often as a priest, but we can all learn to let go of the things we cling to in order to protect ourselves. Most importantly, we can all learn that there is only one thing we can truly cling to: Christ.
As the disciples walked away from Jesus because his words were too hard for them to follow, “Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (Jn 6:67-68).
So what have I learned? I have learned how much I yearn to cling to the things of this earth, and even though some of them are true, good and beautiful, the Lord wants me to cling to him. Thus, even as I have to say goodbye to community after community, it is the Lord’s way of drawing me to himself.
(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.)