By Fr. Corey Close
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend my first “June Institute,” a three-day gathering of the priests of the diocese so that we can grow in ministerial skills as well as share fraternity. The speaker this year was a Benedictine monk, Father Brendan Moss, OSB, who spoke on preaching.
He was quite good, and I am sure all of us in attendance were invigorated in our preaching spirit, but what I want to talk more about in this column is the aspect of fraternity. We as priests gather three times a year: the week before Holy Week for a spiritual conference and the Chrism Mass (where the oils are blessed and we as priests renew our promises), the first week of June for a three-day conference, and in November for a two-day conference. I now have been to all three and while they are mentally tiring (you learn a lot), I have experienced great joy in each one.
Let me explain. One of the great joys for me while in seminary was the fraternity. Being with 200 other guys who desired to serve Christ and answer his call was very encouraging as we helped each other along the way. Sure, we had differences of opinion, personality, theology, etc, but we were part of a whole: weak men seeking to serve Christ as priests. Once I was ordained and left seminary, I thought this aspect of my life was lost forever.
I have since learned that this is not the case. Truly it has changed; while the fraternity shared in the diocesan priesthood is not as obvious as it might be in a religious order, it is very much there. I have especially experienced it at the Chrism Mass in April and now at the June Institute.
The Chrism Mass almost speaks for itself: we priests gather at the altar to celebrate Mass with our head, Bishop Martin Amos, who, like a father of a family of brothers, leads us in prayer as we renew the promises we first made at our ordination to the diaconate. The day I was ordained a deacon was one of the most joy-filled I have ever experienced, and renewing my promises with my brothers of the diocese was a great reliving of that joy.
The reason the June Institute moved me, however, may not be as obvious. On the second night of the conference, we honor all priests who are celebrating a “jubilee” year of 25, 40, 50 or 65 years. We had four such jubilarians this year, with one, Father William Meyer, celebrating his 65th.
As I grow into my priesthood and grow in joy for the tremendous gift it is, I am moved by the witness of priests who have come before me and have stayed faithful. Just as married couples might look up to a couple reaching gold or diamond anniversaries, in a similar way I look up to these men who have stayed the course. Sure, we come from different backgrounds and perhaps even disagree on a few things, but without their witness and their faithfulness I could never be a priest today.
It fills my heart with joy to think of all the men who, from Peter and the Apostles down to my present day, have heard the call of Christ and, with his grace, remained faithful to him as priests despite their weakness and sin. My priesthood is not only built upon the call of Christ, but upon the shoulders of those who have come before me. To celebrate the 65th anniversary of Fr. Meyer, who was ordained before my parents were born, was tremendously humbling to me. I am deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to share in my brothers’ joy as we celebrated these priests and their jubilees.
As the years go on, I know many trials and tribulations will occur, but also many joys and gifts. I thank God that I have brother priests to look up to and to find fraternity with as we all press forward in the work of God’s vineyard. As Psalm 133:1 says: “How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!”