By Deacon Corey Close
During my stay in Rome, I have had the privilege to engage in service as part of my studies. For the first three years I taught first- and second-grade religion at an international Catholic school. While the language of the school was English, the population was very diverse: Italians, Chinese, Romanians and Americans, just to name a few nationalities.
It was a wonderful opportunity, but also very trying; it certainly gave me a new appreciation for grade-school teachers! Teaching religion, a subject which has many abstract concepts, becomes difficult because children at that age may not yet have the ability to grasp the abstract.
My favorite experience from those years came when I taught second grade and prepared the kids for first Eucharist. I had the opportunity to hear the kids pretend to make their confessions in preparation for their real, first confession. While it was strongly emphasized that this was all fake and that the sins they were to tell us were made up, it still was a moving experience for me.
It was my first encounter with this sacrament as a confessor (albeit, a fake one). Certainly I had an idea of what this great sacrament was like as a penitent, but to see a glimpse of what it would be like to be a confessor, to hear people’s deepest hurts and struggles and help give solace and advice, was very humbling.
Now, in my fourth year here, I have begun to do practice confessions to prepare for the priesthood. This has further deepened my awe for what God asks of us as priests, and I humbly look forward to extending God’s love and mercy in this truly wonderful sacrament.
Also this year I have had the opportunity of serving an apostolate at the Rome campus of St. Mary’s College, the sister college to Notre Dame University. This has been another rewarding and joyful ministry for me. It is a sophomore program for the girls, and about 40-50 attend each semester. We have “God Squad” for the girls each Monday night (a topical discussion of the faith), and Mass for them on Wednesday and Sunday nights. As a deacon, I’ve had the opportunity to preach and serve at these Masses, which has been a great joy for me. I have enjoyed trying my hand at a very different ministry.
One thing I love about youth and college ministry is that, especially reflecting on my own life, I’ve discovered what a difference I can make by being a presence of God’s message and his love. While my time at St. Mary’s has been short, one memory that sticks out is a Mass I preached about a month ago. The Gospel was on the five foolish virgins and the five wise virgins, and in it I saw a call for vocations. While the five foolish ones did not prepare or take their bridegroom’s coming very seriously, the five wise ones did. The five wise ones are those who, whether called to marriage or religious life, took their call seriously and lived it out, despite its demands. There is a grace that I have experienced a few times in preaching, where one really knows and feels the Holy Spirit is behind your words, and it is more God who is talking than you. It is amazing when it happens. This time, when I was preaching, I really felt that I and the students had a deep connection, where I was speaking to their hearts. Even if I do nothing else this semester for them, perhaps that alone was what was needed.
(Deacon Corey Close is a fourth-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)