12/22/2011 9:01:00 AM SEMINARIAN'S DIARY God willing, I'll be ready
BY SCOTT VANDERVEER
These days, if someone is serious enough about religious life to have overcome all the obstacles presented by their peers, their family and the culture, there's a good chance that they are bursting at the seams to do it.
Their zeal makes them want to go out and get ordained right now and start ministering immediately. That passion is a great gift - but it needs to be paired with some patience, because the formation process is no E-ZPass.
When I presented myself to the Diocese of Albany in 2007 and told them that after 15 years of thinking about the priesthood I was finally ready to be a priest, I half expected them to say, "Great! When would you like to be ordained?"
Instead, they said, "How nice. Have a seat. This is going to take awhile."
Some people mistakenly think that because there is a shortage of priests, it must be easy now to become one. While the need for priests is undeniable, the standards are higher than ever before - for good reasons that I'm sure are obvious to everyone.
It's for the good of the individual and of everyone in the Church that the process involves so much scrutiny, but it can be a bit daunting when you realize that, while you may feel on fire with God's love and want to start ministering as a priest today, it's probably going to be about seven years before you lie facedown on the marble floor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany during the ordination ceremony.
Now that I'm in my third year of the four-year major seminary, much of the process is behind me. But I clearly remember the anxious excitement of the application process: waiting to get an appointment for my psychological tests...waiting for the Bishop's decision to accept me or not...waiting for an interview at Blessed John Seminary...waiting to hear whether I was accepted there.
The zeal I had to get started right away made the time I spent waiting seem longer than it actually was. Looking back, it was good training for the waiting that I'm doing now: I'm waiting to hear if the Bishop and the Diocesan Vocation Board is going to "call me to orders" to be ordained a transitional deacon, which is the last step of the formation process before priesthood.
It's not until I receive the "Call to Orders" (the title for the official notification that a seminarian has been chosen to continue forward to ordination) that I will know for sure that I will be ordained a deacon on May 26, 2012.
That call will not come until the seminary has a chance to share my mid-year evaluation with the Bishop and he decides if I am worthy of ordination. Typically, that all happens in early spring.
Until then, it's bad manners to presume that I'll be ordained. We even have a custom in the seminary of always qualifying our future plans with the words "God willing," as in: "After I'm ordained a deacon in May - God willing - I'll work in a parish for the summer."
We don't presume anything. It's all up to God, and God's decision will be communicated by the Bishop, who will speak on behalf of the people of the whole Diocese and the worldwide Church.
The way I look at it, "God willing" puts into words what is always true: We can plan all we want, but ultimately, we're in God's hands. It would be wise for us all to whisper "God willing" to ourselves regularly to remind ourselves of that fact.
Recently, I was reading from the Book of Daniel during my morning prayer time and came across a line that seemed to speak to my current situation. It said, "Blessed are they who have patience and persevere until the 1,335 days."
I got my calculator out and realized that 1,335 is almost exactly the number of days I will have spent in the seminary over the course of my four years.
I read on: "Go, take your rest," the passage read, "You shall arise for your reward at the end of days."
Indeed I will...God willing.
(Scott VanDerveer is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Albany at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass. He formerly taught at St. Pius X School in Loudonville.)
This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, search for "seminarian diary" at www.evangelist.org.