6/28/2012 11:41:00 AM SEMINARIAN'S DIARY As one door opens, others do close
BY DEACON SCOTT VANDERVEER
In May, I was ordained a transitional deacon for the Albany Diocese. As a seminarian, this marks my entrance into a year that will, God willing, lead to my ordination as a priest next June.
I am now in the final stage of my formation; the goal I have been moving toward for many years is now clearly in sight.
While it is no surprise that every step closer to the priesthood makes me more excited about all that God has in store for me, entering this phase has also meant encountering some complex emotions.
At my diaconate ordination, I put my hands into Bishop Howard J. Hubbard's and promised him and the Church that I would remain celibate for the rest of my life; that I would be obedient to him and to every bishop that will follow him; and that I would faithfully pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the ancient schedule of prayer that clergy practice multiple times each day.
These promises are what most people consider the "biggies" of priesthood, but few realize that they apply not just to priests, but to deacons, as well. (Permanent deacons make the same promises unless they are married at the time of their ordination and are therefore excused from the celibacy promise.)
I felt the weight of these heavy promises as I prepared to make them. Just before I was ordained, I talked about that with a married friend my age.
She sympathized, but admitted that it was hard for her to fully remember what I was feeling because she has been married for 18 years. She told me she made that commitment so long ago, it is no longer something she "does;" it is simply who she is: a married mother of two.
What she did long ago, I am just now doing at age 37. In walking through the door to my future, I'm letting the other doors of my life close behind me.
While I have no doubt that this is what God wants for me, and that aligning my life with God's plan will make me as happy and fulfilled as I can possibly be, making a lifelong promise - with the one and only life I have - is not something I do lightly.
For instance, with ordination I have become a member of the clergy. In doing so, I have left my life as a layperson behind me. I did not anticipate that I would experience mourning over the loss of my lay life, but mourning has been part of the process.
No one at the seminary warned me about this, which causes me to wonder if perhaps priests who came of age before the implementation of the reforms of the 1960s' Second Vatican Council - back when the work done by laypeople in the Church was much more limited - did not feel as though they were leaving as much behind.
In the old mindset, the things of God were the domain of the clergy alone, while the things of the world were laypeople's concern. In that view, those who felt called to do God's work would be eager to leave lay life behind and get on with their sacred duties.
I, on the other hand, was born a decade after the close of Vatican II. My life as a baptized layperson has been filled with ministry as a catechist, retreat leader, choir member, cantor, acolyte, lector, eucharistic minister, committee member for the parish and Diocese, RCIA team member for those converting to Catholicism and leader of the religion and campus ministry department at a Catholic high school.
Many of those roles in our Church are unique to the laity. As a priest, I will never serve in those ways again. I am bursting with excitement about my new role as a deacon and, God willing, as a priest, but that does not shield me from the loss of what I am leaving behind.
No one doubts that priests are vital to the life of the Church, but it took walking on the path toward priesthood for me to see this clearly what a treasure lay ministry is for the Church.
I am blessed to be ordained a deacon and to be entering my final year of preparation for priesthood. The view from here helps me to better appreciate my baptism and how blessed I have always been on this journey of faith.
(Deacon VanDerveer is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese 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. To read previous installments, search for "seminarian diary" at www.evangelist.org.