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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Who I Am and Who I am Called to Be
Fr Michael Vanderbeek, LC (United States)

P. Michael Vanderbeek, L.C.
P. Michael Vanderbeek, L.C.

“Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” You know, I had. In fact I had been spinning it around in my mind for some time, but I never seriously dealt with the possibility until I was asked point blank.

Another Doctor Deacon?

I was born on the memorial of St. Teresa of Avila, October 15, 1975, in a small town in northern Nebraska. I was a breech baby, and thankfully undersized, so our family physician, Doctor Deacon, was able to fold me in half and pull me out backwards—probably a procedure he learned delivering baby calves out on the ranch. My mom tells me that I talked a lot about wanting to become a priest, but then again, I wanted to be a lot of things: an astronaut, an Air Force pilot, and a doctor. I was about seven or eight, I suppose, when I asked my mom if priests could get married. She explained to me that a priest could not marry, but that a married man could become a deacon. That seemed to settle everything: I would become another Doctor Deacon! This quest for my identity followed me all through my adolescent years and into high school. Really, I was searching for something to which I could give myself wholeheartedly.

Search for an Identity

I am the youngest of four siblings, and at 6 feet, 4 inches, the shortest of three brothers. Needless to say, we all started dribbling basketballs shortly after learning to walk. As soon as we were old enough, we participated in local basketball camps. Our dad coached us through middle school basketball, and we each started on the high school team. My brothers went on to play Division 2 college basketball, and although I had some potential as a basketball player, it just did not satisfy the deeper longing for identity I carried within my heart.

I was very involved in extracurricular activities and was open to try nearly any activity that interested me. In 6th grade, I began learning to play the drums. I played throughout high school and was named to the Nebraska All-State orchestra
P. Michael Vanderbeek, L.C.
as a snare drum percussionist. During my freshman year at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, I enjoyed participating in the snare drum line of the marching band. However, I knew I was not made for drumming. I liked to sing (and still do) as a kind of pastime. My mom studied music and taught us all to sing from the time we were still in the womb. We were kind of like the Partridge family and would form a choir at church for Christmas and Easter Mass. I enjoyed singing in the various school choirs and was invited to participate in state honor choirs. Still, I did not consider myself a singer. I could not imagine dedicating my life to singing. I liked to play sports, I liked to play the drums, and I liked to sing, but these things did not define me as a person. They could not give me what I was looking for. I was looking for an identity, a purpose, something to which I could dedicate all of my energy and be filled up at the same time.

An Answer from God

One day God sent me an answer. I was still at the University of Nebraska at Kearney studying computer science (another thing I liked but could not love) on a full-tuition scholarship. Things were going great academically—so well, in fact, that I graduated summa cum laude in the spring of 1998. The computer industry was booming, and jobs were plentiful, but I chose to take a lower-paying local job as a bank computer administrator: there was still something on my mind that I had to clear up before I could move on.

About two years earlier a priest had come into my life, and he challenged me for the first time to seek the identity I was looking for in God. He was a Legionary priest, and I met him at a local retreat organized by the Regnum Christi Movement. I remember watching him celebrate Mass. When he lifted up the host at the consecration, I said to myself, “This man knows who he is. He has an identity.” He had what I was looking for. We got to know each other better over my last years of college, and then he asked me the question that changed my life forever: “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” “Yes,” I said without thinking or realizing the can of worms I had just opened. He smiled and said, “We should talk about that.” Now that I had it out in the open, and not just comfortably tucked away in the back of my mind, it was something I had to address. After much stewing and praying, I decided to go to the summer discernment program in Cheshire, Connecticut. I knew it would not be fair for a future wife and family to leave this issue unresolved. I went for the required medical check-up secretly hoping they would discover some disease (not too serious) that would prevent me from being accepted to the priesthood.

I finally made it to Connecticut, but after six days, I had convinced myself that I did not have a vocation and that I ought to catch the first flight home. The program director smiled and asked me if I had asked God for his opinion. I realized that I had not done any serious discerning, and that I had better stick it out for the rest of the summer. Little by little I realized that God was not forcing a vocation on me: he was proposing. He was offering me this challenging but beautiful plan of his and my response had to be one of generous love, which can only be made freely. My response would be a free gift. I stopped discerning my vocation as if choosing an insurance plan or buying a new car. I stopped turning it over in my head so much and finally put it in God’s hands. I felt as if a weight were taken off my shoulders. I began to realize that God had led me to where I was, and that he was only asking me to follow him one day at a time. So I walked through the open door and into a journey that has lasted eleven years. It is just beginning. My heart is at rest, as St. Augustine said, because it is resting in God. I finally found something I could give myself to without reserve and not fear being left empty and dried out. I found out who I am and who I am called to be.

FR MICHAEL VANDERBEEK was born on October 15, 1975, in Valentine, Nebraska. From 1994 to 1998 he attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney where he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in business administration. He entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut, in June of 1999, where he studied for three years. In 2004 he moved to Rome and earned his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College. From 2004 to 2007, he worked as a formation instructor at Canyon Heights Academy in San Jose, California, and did youth work in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2010, he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology. He was ordained a deacon on August 7, 2010, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and he is currently doing youth work based out of Houston, Texas.

The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who were ordained in 2010 have been published in the book "From the Heart of Christ."



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