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In a recent interview (available as a PDF file here) for Trouw, Father Johan te Velde expounds on the major forthcoming change in his life: his entrance as a postulant in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Willibrord. He is now wrapping up his duties as parish priest and diocesan vicar in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, and his new life will start on 1 September.
Following a description of his first encounter with monastic life when he was 17, and his decision not to pursue it at as a student and young priest, Fr. te Velde goes on to explain why he has decided to do so now that he is 58. And this, in my opinion, offers an interesting insight into the motivations of this thoughtful and erudite priest, which have a poignantly current element.
“I never stopped visiting monasteries. Taizé in France, the Poor Clares in Megen, Chevetogne, an ecumenical monastery in Belgium. Three years ago, in Chevetogne, the desire for a pure and sober life in a small community returned. A return to the heart.
I am quite fed up with the society that we life in. It’s all about consumption, entertainment, about satisfying needs. People are finding it very hard to remain faithful to each other. I also see it in my parish, the sort of confusion that young people and young families are living in in that respect. Divorces, parents who are finding it hard to pass something good on to their children.
The Christian faith does have an answer, but we don’t always succeed in presenting it properly. We can say that sexuality is about love and loyalty, but when you see what we have done ourselves, as priests and monastics… As Church we have also been put in the dock.
There are bishops who have held penitential services. They laid down flat on the ground and asked for forgiveness. Others have spoken to victims. Entering the monastery is my contribution. I chose repentance, a life of simplicity, meditation and prayer. I also do this for the Church.”
After the summer, one of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden’s two vicar generals will be quitting as such to enter the monastic life at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Willibrord in Doetinchem.
Father Johan te Velde, parish priest of the parishes in the Noordoostpolder and as vicar general responsible for the vicariate of Friesland and the Noordoostpolder, is answering a lifelong desire to enter a monastic community. In a letter to the faithful of his parishes, dated to Palm Sunday, Fr. te Velde writes:
“For several years now I have been experiencing a strong desire to be a monk. That is nothing new for me. As a student I also dreamed for years to enter a monastery. In the end I did not have the courage to do so, and I became a priest of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. For many years I worked, with much satisfaction, in basic pastoral care. But the monastic life, with the daily liturgy, the silence, the personal and communal prayer, the life of simplicity and fraternity continued to appeal. Personally, I feel called to it by God. I am grateful to my bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte, that he gives me the space to answer to this call.”
Father te Velde has been a priest for the diocese since his ordination in 1982. In 2003, Bishop Wim Eijk appointed him as one of the diocesan vicars, and last year he became one of the two vicars general. The diocese intends to find a new vicar general as soon as possible. In a comment, Bishop de Korte wrote:
“Johan te Velde is a good diocesan manager and an intelligent theologian. With his departure we are faced to fill his position of vicar and parish priest. But when God calls someone so clearly, I must allow for that as a bishop.”
Things like this don’t happen very often, and are all the more remarkable for it. It is heartening to see such an honest and clear vocation story. God calls us where He wills us, indeed., and that is not always to our own plans and expectations.