The Dutch bishops have released a message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will fall this year on 25 April. It is available via the Diocese of Breda here. A translation into English is here.
On 23 January 2010 Bishop van den Hende will ordain Steven de Koning to the priesthood. Steven de Koning looks back at his vocation as a late answer to an early vocation.
As priest he wants to be a mediator of faith and faith experiences and be near to people with questions on their path through life. He clarifies: “In our time many people have lost their awe for Holiness. Throughs, through sacraments, conversation and also silence I want to give room to the Holy in their life, let it speak. In silence we can experience that questions are not always answered and that can hurt. The pain and the unanswered questions invite us to be part of life.” Steven de Koning also experienced that pain and those questions in his own life. “My youngest brother has become a widower twice. Both his first and second wife died young. That makes you ask why.”
My work as a lawyer for the government assumed a makeable world, but in moments like that you find that we don’t know so much, that life is a mystery. I see life more as a gift from God. Life is filled with God’s presence and He invites us to enter into a relationship with Him. That awreness has become more profound throughout my life and has led to my late answer. I have long wondered if I had a vocation. Wasn’t it just a psychological urge? At a certain point I dared to trust that presence of God and His calling.”
Steven comes from a Catholic family from Breda. He ws born in 1953. At twelve years of age he had his first experience of a vocation. “My father’s family included several religious, among them a Marist father. At twelve I had a certain interest for the priesthood. An ‘ambassador’ from the Marists came to visit, and it turned out I was to go to the seminary in Lievelde. That scared me away.” In that time too, society had many questions about mandatory celibacy and the future of the priesthood. That made the choice for priesthood more difficult. He postponed the decision and postponement turned into cancellation. Steven de Koning went to studt law and had a good career as a lawyer with the Departments of Culture, Recreation and Social Work, as well as Justice.
Steven de Koning always felt close to the Church. He freely admits that, as a student, he didn’t go to Church weekly. In The Hague, the self-evidence of the Catholic faith was broken. “I came in contact with Protestants and andere religions. The urge for development in my own faith grew because of that. I became a volunteer in my own parish, took part in catechetical groups, first as participant, later as group leader. In the mid-1990s my employer gave me a chance to reorient myself, because of internal reorganisations. That awake the dormant desire to be a priest. Around 2000 I had various indications that God really did call me.
God still calls
A Protestant friend gave me a novena candle. I lit it at Ascension. In my parish at Pentecost that year, I picked up a copy of the diocesan magazine of Rotterdam, which had an article entitled God still calls. It was about men who were called to be priests at a later age. That deeply touched me. I went to find out the origins of the novena candle and ended up in the Vredeskerk in Amsterdam. The priest of that parish invited me to take part in a discussion group about vocations, which he had just created. That was for me a safe place, far away from The Hague, to think about my answer,” Steven smiles. “After a year I decided to study theology at the Catholic Theological University in Utrecht. I had a great time studying there and still have many friends from there.”
Coming to Breda
In 2002 Steven de Koning left The Hague and moved to Nijmegen. His youngest brother had become a widower and Steven would be taking care for his three young children. Steven continued his studies and became actief in the Heilig Landstichting parish. The priest there heard of his vocation and encouraged him to get in touch with Bishop Muskens. A meeting with the bishop led to a “heartfelt welcome as seminarian for the diocese”. Steven contacts then-recot Ham. He was admitted to the seminary Bovendonk where he continued his studies in 2005.
Steven felt at home at Bovendonk and speaks with much appreciation about Rector Ham and the other teachers. “They and Rector Ham especially made it clear to me that studying theology is not the some as becoming a priest. A re-experienced my vocation and strengthened my answer. I increasignyl experience it as a surrender and want to witness more to my faith.”
Steven de Koning works in the region of Oost-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. After his ordination he’ll continue to the first responsible for Clinge, Graauw and Nieuw-Namen. On 24 January 2010, at 10:30, he will celebrate his first Holy Mass in the basilica of St. Willibrord in Hulst.