From ‘weekend warrior’ to priest

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Transitional Deacon Steven Walker said his road to the priesthood has been a gradual exercise in humility and mercy. And his year as a transitional deacon was no different.

"The hardest lessons to learn are that when I come to God, I need to give Him what I have, without pretending I have something than I don't," he said. "(God) meets us where we are and then brings us to where we ought to be. We can't do it on our own."

Walker was born April 30, 1986, in Bremerton, Wash. One of six children and part of a Navy family that moved constantly, he was home-schooled from kindergarten through high school.

He lived in Virginia for a short time before moving back to Washington in 2005. During high school, he thought he would follow his dad's footsteps and join the Navy. But during his senior year, he felt inexplicably drawn to the priesthood.

"I just felt this was something that God was calling me to do," he said.

After graduating in 2004, he worked for a few years as a waiter in Illinois and then at a silkscreen company in Virginia. Finally, he called Father Brian G. Bashista, then Arlington diocesan director of vocations, who guided his discernment process. In 2006, he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He graduated in 2010 with a degree in philosophy and entered Catholic University's Theological College in Washington.

Last year, he was ordained a transitional deacon, bringing him one step closer to the priesthood. He said that serving as a deacon at St. Ambrose Church in Annandale has been like "being a weekend warrior."

"Being with the people (as a deacon) is a reminder of God's love and that you are not quite ready," he said. "Monday through Friday I'm cramped in a desk in the back of a classroom trying to keep up with my studies, and on the weekends I visit a woman at a hospital. On Sunday, I'd be baptizing a couple's first baby and being asked how to raise this child Catholic."

In his last year at the seminary, the learning has been more hands-on, he said, including suggestions on how to celebrate Mass, hear confessions and anoint the sick.

During his assignment as a deacon, he especially liked to visit the homebound and get to know the people of God.

"They are so good and are trying so hard to be faithful to God and his church," he said.

When asked about what advice he could give young men thinking about the seminary, he said they should seek out the friendship of priests they trust and cultivate a devotion to heroic saints, like St. Sebastian.

"They intercede for us more than we know, and they will help you in your search for the will of Christ," he said.

He is grateful to the priests in the Arlington Diocese who offered him counsel - especially St. Ambrose's Fathers Andrew J. Fisher, Charles Smith and Charles W. Merkle.

Just like the priests who inspired him with their example of pastoral ministry, he said the priests at St. Ambrose are "all fonts of wisdom and great advice."

One of the things Deacon Walker is most looking forward to as a priest is offering the sacrament of reconciliation. The priests at St. Ambrose are helping him practice.

"They pretend to be someone in the confessional and confess whatever to see how I react to it. What can be better," he said. "That first day, I want to get all the words right."

But he said that as long he keeps reminding himself that it is not about him but Christ, things will be alright.

Since he has been busy in the seminary, Deacon Walker has delegated all the planning of the ordination logistics to his mother, Denise.

"I think mothers of priests are unsung heroes," he said. "I don't know what would happen without my mom there."

But more than his ordination June 7, he is looking forward to his first parish assignment.

Like fellow seminarians Jim Hinkle and Chris Christensen, Walker will serve as a Navy chaplain after serving three to five years as a diocesan priest.

"The Navy is in my blood," he said. "Since I was little I always wanted to serve my country in that way."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014