Perhaps you have heard that in 2020, just seven years from now, the Diocese of Albany expects to have 39 priests to serve in our 133 parishes.

I will be one of those 39...and I am scared.

When I do the math, I foresee that I will be responsible for three or four parishes. The distance between them could span many miles and involve constant travel in order to celebrate the sacraments in multiple counties.

This narrows my dreams for the diocesan priesthood and threatens some parts of pastoring I am most looking forward to. I won't have time to plant flowers around the front of the church. I won't be able to teach confirmation students or chaperone the eighth-graders' trip to New York City. I won't have time to roll meatballs with the men's group in preparation for the spaghetti supper, sit in on Bible study sessions or be present at every wake.

The thought of it makes my chest tighten. In my most nervous moments, I picture a Church of frazzled priests and neglected people.

But I am reminded of my friend Mike, who always says: "The problem with fear is that it doesn't leave room for anything else."

In the Gospels, Jesus warned against fear more than anything else. My concern about what might be ahead is dwarfed by the faith I have in God, who I believe is ultimately in charge of absolutely everything.

This spirit of faith and expectancy has led the Diocese of Albany to undertake the "Called by Name" program. All of us truly believe that there is a way through the challenges of this period of Christian history. That is why parishioners throughout the Diocese have been exhorted to reflect on the men in their lives who may have the gifts to serve as priests and invite them to reflect on what God may have intended by giving them those gifts.

We are all being asked to take stock of who among us may be unaware until now of having been called by God to serve in the priesthood.

I once heard that a priest delivered some difficult news about parish expenses to the assembly by saying, "I have bad news and good news, and then some more bad news. The bad news is that we need a new roof and it is going to cost us $50,000. The good news is that we already have all the funds we need to pay for it! The other bad news: That money is still in your wallets."

The shortage of priests is similar. We don't have a shortage of sister and brother Christians. We don't have a shortage of faith. We don't have a shortage of love or compassion. What we seem to lack is a deep enough curiosity about what are God's deepest intentions for our lives.

The stark figure of 39 priests in seven years is the splash of cold water we need to rouse ourselves from complacency. We have been invited to dig deeper, to go beyond merely taking inventory of our gifts and to ask ourselves:

•  Why did God give me the gifts I have?

•  Where do I fit into God's plan for creation?

•   Who needs my encouragement to see where they may fit into God's plan?

•   Who needs assurance that they will be given the strength to answer any call God gives them?

I am scheduled to be ordained a priest in June. No one else is being ordained with me; I am a class of one. In fearful moments, this can make me feel overwhelmed by what the future might hold. But rooted much deeper inside of me is firm hope.

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes has written, "I will not spend my spirit dry by bewailing these times - most particularly because the fact is that we were made for these times."

God could have created us to live during any time in history. God chose us to live now. We face challenges, but we are not helpless.

Today calls us to summon courage, creativity and faith, not despair.

(Deacon VanDerveer is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass. He formerly taught at St. Pius X School in Loudonville.)