Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church
Pastor: Rev. Teodor Czabala
230 Ukrainian Hill Road
Johnson City NY 13790
LINK TO WBNG TV STORY PARTLY FEATURING SACRED HEART UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH WORKERS:
January 2010 Interview from the SOWER
Our Old Church
(Clinton and Holland Sts., Binghamton)
This Building served our spiritual needs for over 33 years.
Construction of our New Church (1977)
November 2010 Roof Restoration Project
Who are the priests serving in our Eparchy? Why did they become priests? What gives them the commitment and courage to offer their lives in daily service?
The Life of Christ and, why did you choose to become a married priest?
To God and God’s people, Rev. Teodor B. Czabala, Jr., parichial adminiatrator of Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church in Johnson City, NY, shares his life’s journey with us, in this, the third in our series during the current Year for Priests.
Did you always want to be a priest? Why or why not? If not, what did you envision yourself doing? When and/or how did you know that God was calling you to the priesthood?
These questions have a complicated answer for me. The ultimate decision to accept my calling to the priesthood occurred when I had finished college. It will become clear why I express it that way. As many students, I was unsure where to proceed after graduating college and my initial plans for my future did not pan out. At the end of high school, I was contemplating being a teacher. Once in college, I orientated towards a business career. In my senior year my business law professor, a lawyer, suggested I look into a career in law. After graduation, a public official, for whom I was volunteering, was not elected to Congress, so I decided to continue my education seeking a combination of business and law degrees. During this summer, I was reading Fulton J. Sheen’s while reading this book, I wavered back and forth as to whether I was to be a priest. Finally I realized that I was being called to be a priest, or perhaps more properly stated – I acquiesced to HIS WILL that I be a priest. So now I am of sorts all four: a teacher, a businessman, a politician, and a lawyer.
But behind this story is a longer history that played an important part in who I am today, but, oddly enough, did not figure directly into my decision to be a priest. Once I accepted God’s will to become a priest, I told a childhood friend, with whom I grew up in our parish, St. Michael in New Haven, CT, that I was going to enter the seminary to become a priest and he replied that he knew. I was surprised because I had told only a few individuals that I was entering the seminary. When I asked him how he knew, he responded by saying that once, when we were kids during a sleep over, I told him that I was going to be married priest. I again was surprised because I had forgotten that I ever mentioned that, but when he said it, I remembered. Then like a Columbo TV serial, other pieces began to fall into place and left no doubt that I was to be a priest. I was at St. Basil Preparatory School in Stamford for my freshman and sophomore years in high school. Fr. Leo Goldade, OSBM, visited us from St. George’s in NYC every Sunday evening for group spiritual talks and/or individual confession. It was during one of these individual talks that I expressed my interest to be a priest but did not want to go through the system (finish the Prep, then enter St. Basil College and then the seminary in Washington D.C.) just because it was the easy way to make a decision by not making a decision. I remember being shocked and upset when he laughed and said that if I was to be a priest I would know. At that time I had no idea what he meant by it, but I realized later he was correct. During my years of study in Rome, there were various difficulties that arose, as they should, to make each individual certain of their calling. There were moments when someone would tell me that I was not meant to be a priest. In the face of elements insisting solely upon the celibate priesthood, I supported the choice in our Rite of married priesthood (not positive yet which I was to be).
So there was a deciding moment to be a priest, but there also was a long set up for the “inevitable.” This history of my calling has given me a certain certitude – no person, be it lay person, priest or bishop is going to tell me that I was not meant to be a priest because it was not they who called me to serve nor am I in their service but in God’s. Some may call that arrogance, but I recognize it as accepting the cross of the priesthood much like the Apostle Paul in the sense of being overpowered by God’s will. I see my path to the priesthood as being in my own steps - every decision was mine own, made at a particular point, but it was entirely what God wanted -- like the modern parable “the footprints in the sand.”
How did your wife feel about your decision to become a priest?
The simple answer is because I fell in love. I never felt that it was a conscious choice to only be married priest, nor did I understand it to be a rejection of celibacy as a whole. The question actually was up in the air for some time, although I must admit I was always leaning towards being a married priest.
This question in and of itself also shows how much we have been influenced by the Latin Rite train of thought that celibacy is the “proper” way to be a priest and that marriage is the aberration. We must remember that priests have been married since the beginning of Christianity and the celibacy was the change of the norm instituted in the western part of the church.
I was not going to marry anyone just to be a “married priest.” People don’t realize that marriage is a type of celibacy as well; an individual is rejecting every other person by selecting just one for the rest of their life. I have always taught the couples preparing for marriage that the devil will send someone that may seem to be a better fit than the oneto whom we are married, just as he sends such individuals to celibate people. By saying ‘yes” to celibacy or marriage to one individual , you are really saying “no” to the rest of the world.
I am not sure where the knowledge of married priesthood came from. During my formative years, our pastor of 14 years at St. Michael’s New Haven was Fr. Roman Golemba, now Monsignor. Msgr. John Terlecky was a newly ordained priest who was in our parish for a short time right before Msgr. Golemba. I became acquainted with Very Reverend Fr. Edward Young through Youth for Christ. Very Reverend Dr. Ivan Kaszczak was a newly ordained deacon when I met him in Stamford. Our parish had already a “graduate” priest prior to me, +Fr. Emil Iskat, who was a married priest in the Toronto Eparchy, but I never knew him personally nor do I remember meeting him. The first married priest I knew was Fr. Michael Bundz and his family, when he was assigned to New Haven, but I was already studying in Rome by then. When I met my wife I was in my last year in undergraduate studies for the priesthood in Rome, so she had accepted me as I was.
Is it difficult to balance your family life and the responsibilities of priesthood? How do you find balance? What is most difficult about being a married priest?
When a person interviews for a secular job, does his employer ask him that question? Can any person completely balance the responsibilities of their family life with their work? Look at politicians, those in the military or any other person with a demanding job or one in the public eye, the record of divorces in the world speaks to that. The one thing that is the most difficult about being a priest is that your workdays do not coincide with everyone else’s. Holy Days are days of work and tension as opposed to relaxation with family. The biggest drawback as a married priest is that I cannot take weekends with my family as another family may.
What is the greatest source for fulfillment or joy in your priesthood?
This is a very interesting question. After being a priest for 11 years, all the initial things that gave gratification have worn away. You see couples that you married, already divorced; you see those that you baptized, not be part of the church; you see those who you have helped through confession, regressing. Any priest does not have a strong faith and, more importantly, take time to pray, will not have the strength to continue in the face of these seeming failures. The greatest fulfillment is when someone turns to you and you are able to help them in some way and they go away relieved and more appreciative of God in their life. This is evident especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). Every priest will tell you that in the confessional there are times when he understands that it is God who takes over. The Holy Spirit guides the priest in saying specific things that can alleviate trepidation, that ease the pain that a person is in, and that console that person. Sometimes an individual needs to be scolded to “wake up” to the reality of their sin, sometimes an individual needs the comforting reassurance that God loves them and, more importantly, forgives them. Perhaps it is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that I most feel the presence of God.
There is no greater joy than to know that your sins are forgiven and perhaps equally that you are the vehicle of that forgiveness.
Does being married help you to better understand and minister to married couples and families or not? Does having children of your own help you to minister to youth? Do your wife and family share your ministry? If so, how?
Each of our choices in life defines us and consequently changes us. By becoming a priest, I went to Rome and met different people and learned different things than I would have studying in Washington D.C., or studying to be a businesslawyer. By being a married priest, my experiences and choices must be different than if I were a celibate priest. Being a married priest, you have the same worries and problems as any other family may have; so to that extent, yes I can better understand and minister to families. But that also places a greater burden on my family by being in a fish bowl and always being under scrutiny; and to that extent they also take part in the ministry whether they like it or not. One can only insulate the family for so long.
Does being a priest help you to better deal with the difficulties and/or tragedies in your own life and the lives of your family?
Being the priest and ministering does not give us the luxury of expressing our own feelings. During the recent funeral of a friend, someone incredulously asked me how is it that I not show my emotions. Priests have a job to do and that job is to give strength to those who are suffering personal anguish. Again being a priest means that you are the center of attention no matter where you are; and, are a representative of our Church, no matter what you may be feeling at that time.
Do you have any role models or heroes who have been instrumental in your life?
In my second answer, I mentioned priests that I knew and that influenced me. I did not know many priests when I was young, so each of them was an influence in their own way. I remember telling Msgr. Golemba that I wanted to be a priest just like him and he responded that I should be better! Fr. Leo Goldade and Fr. Michael Bundz also influenced me, each showing a different aspect of the obligation to the service of God. I always appreciated and loved our Rite, but Archimandrite Robert Taft, a renowned Liturgical scholar and my professor in Rome, and a priest in Ukraine, both of whom I celebrated with as a deacon, impressed upon me the beauty and prayerfulness of properly celebrating the services with understanding. Something I pray I can make others aware of as well.
What are the differences in ministering to people in Ukraine vs those in the US? Is one easier than the other? How?
Once I got the hang of the customs and expectations, it was easier to minister in Ukraine. The hunger for priests, at that time, who served God and the people, was fierce. I was one priest of dozens in Lviv and its environs. I was one assistant of four in the Archcathedral Sobor of St. George in Lviv. My first Great Fast in Ukraine as a priest, I spent 12 hours daily in the confessional. So we would stop every few hours for a cup of coffee and then return. During my first summer at St. George’s Cathedral in Ukraine, I celebrated 12 out of the 20 weddings on one Saturday when three priests were on vacation. We could have had up to 13 children on any given Sunday for the Sacraments of Initiation, not including any overflow weddings during the summer. So I definitely had a lot of experience in dispensing the sacraments! A lot of our ritual traditions made sense. There, the whole region was Ukrainian Catholic. Once, we processed down the side of a major street against traffic and all the drivers, without any fuss, moved over. A police officer saw us and pulled out in front of us, lights flashing, to lead us, without criticizing us for not letting them know ahead of time or choosing a different route. At that time there was a different approach to the church and her priests, that could have been easily abused and sometimes was, but, in general, I felt my experience to have been extremely beneficial. I would even go so far as to suggest that each of our priests worldwide should spend some time in Ukraine to allow the atmosphere envelop them and to experience the overflowing churches.
What advice would you give to a young man considering the possibility of priesthood or a young woman considering the religious life? How would you help a young man discern whether he is called to married priesthood or to celibate priesthood?
+Fr. Joseph Andriyishyn, was a priest born and raised in France but finished his service to God in Ukraine. He was once asked if he was sorry not to have married. His answer to the quickly hushed sacristy was one I will never forget. He said, “It doesn’t matter which you choose, after 10 years you will complain anyways.” Understand that your choice to be a priest or monastic is the same as choosing a spouse--if there is no true love and conviction in your choice, then, when the inevitable difficulties and doubts come, you will fail to overcome them. God has already given you the answer to your questions, you just need to realize it. Each choice has its own difficulties and demands. Pray to God for discernment of the choice and of the person who will share your ministry, because not every woman wants to carry that cross and not every person is dedicated enough to be celibate.
Would you do it again, given the opportunity?