May 11-17, 2006
‘Thanks Be To God’
By Father Grzegorz Golyzniak/ SUN contributing writer
Father Golyzniak Reflects on his Early Priesthood
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series by Father Grzegorz Golyzniak, parocial vicar at St. John the Baptist Church in Rome, N.Y.
I finished the Seminary in Tarnow, Poland, together with 50 other friends, who, with me spent six years preparing for the priesthood. I received my ordination from the hands of Bishop Wiktor Skworc. I was assigned to my first parish on Aug. 26, 1998, in Kamionka Wielka, Poland.
As a young 25 year old priest, I set out to realize my calling to the priesthood. Although I did not have any experience, I began my life’s work with great enthusiasm, determination and zeal. A major amount of my time was spent working with youth and children, which gave me great satisfaction. Between Monday and Friday, I was spending about 24 hours in public schools teaching religion. My religious education experience was being developed on many levels. I was simultaneously teaching religion in elementary school, high school, vocational school and secondary school.
During the first two years of my pastoral duties, I had an opportunity to engage in every level of priestly work. I administered the sacraments, worked among children and youth, visited the sick and dying, organized cultural Christian programs for my parishioners as well as many other tasks.
The most surprising and satisfying experience for me during that first assignment was to accomplish something that was impossible because of my complete lack of qualification and experience — I decided to establish a girls’ choir. I am not musically talented, do not play any instruments, cannot read music, and am not a great singer. However, God has a great sense of humor. So, I organized the choir. Their singing was not that bad; even other parishes were inviting them to do concerts. So, when I went to my next parish, I left behind a wonderful girls’ choir “Ziarenka” (Little Seeds) which had 87 members.
My second recollection from my first parish is a December charity expedition to the Ukraine where my fellow brother priest, Father Krzysztof Sapalski worked among the Polonia, or ethnic Poles left behind when the borders were changed after the Second World War.
It is impossible for me to forget the 12 hours of standing, waiting to cross the Polish-Ukrainian border, where armed soldiers looked with hostility on my priest’s cassock. I also will not forget those Poles in the Ukraine thanking us for our spiritual help and for the simple items that we had brought to them; simple necessities, but needed to live in the difficult situation existing even today in the Ukraine. I will never forget the spark of happiness in the eyes of the children who received for St. Nicholas Day gifts: Cans of meat products, school supplies and used toys which Polish children had sent to them. I will never forget celebrating Holy Mass in a church without windows or heating when the temperature was 22 degrees below zero.
Our three-day expedition felt like an eternity. Fear, hunger, poverty and freezing cold seemed to stretch across our visiting days. On the return trip we waited another 10 hours to re-enter Poland. I still have a vivid picture of a boy about eight or 10 years old who walked up to every car awaiting permission to enter Poland begging for few pennies for food. Suddenly, the boy was noticed by a Ukrainian border guard. The soldier ran up to the boy, pulled out a truncheon from his belt and unmercifully began beating the boy, who finally managed to run away to a nearby village.
Every priest will confirm the fact that “his first parish is his first love” in his life as a priest. I heartily agree with that. I will never forget my first parish and the people God entrusted to me — wonderful people from whom I also learned piety and faith. I will admit that, although pastoral work in Kamionka Wielka was difficult, I also felt great satisfaction. I worked in that parish for two years. The next years of my priesthood I spent in parishes in Poland and in the Diocese of Syracuse. After eight years of serving God and His people, I feel great inner peace and satisfaction. I am also very proud that I am a priest and strongly believe that there are many wonderful years of priesthood ahead of me. I also believe that, despite the many difficulties God will challenge me with, I will persevere in my calling because I believe in the words of St. Paul: “I can do everything in Him Who strengthens me.”
The call to priesthood as a call to serve God’s people
When I hold the Host — the most Blessed Sacrament — I think about my calling and its realization. The Eucharist is the essence of priestly calling. Celebrating the Holy Mass, I always experience its great mystery with great adoration and fear of God. On every occasion, during the moment of consecration of the bread and wine, I feel the incomprehensible state of my soul, which I cannot closely describe in human language. I feel during that moment that I am beyond all time and space, that I touch eternity. I feel the weight of the solemnity of this act and great happiness; I experience simultaneously both mystical happiness and fear, so that with my hands I will not tarnish or demean Christ’s Body. I perform the Eucharist in deep concentration, and in this way I protect myself from its becoming routine, which could lead to mechanical gestures and symbolic words. It is a deeply emotional moment for me, one which I desire and fear.
To the Eucharist I connect the experience of the Sacrament of Reconcil-iation. When I sit in the confessional, I am aware that I am the means of communication between the mystery of God’s forgiving love and His people. Trembling, as if before a great mystery, and with great patience, I try to listen to the person confessing, trying to listen and understand what bothers him, what kind of problems the person has. I never condemn anyone. I try to raise the spirit of all penitents, awaken faith, hope and love in them, and convince them of God’s mercy. Following the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance comes the next goal of a priest’s spirituality, namely awakening youth, both young men and women, to the calling for priesthood and religious life.
I pray that every parishioner entrusted to me, especially children and youth, will find a calling to serve God, to holiness. I pray to God to develop religious spirituality in every family, and in every parishioner. In my life, the words of St. Paul again ring true: “I can do everything in Him Who strengthens me.” I believe in this truth and wish to pass on this faith to my past, present and future parishioners. Humbly, as much as I can, I thank God for my calling to priesthood and ask that He will allow me to remain in His service to the end of my life. I want to conclude with this revelation: If again I were given the chance to choose my road in life, I would instantly choose the priesthood.