by Father John Gribowich
AS I RECENTLY celebrated the second anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, two things came to mind. In one sense, I felt that my ordination took place only yesterday and in another, it seemed as if I have been a priest my whole life. Hence, the mystery of the priesthood! In a priest’s life, no two days are ever the same. While your identity as a priest of Jesus Christ is unchangeable, your encounters with the people of God each day renew that identity.
You could describe my journey to the priesthood as “a long and winding road.” The earliest I remember being drawn to the priesthood was when I was a first grader in Pennsylvania. My parents sensed that I had an attraction to the priesthood and they both lovingly fostered that attraction. Once I was in high school that attraction quickly shifted to girls! The unexpected passing of my mom in a car accident made me somewhat question the meaning of life, yet through the encouragement of my girlfriend at the time, I was exposed to the Charismatic Renewal. Experiencing the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” was a life-changing moment that prompted me to delve into a serious and personal relationship with Jesus.
This personal relationship with Christ was strengthened through service to the poor. Working at the St. Francis Inn, a soup kitchen in Philadelphia, allowed me to see the living presence of Jesus in the homeless, the drug addicts and the prostitutes. Their brokenness was the same brokenness of Jesus on the cross. Their cries for help echoed Jesus crying: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
I am convinced that it was the power of the Holy Spirit in my life that enabled me to conflate the hiddenness of Jesus in the Eucharist with the hiddenness of Jesus in the “least” of His brothers and sisters. My love for the poor, especially through my later involvement with the Catholic Worker Movement, has remained with me to this day.
I went on to major in history and theology at DeSales University, Center Valley, Pa., and upon graduating, I commenced a career teaching theology and working as a campus minister at a Catholic high school in Allentown, Pa. Along the way, I received a master’s degree in theology and taught as an adjunct at DeSales.
I moved to New York City in 2007 and worked at a bookstore in Greenwich Village and at a museum on the Upper West Side. Additionally, I pursued a degree in art history and library sciences at the Pratt Institute, Clinton Hill, and studied abroad in Venice, Italy. I was having the time of my life! I had a great circle of friends and lots of interests: I love reading, running and anything that has to do with music! Yet, deep down, I knew the Lord was asking for more. I specifically remember one night – sitting alongside a canal in Venice – thinking that my life just did not make sense unless I was a priest. It was as simple as that.
My dad died from early onset Alzheimer’s in 2012, and it was around the same time that I decided to pursue the priesthood as a seminarian for the Diocese of Brooklyn. I was ordained in June of 2015 and have since been assigned to St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish in Jamaica, Queens. While priesthood does have its challenges – as does any vocation – I find myself daily experiencing a peace that surpasses all understanding. I know I am where I am supposed to be.
If you also feel like you’re journeying on that long and winding road, I would recommend a few things:
– Make a simple prayer to Jesus each morning saying, “Jesus I love you, help me to love you more this day.”
– Maintain good, healthy friendships. The relationships I am blessed to have in my life continue to strengthen my vocation and keep me in check.
– Find ways to serve and affirm others. We are all in this together.
– As members of the Body of Christ, our lives only make sense when we live for others.
Give your life completely to Jesus and get ready to receive the gift of joy!
Father Gribowich is a parochial vicar at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, Jamaica.