Take 5 with Bishop Zubik: Challenges, joys

David A. Zubik, the 12th Bishop of Pittsburgh, recently celebrated the anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in 1975, and reflects on five questions posed by The Pittsburgh Catholic.

  1. How did God call you to the priesthood?

As I mark the 46th anniversary of my priestly ordination, it is natural for me to look back on how I both received and became aware of God’s call to the priesthood. 

As I have said often in sharing my vocation story, I was very blessed to grow up in a family that saw prayer and the Church as very important.  I still happily recall my mom teaching me the importance of prayer.  When she woke me up each day as a little boy, the first thing she taught me to do was to kneel down at my bedside and make a morning offering.  She and I did the same at the very end of the day as we together prayed to God before I went to sleep. 

Together with my mom, my dad was in important instrument in my vocation by highlighting the importance of going to Mass every Sunday and to various devotions during the course of the week throughout the year. 

I can well remember that when I was in middle school the Felician Sisters must have seen some hint of my becoming a priest.  They encouraged me down that path.  When I reached high school, I was pretty much set on becoming be a husband, father and an attorney.  I can be grateful for my best friend in high school who saw what the Felician Sisters saw.  He encouraged me to go on several retreats that were specifically designed for those who might discern a call to the priesthood.  As a result of one of those retreats, I decided to give God a chance.  And the rest is history.  My dream to become an attorney gave way to God’s dream that I become a priest.

Fr. Zubik, 2nd to the right of Bishop Leonard, (center) at his ordination at St. Paul Cathedral on May 3, 1975.

2. What is the most meaningful aspect of your ministry?

This is perhaps the easiest of the questions proposed.  No question about it.  The most meaningful part of my priestly life is the opportunity to celebrate the Holy Mass every single day.  No matter where I am, I truly have the internal need to celebrate the Holy Mass.  I couldn’t imagine getting through a day without the Eucharist.  And so deeply seated is my love for Jesus in the Eucharist, that it is not only a tremendous honor but a delightful opportunity for me to celebrate the Holy Mass with and for others. 

My love for and the privileged opportunity to celebrate the Holy Mass is followed by the opportunity to be a visible sign of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance.  I rely heavily on God’s mercy and take regular opportunities as a penitent.  I also cherish the opportunities to be a confessor for others.  In both instances, I am “blown away” by the profound mercy of our dear Jesus.

3. What is the most challenging part of your ministry?

Over the course of the last twenty-four years of my priestly ministry since my ordination as a Bishop, I have become increasingly aware of the division in the Church and the level of anger among a number of people.  Both become for me a “heavy.” 

On the wall of my office hang three Papal Bulls marking the three appointments I have received as a Bishop.  The first came with my appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh; the second, my appointment as Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay in Wisconsin; and the third my appointment to our beloved Diocese of Pittsburgh.  In each one of those Papal Bulls is the instruction from our Holy Father to maintain and strengthen the unity of the Church.  It is a challenge that is always front and center of what I do in the Church.  It is important for me to work toward maintaining unity as one of the four marks of the Church, which we express together in our Creed each Sunday: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Bishop Zubik’s three Papal Bulls.

The second challenging part of ministry is to try as best I can to respond to people’s anger over a plethora of issues.  I suspect that part of that anger comes from the cultural environment of the world in which we live at the current time.  I think also that those responses are reflective of some of the tough things that we face together as Church.

While my responses to each of those challenges are sometimes misunderstood, I do try my best to navigate the choppy waters of life in the 21st century. 

4. What do you wish people knew about the priesthood?

Simply put—the great joy it is to be a priest.  As so many of you, readers of this article, will be able to attest, there is the potential for great joy between husband and wife and between parents and their children.  That analogy helps to identify the same kind of joy that comes with the priesthood and every priest being addressed as “father.” 

It is a joy beyond compare to be able to share Jesus in a thoughtful and intentional way each time we as priests celebrate the sacraments: the joy to welcome a new person into the Church through baptism; the joy to be able to celebrate the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist; the joy to be able to relieve a person’s guilt through the mercy of the Sacrament of Penance; the joy that comes with comforting someone who  receives the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick; the joy in blessing the vows of a couple in holy matrimony; and the joy which I have as a Bishop to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation and the joy of  ordaining a deacon, a priest or a bishop.

5. What is your hobby, or what do you like to do in your free time?

Ever since I was a young boy, I have been fascinated by cars.  When I was a youngster, I collected a number of model cars.  As I grew up and continued to move through adulthood, I enjoy reading about cars.  This hobby truly is a delightful distraction from some of the heavier elements of my life. 

Bishop Zubik cleans his SUV.