CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG
Fr. Matthew Chojna distributes Communion during his ordination Mass in Ottawa June 27.
July 21, 2014
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
Father Matthew Chojna's faith began to grow when he ran into academic trouble in school and he began asking God for help and bargaining with him.
Ordained to the priesthood June 27 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, Chojna (pronounced Hoy-nah) spent the first 10 years of his life in Poland before his family moved to Toronto.
The Chojnas were faithful Catholics who attended church regularly and did not question the Church's role "as a vessel through which God teaches his people," he said.
"We were not stand-out Catholics. We just accepted God's will for our life."
He quickly adapted to Canadian culture and learned English after arriving in Canada. He did not question his faith in his teenage years; instead, he reached out to God for help because he was doing poorly in school "out of my own laziness."
"I started making deals with God," he said. He would ask God to help him pass a class or do well on a test, and in return he would promise to start praying more or drop a bad habit.
The deal-making led him to volunteer at St. Timothy's Parish where he met some priests and became involved in Church life. It's there he met Father Bill who eventually became his inspiration for becoming a priest.
After high school, Chojna still believed "money equals happiness" and studied to become a paralegal.
His family had moved north of the city and about a month after they arrived, providentially so did Father Bill to serve at their parish.
While Chojna was attending college, the priest got him involved in Bible studies, Eucharistic Adoration, and taught him how to pray the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet.
But school work aggravated Chojna and tried his patience.
Father Bill told him, "If you pray the rosary every day for three weeks, you'll notice a difference in your life," he recalled. "I decided to give it a shot."
After three weeks, he examined his life for "tangible" changes. "I realized I had a certain peace I never had before." But he still did not have a personal relationship with God.
It was in Eucharistic Adoration that Chojna began having heart-to-heart conversations with the Lord. "I didn't get hit with a two-by-four by the Lord, just a kind of a slow and steady growth in intimacy and relationship with him."
As well as regular Eucharistic Adoration, Chojna began attending Mass more frequently. One time during Mass, the hymn Here I Am Lord struck him in a way that it never had previously.
The song asks, "Whom shall I send?" with the chorus answering, "Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night; I will go, Lord, if you lead me; I will hold your people in my heart."
"I felt God was actually speaking to me," Chojna said. "'Are you calling me to be a priest?'
"The notion had not crossed my mind before," he said. "The Lord kind of surprised me."
POPPING THE QUESTION
Chojna went to ask Father Bill about becoming a priest. Before the words were out of his mouth, Father Bill asked him, "Have you ever thought of being a priest?"
Chojna completed his year studying law, and then joined a NET Ministries team, traveling across the country evangelizing high school students. He spent a couple of years with the Companions of the Cross, including a spiritual formation year, all experiences he described as "tremendously beneficial."
Then, he took time off for some things he had always wanted to do. A person who loved the outdoors, he went to Hinton, Alta., where he hiked and biked in the mountains, and also ministered at John Paul II Bible School.
In 2005, he returned to Ottawa where he worked in construction. "I needed to basically prove to myself I can support myself, have my own life," he said. He also dated women and explored other vocations "to get a fuller sense of where I am called."
At that point, he realized it was time to make a "solid decision" about his vocation. So, he consulted with his spiritual director.
"In the end, I felt the priesthood was the best vehicle for me to evangelize the baptized and teach people to learn about their faith and draw closer to Christ," he said.
Chojna returned to seminary to study for the diocesan priesthood.
The lazy tendencies that prompted him to bargain with God changed when he "took firm hold" of his faith. Studying for the priesthood gave him "a lot more motivation to really step up my game."
He has grown not only spiritually, but also personally. An introvert, he struggled with interpersonal communications, but he worked on being "in the public spotlight in front of people."
At 33, Chojna feels settled and ready to be a priest, knowing Christ has guided him and prepared him.
"I'm glad I had that time to grow into who I am as a man and accomplish something," he said. "Now I'm not questioning myself or my abilities or who I am as a Catholic man. I'm comfortable where I am."