My priestly ministry gives me a unique look into hearts and souls that most people will never see.
Within minutes of meeting someone, I often experience from them a rare openness about their deepest and darkest secrets and troubles. Major health issues, experiences with extreme betrayal, suicides in the family, incarceration, hidden crimes — not everyone, of course, has suffered these things, but more people have than we might think, and they feel free to share this with me, no doubt in the hope of feeling some relief from their pain.
A young tattooed teenager on the sidewalks of New York City shouted to me once as I walked by, “Hey, Reverend, why do kids kill each other?”
Startled, I responded, “Well, maybe they come from really troubled backgrounds or have not had the role models to guide them along the way.”
His cold stare met mine and he said, “Look, my dad is in jail and my mom is a crack addict, and I am not killing people.”
I asked if I could pray for him and with him, and we took a moment together, right there, to ask Jesus for healing and strength for this embattled young man.
While teaching CCD at a rural Maryland parish many years ago as a seminarian, I had one of the most difficult discipline challenges in my teaching ministry. On the first day of class, I walked into a room of eighth-graders who were laughing and cheering a young man as he literally swung from the rafters of the classroom. He then jumped and with a twist, landed right in front of me and introduced himself.
This young man was thirsting for attention, and each week provided a new problem for me to keep the class under control. After a great deal of patient endurance on my part and some extra kindness, he became more focused, and at the end of the year came up to me with a smile.
“I just want to thank you for being so patient with me,” he said. “My parents have been going through a nasty divorce, and I have been really angry and anxious.” He added that he was grateful.
Too many kids do not have the benefit of a stable and safe home life. Said Suzanne Venker in a piece for Fox News, “When boys don’t have this model, they suffer. And when they suffer, society suffers. A majority of school shooters come from fatherless homes; and a study of older male shooters (think Steven Paddock of the Las Vegas massacre) produces similar results. Indeed, the consequences of fatherlessness are simply staggering.”
Too many women have shared childhood dramas that have severely affected their sense of self-worth and their capacity to trust others. Some find refuge in their closets, while others take unhealthy medication; they find it difficult to be pleasant because of the extreme pain they carry from these deep childhood wounds.
Too many spouses carry the wound of infidelity in their marriage, and alcohol, drug and porn addictions make a virtuous life nearly impossible. Others suffer from mental illness of one kind of another.
If you bump into a crabby person, try to remind yourself there is probably a lot of hidden hurt that is driving the nastiness. As St. John of the Cross reminds us, “Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.”
Too many hearts have never felt the consoling warmth of Christ’s love — and they live in a world of hate or indifference. As a faithful believer in God, be that bridge of love. Allow Christ to lift up these weary and worn-down souls. He will bless you for this effort.
Fr. Michael Sliney is a Catholic priest based in the New York City area and an adviser to the Lumen Institute, a professional business group.