|Fr Michael Sliney, LC|
Part 6 in a series on priestly experiences and
insights, published on Thursdays in the Year for Priests.
2009. Priests, like everyone else, need good role models –
courageous, holy, and strong men who show the world what
it means to serve God authentically and joyfully.
Sliney, LC, counts it a special grace that his path
to the priesthood was marked with several shining beacons of
priestly holiness—especially in the person of Pope John Paul II,
whom he met 7 times before and after his ordination.
“He will be a priest!”
One of his most meaningful encounters
with Pope John Paul II took place in 1990, while
he was a seminarian at the Legion’s Center for Higher
Studies in Rome. That May, his parents visited from Michigan
and they went together to the public rosary that the
Pope held on the first Saturday of every month. Thanks
to the help of Fr John Hopkins, LC, the Sliney
family had great seats right along the barricade where the
Pope would pass by.
After the rosary, as Pope John
Paul II walked by, Mrs. Sliney asked, “Holy Father, could
you please give us your blessing?”
The Holy Father’s eyes
lit up with a smile as he said, “Sure!” He
blessed the two parents and then turned to their son
Putting his hand on the young seminarian’s forehead, he turned
to Mrs. Sliney and asked, “Is your son a priest?”
“Not yet, Holy Father,” she answered.
The Pope looked into the
then Brother Michael’s eyes for a good 3 or 4
seconds and said, “He will be a priest!”
Looking back, Fr
Michael says, “This was an incredible experience for me. I
felt like I had tasted a bit of heaven. Needless
to say, I have never doubted my vocation after hearing
those powerful words.”
The way a man of God prays
later in 1995—again in the month of May—another opportunity arose.
Still a seminarian at the time, Br Michael was attending
a private Mass with the Holy Father, accompanied by his
mother and his aunt. His father had passed away a
As they entered the private chapel at 6:45
a.m., they were escorted to the front pew just a
few feet away from the Pope, who was still immersed
The experience of witnessing a man of God
in prayer was one that Fr Michael will not easily
“He had his fists tightly clenched and his eyes
were completely shut,” he said. “I was amazed to see
the Pope truly ‘battle’ in prayer. His hands were pounding
against the kneeler and it seemed like he was really
grappling with an issue.”
After celebrating the Mass, the Holy Father
went back to his kneeler, where he remained for 45
more minutes of prayer.
“When he finally came out to
meet everyone in the reception parlor, there was a visible
light and glow around his face, like Moses coming down
from the mountain,” Fr Michael said. “He radiated so much
peace and joy with his smile and his kind words.
When I looked into his eyes, I could only see
the goodness and gentleness of Christ.”
“I talk to Him and
He talks to me.”
Witnessing that kind of prayer was a
reminder of why he himself had followed the call to
the priesthood. As a vocation, the priesthood truly is a
calling—a personal invitation from the Friend above all friends.
Fr Michael was a 19-year-old Michigan State University student considering
the priesthood, there was another priest whose own evident friendship
with Christ had “a massive impact” on his life’s decision.
That priest was Fr Lorenzo Gomez, LC.
“He was first
and foremost a ‘man of God’,” said Fr Michael. “I
often saw him praying his breviary or his rosary or
simply making a visit in the chapel. I was so
impressed by his fervor in celebrating Mass, and he had
a peace that I could not find in anyone else.”
day, he had to ask the question he had been
carrying around with him for some time.
“Fr Gomez,” he
said, “I think that Christ is calling me to the
priesthood, but I need to know one thing. I have
seen you praying in the chapel for over 7 years
now, and you seem to have a really strong friendship
with Christ. Is Christ really your best friend? Does he
talk to you?”
Fr Gomez smiled at him and said,
“Yes, Mike, Christ is my best friend. I talk to
him and he talks to me, and it is really
beautiful. But this takes some time.”
“That was all I
needed to hear,” says Fr Michael.
The Christmas gift
14 years of preparation, a newly ordained priest’s first Mass
is certainly a climactic moment full of a whole range
of personal thoughts and emotions. In some cases, it can
also be a moment that sums up the past and
prefigures the future.
As Fr Michael went into the sacristy to
vest, an older priest nearing 90 years of age suddenly
appeared and helped him put on his vestments. He then
asked if he could assist at Fr Michael’s Mass. For
Fr Michael, the gesture seemed symbolic, like the passing of
the baton from one generation to the next.
came out of the sacristy, his whole family rose from
the pews. It was a moment of realization: after years
of attending Mass, he now found himself on the other
side of the altar. Now it was his turn.
importantly, it was Christ’s turn.
“I realized for the first time
that I was the main celebrant, and that soon I
would be lifting up Christ in my hands,” he said.
“After an emotional homily and offertory, the special moment finally
came. Thirteen and a half years of preparation for this
incredible moment. Now my words became sacred: ‘Take this, all
of you, and eat it. This is my body, which
will be given up for you.’”
It was Christmas Day of
1998 when the Friend he had come to love so
much was born in his hands for the very first
“As I lifted up that pure and immaculate host, I
could not contain the tears. I was holding Christ, my
best friend, my faithful friend, in my hands. And in
that moment, I was truly ‘Alter Christus’… another Christ.”
As “another Christ,” a priest builds his ministry around his
prayer, especially his communion with Christ in the Eucharist. His
external mission can take many forms, but at its essence,
it is about connecting people to the Lord: teaching them
to pray, helping them to understand and value the life
of grace, and showing them how to imbue their other
relationships with the spirit of the Gospel. In a world
full of materialism, relativism, and hedonism, this is not always
an easy task.
|Fr Michael Sliney, LC, hearing confessions at the World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia.|