by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What are your responsibilities as Chaplain for the Lumen Institute?
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC: Lumen’s mission is to further enhance the character, faith, and leadership skills of today’s business and cultural leaders and their families. As the Lumen chaplain here in New York, and very soon to be full-time in Washington, DC, I serve the Lumen members and many of their spouses in monthly spiritual coaching. I also help lead our monthly circles, in which we unpack a particular virtue with the help of a scriptural passage and a case study. Additionally, I am involved in many outreach projects such as a homeless ministry on the streets of New York City and other mission trips outside of the area. Lumen is a Latin word for “light,” and our mission is to help these men and women genuinely shine for Christ both at work and in their social and family settings.
Gordon: Please share an overview of your mission at the Indian reservation in Montana.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC: Thanks to Michael Stabolepszy, a Lumen member from Washington, DC, we have been serving the Crow Indians at Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy and St. Dennis Parish near Harding, Montana for the past seven years. This particular school and community do not have the funding necessary for many maintenance issues, so our practical help is deeply appreciated. Some of our projects have included putting up field goal posts and bleachers for their football team, painting and enhancing the campus facilities, placing a new Sacred Heart statue in front of the local Parish, and engaging with the Crow Indian children and adults in various activities, including a local pow-wow. Being invited to the pow-wow showed tremendous trust and gratitude on behalf of the Crow Indians, as this is very much an internal cultural event with the local Indian tribes. This father-son mission takes place in an incredibly beautiful setting in “big sky country,” and we make time for a day of fly fishing on the Big Horn River and a majestic boat ride on Yellowtail lake. The added bonus is precisely this breath-taking setting as the perfect backdrop for our formative activities and discussions that happen around the bonfire, picturesque lakes, and rivers.
Gordon: You have also worked with special needs children. What can parishes do to help special needs children?
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC: My older sister has spent her life in a wheelchair with rheumatoid arthritis, and I have a niece and nephew with Downs Syndrome and autism, so this issue has always mattered a lot to me. We organize an annual father-daughter trip every October to St. Michael’s Special Needs School in New Orleans. This school is supported by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and several of the parishes and schools do joint fun and formative activities with them throughout the year. One of my objectives is for our group to see just how special these kids and the parents of these kids are…there is such innocence and joy in the faces of these children, and we all come away seeing the tremendous gift they are to society. On a local level, one of the wives of our Lumen members worked with several parishioners to organize a Mass for special needs kids and adults in the area, and she is currently working with her pastor to convert one of the homes on the parish grounds into a permanent residence for adults with autism and Downs syndrome. This residence would allow these adults to have their own community of friendship and deep sharing, but they would also be integrated into parish activities, such as Sunday Mass and other parish gatherings. “Angel’s Place” is another initiative and national program that is addressing this practical need of creating caring and professionally run housing communities for special needs adults, with plenty of opportunities for volunteering and interaction from local parishioners. This sector of society seems to be somewhat neglected and forgotten, and any effort to directly engage with them and make them feel part of the Parish family is always welcome.
Gordon: You also have a special commitment to the homeless. What, in your experience, are the primary factors that contribute to people being homeless and what is our responsibility to help them?
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC: In my experience, I have found that some of the homeless I meet have stories as unique as you and I do. Some were born into dysfunctional and problematic family backgrounds, often without a dad and usually in a poor economic setting. Others simply fell into hard times at work and were unable to pay the bills, while others had a problem with substance abuse or mental illness that knocked them off course. Whatever the cause of their homelessness may be, they need our help, and they need our love! Christ reminds us, “Whatever you do to the least of these brothers of mine, you do to me” and it is so easy to see Jesus in these homeless men and women! What can you do? Offer them a sandwich and a bottle of water, give them a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card or some warm clothes, but most importantly, give them the love of Jesus, with your kindness and your prayers, asking for their name and caring for them in a very personal way… this is what they most need!
Gordon: You are a social media guru. What social media platforms would you suggest that all parishes consider using and how can social media be a resource for evangelization?
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC: People today are busy and stressed out. Mentally, they are scattered deep in the weeds. Whatever we offer, it needs to be short, sweet, on point, and relevant to the challenges real people are facing daily. I think every parish should have a Facebook page with the Sunday homily of the pastor, and perhaps they could post any interesting and significant events that parishioners are involved in. Every Diocese should also consider joining Instagram and possibly Twitter, given the large following of young people and our need to get them back in the pews. My one minute Gospel reflections from the streets of NYC and daily quotes from saints with a funny cartoon caption seem to resonate with a lot of folks today.
However, none of this replaces one-on-one personal accompaniment, encounters, and experiences. Social media is a bridge. So, any chance you get to bridge the gap, to share experiences, to move hearts and build excitement online, the better chance you have to move them through your door when you invite them to activities and events that are real-life experiences, encounters with our risen Lord.
Gordon: What are the primary challenges to evangelization and what responsibilities do each of us have to evangelize?
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC: Indifference and apathy, combined with a culture that promotes frenetic activism, phone addiction and a lack of quiet time, as well as materialism and hedonism as numbing mechanisms all make it difficult for Christ’s message to hit home. Our society does not know Jesus Christ, and if they could only discover him as a loving and faithful friend who truly fills the “God-shaped hole” in our hearts, many of our societal and personal difficulties would go away. Our main responsibility is holiness, to have the glow and peace of the saints that simply draw others to this Christian ideal. This implies truly “walking the talk” with daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration, regular Confession, assiduous contact with Sacred Scripture and devotion to our Blessed Mother…coupled with a life of selflessness and humility in our relationships with family and friends. This is the secret formula for the “glow,” and now more than ever, we need “glow in the dark Catholics” who not only live their Faith but who are not afraid to talk about it with others.
I am a member of Regnum Christi, a Catholic movement made up of four different vocations, the Legionaries of Christ, consecrated women, lay consecrated men, and lay members. We all have a passionate desire to know and love Christ, and a deep sense of our responsibility to share his love with others, transforming our culture by helping people experience Christ's love and live their God-given mission in life and the Church. This is what drives me in my desire to evangelize, and helps me to overcome the obstacles that inevitably arise.
Gordon: You have worked with impoverished rural communities in Mexico and San Salvador, What are the challenges of the proposed expanded US border wall?
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC: I have been blessed to lead International mission trips to Mexico, El Salvador, and Colombia. Although these countries lack many of the material amenities of our society, their peoples are rich in Faith and have a profound nobility and sense of solidarity. Immigration is a complicated and polarizing issue, with too many dimensions to fully consider in this brief article. However, it certainly weighs on my priestly heart to see far too many single moms in these and other foreign countries, whose husbands are working here in the states to support them financially. Unfortunately, this can create tremendous moral stress on the family structure and results in too many kids who grow up without a stable, fatherly presence in their homes. We clearly need to keep out the gangs, drug dealers and bad guys, but we also need to find a way to carefully and fairly allow a healthy flow of immigration from these impoverished countries. Their strong faith and family values would greatly enrich our spiritually impoverished society.
Gordon: What are some of the publications that you write for?
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC: I am a regular contributor for LifeZette, which covers topics from politics to pop culture, from family and parenting to faith, health, and lifestyle. I also occasionally write for our Regnum Christi website and blog.