In 2002, a prison chaplain contacted Father Larry Carew about working with an inmate who had been sexually abused by a priest. When Father met Tom, he had unruly hair and a long beard and seemed like “a wild man” consumed with anger.
He counseled him several times and shared a few minutes of prayer. Then, after a month, he decided it was time to engage in deeper healing prayer. As their session began, he told Tom to invite Jesus into the places where he hurt and give the Lord permission to remove whatever needed to be removed, including his self-consuming anger.
Even before Father finished his instructions, he saw an immediate change. “Tom’s face took on this peace,” he recalled. His eyes were closed and he was out of touch for 15 minutes. When he finally came out of that deep prayer, he said, “Jesus spoke to me in my heart and told me, ‘Tom, everything is going to be OK.’”
They continued to pray that the Lord would liberate him from despair and anger and infuse heavenly hope in his heart.
“The next time we met, I told him to let Jesus free him from the inner wounds that the abuse caused, from lies he came to believe about himself, such as he deserved what happened or that he didn’t deserve to be happy like other people or that maybe he brought it on himself,” Father said.
Once again, Tom immediately went into deep contemplative prayer for 20 minutes. For a second he opened his eyes and momentarily looked over his shoulder. When he came out of this state, he told Father, “My eyes were shut, but I could see us praying together. I could see us holding hands and I could see something else—I could see Jesus standing right behind me. He had his hand on my shoulder and he was praying, too. He was praying that I would be healed.”
Father explained, “That was why Tom had opened his eyes and looked over his shoulder … because he wanted to see with his earthly eyes what he was seeing with his spiritual eyes.” He wanted to see Jesus in the flesh.
Within a few months, this angry, wounded, depressed man changed. He smiled, he cracked jokes and he interacted with the other inmates and staff.
“It was such a clear example that the Lord wants to heal these wounds,” Father Carew said during a homily he gave at a Mass of Hope, Healing and Reconciliation at St. Joseph Church in Danbury. In his prison work, he witnessed other dramatic instances in which Jesus intervened to heal those who had been sexually abused.
“These stunningly powerful stories of how Jesus healed tragically traumatized victims of clergy sexual abuse catapulted me into a whole new level of faith in what our risen Lord is willing and able to do in the present,” Father said. “It is not enough to believe in what Jesus has done or even what he has promised to do for us in Heaven. When he proclaimed himself to be the Resurrection and the Life, he wasn’t just talking about a future reward of being raised from the dead on the last day, he was saying, ‘Get in the habit of asking me—The Resurrection and The Life—for resurrection surprises in the here and now.”
That is a message for everyone, Father says. “All of us need healing from this tragedy. Anytime we sense the weight of his kind of discouragement, we need to invite the Lord into places within us where this darkness has descended. Then, we need to give him permission to replace it with a fresh hope, a peace and a courage.”
Tom later wrote a message for the people who were taking Father Carew’s healing workshops for abuse victims titled, “Disregarding the Shame, Reaching Out for the Joy,” which hundreds have attended.
His words offered testimony of divine healing, and his message simply said, “Stay open to Jesus. He will get you past the abuse you suffer. There is no sin of mine that he hasn’t forgiven. I had to let him help me forgive my abuser. He will do the same for you.”