During high school, Father Luke Joseph Leighton, C.F.R., started to ask himself some serious questions: What difference does my life make? Why am I here? What is life all about?
“I was just dragging through life,” said Father Leighton, 30, who explained that his parents, Margaret Mary and Robert Ira Leighton divorced when he was in second grade. His mother was born a Catholic, and his father is Jewish. He was not raised in either religion.
One day, he found himself crying and on the edge of despair.
“I started saying that something has to change, and looking back, I realized that God heard that cry as a prayer,” he said. “I never thought of it as a prayer, but it was so heartfelt, so real, and that’s where true prayer emerges from.”
On the school bus one day, a devout Christian friend asked if he wanted to listen to Christian music. “I was embarrassed,” he said. “I listened to it, and it was something totally different than what I was listening to previously.”
It was the first time he encountered the messages of the Gospel. He had a rudimentary understanding of Christianity and that music changed everything, he said.
“I realized that there was a real message of hope there that was speaking right into the questions I had about life,” he said.
Father Leighton ended up joining a youth group with his friend at a nearby Presbyterian Church—all because he heard that they went on a big trip to a Christian music festival. At about the same time, he started attending Mass with his mother, who had just returned to regular Sunday worship.
“One Sunday, everything just clicked during the Eucharistic prayer when the priest
raised the host and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God,’” he said.
He thought to himself, “This is true. This is real.”
After that experience, he entered the RCIA program. In 1998, he was baptized, received first Communion and confirmed at the Easter Vigil at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Red Bank, N.J. “Now I had a sense of what had been missing,” he said.
His life is like that of his childhood hero—Batman. Reading those comics made him realize that “Batman had to make a decision for how he was to respond to the tragedy in his life, and I had to do the same thing.”
With a joyful glint in his eyes, he said, “The Lord has somehow made it so I can be like a superhero and prevent evil. If I can teach people about the Gospel and how much God loves us, hopefully they won’t be affected by evil in the same way I was. Hopefully kids will know that they are loved when they receive Communion, that the Lord loves them that much.”
He compared the similarities of a superhero with those of a friar, saying, “I have two names now, I wear a uniform which is gray, my cord is like a utility belt, and my Rosary is like my grappling hook.”
Regarding the sacrament of reconciliation, he said, “Being able to forgive sins, that’s a real fight against evil.”
Father Leighton will celebrate his first Mass at St. James Church in Red Bank, N.J., on Sunday, June 2 at noon. Father Alberto W. Tomayo, a priest of the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., will deliver the homily.