Column by Jonathan Nagy
Recently, I have been reading Matthew Kelly’s book “Resisting Happiness.” After a particularly rough day, I was looking for an inspirational book to take to Eucharistic Adoration. I have several books that I have accumulated over the years and have never read, and this was one of them. Looking at the yellow cover with a winking emoji no it, I felt this book was both mocking me and also calling to me. Grabbing the book and running out the door, I really was not sure what I was getting myself into with this particular selection. I have had struggles lately in finding happiness and I thought this book might guide me.
The book is full of great advice from Matthew Kelly about all aspects of life. He talks about daily routines and how to make them prayerful, how to show care for others, and how, as Saint Paul said, to “pray without ceasing.” While everything I have read has been very worthwhile, one story really struck me. In that chapter, Kelly spoke about his conversation with a hospice nurse. She was relating to him all of the regrets that terminal patients relayed to her on their deathbeds. These included, “I wish I had made spirituality more of a priority,” “I wish I’d had the courage to just be myself,” I wish I had discovered my purpose earlier,” “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time chasing the wrong things,” and about two dozen other answers. Not one of those answers had anything to do with acquiring more wealth, possessions, fame, or glory. As people prepare to meet God, they realized what was important in life and what things are temporal. A wakeup call is needed for all to realize these truths BEFORE their earthly end draws near.
In a dark world, it can be difficult to see the light in the ordinary, and even more recently, it has been difficult to see Jesus Christ. Personally, I have recently seen signs that perhaps things are beginning to turn around and Jesus is becoming more a part of the lives of many, allowing them to have an earlier wakeup call. Here are just a few examples.
I am sure many have seen the religious revival that has taken place at Asbury College in Kentucky. This remarkable event has not been limited to that college, but has spread all across the country to other institutions. A recent article I read out of Detroit relayed stories of Catholics attending these revivals and then immediately looking for a place for Eucharistic Adoration. The Spirit is waking people up and moving them to inspire others.
In the media, I have recently been caught up in the phenomenon of “The Chosen.” While many have their opinions about this series, it has been truly impactful. This unique depiction highlights stories from the Bible, but what I like most is that it gives some compelling speculation about what was not written in the Gospels, such as the everyday lives of Jesus and the Apostles. This series has become the largest crowd-funded show of all-time, and due to support and demand, the makers have plans to create seven full seasons! Additionally, I recently watched the movie “The Jesus Revolution,” which highlighted the religious revival that took place across the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This movie has taken box office forecasters by surprise, greatly exceeding expectations. These are just two examples of how people are craving positive media focused on Jesus Christ. Streaming services completely dedicated to religious shows and movies have been appearing, and limited run movies about the faith in theaters have been selling out in record time. The time is now to tune out the garbage and focus on this type of media!
Locally, signs of movement of the Spirit are very evident. I attended a concert in Johnstown with the Christian band MercyMe as the lead act, preceded by nationally renowned artists Micah Tyler and Taya. The concert was SOLD OUT in the First Summit Arena, with nearly 4,000 people in attendance for Christian music. It was tremendous to see the outpouring of faith in so many who wanted to be there, and particularly great for me to see such talent that I respect so highly.
In my own parish, to be perfectly honest, I have not often looked forward to council meetings. However, our recent meetings have been less about administrative functions and more about faith development.
Great ideas have been floated, and I have truly felt the spirit alive in each member’s devotion to their faith. A group chat was created for all council members where we share encouragement, faith development ideas, and keep in touch. This has been great to see so many with common goals. One idea that came out of a recent meeting dealt with Eucharistic Adoration. Recently, the numbers for the weekly Holy Hour have dwindled. Instead of eliminating the hour, with the guidance and direction of Father John Byrnes, we have boldly expanded the hours of silent prayer, and the turnout has been amazing. Each week, the attendance has grown. People are craving the faith, and the more opportunities and guidance given to them can only help. Additionally, Mass attendance has also been growing, not shrinking!
Furthermore, our local young people are coming alive with the fire of the spirit. At Bishop Carroll, I have witnessed student participation grow in organized religious activities as well as their individual faith development. The students openly discuss and talk about the faith in a positive way. They, just like adults, are craving the faith, and it is the job of all of us to guide them. A gentle hand to lead them to a book, an invitation to a Mass or service, or even a mention of a particular prayer can guide them in the right direction towards God.
Many like to focus on the doom and gloom, which is why I have decided to focus and give personal examples of how I see the faith growing. I am not denying how difficult it has been for the faith in recent years, with the lockdowns, world turmoil, political disputes, and violence. What I am saying is that God’s work is most evident in the midst of chaos, not calm. The Bible is full of examples, such as the Great Flood, the Exodus from Egypt, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus calming the waters, and the persecution of the Apostles and first martyrs. Unfortunately, for many it takes a great act for them to see how God is present in their lives daily.
There is an old saying that reads, “God works in mysterious ways.” One of my daily goals is to recognize at least five examples of how God is working through me or around me. In the heat of the moment, we do not often realize how God was present in situations, but after time of reflection, we see that he truly was. He can give us the right words, place us in the right place, or even put the people in front of us that we need or that need us. Too many amazing things happen to simply call them coincidences. A popular Christian version of coincidence is “Godincidence.” Although we may not always see it, nothing happens by chance with God.
Using Matthew Kelly’s guidance in “Resisting Happiness,” I realize that all of the examples I have provided in this article show true happiness and that God is at the center of each – from popular media, to concerts, to local faith opportunities. One of the final chapters of the book is entitled, “Don’t let the critics win.” Kelly provides many instances on how others will try to tell us that happiness is not found in God and that we should resist Him and all things that draw us to Him. Kelly states, “We live our lives for an audience of one: God. If you are doing what you believe God is calling you to do deep in your soul, walk on.”
We so often want to resist what God is calling us to do because it is not in our plan, but his. We need to stop resisting and ask God, “What can I do to help your plan become real to me and to others?” We also cannot let evil prevail. Often, our own worst enemy is ourselves and our doubts. We doubt that God is actually calling us to do what He asks, and we further doubt that we have the ability to actually do what we are called to do. Pray about it. Focus on what God wants and what your purpose is.
Begin looking for happiness in life now before one is not able to enjoy it, and live a life of fulfillment. There is no greater feeling than discovering the plan that God has for each of us. That is not to say that challenges will not come, for the good things in life do not come easy. The path to God is intentionally made difficult in order to prepare us for the glory of eternal life. Stand strong and do not let the temporal interfere with your journey to the heavenly.
God is all around us doing great work through very ordinary people. He is laying all of the tools to salvation in front of us, and it is up to each of us to use those tools to do his work.
Search for God in the ordinary, and you are bound to live the extraordinary. Let us use the remaining time in Lent to focus our souls and prepare, not only the Resurrection of the Lord, but our eternal happiness in Resurrecting ourselves to Him!
Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.