Column by Jonathan Nagy
A few years ago, on a particularly frigid Christmas Eve, I began playing beautiful written carols on the historic Carnegie Pipe Organ at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel, as I have for so many years. However, severe cold temperatures and a 120-year-old pipe organ are not the best of friends, as I soon found out. The sounds that came out of the organ were less than attractive, sounding more like a choir of cats. After playing a few more hymns with one hand while trying to find stops that did not squeak and squeal with the other hand, Mass reached the homily. With all due respect to Father John Byrnes and his message, I needed to get busy finding a way to fix this problem or Silent Night would be anything but that. In a clean dress shirt, pants, and tie, I climbed into the organ chamber, under the dirty wind chest, over some very dusty airflow pipes and found myself wedged between an ice cold, filthy stone wall and the leather bellows, which had more tiny holes than Swiss cheese, with air leaking out of every opening. I wondered how in the world I was ever going to repair this to get through Mass, and then it hit me.
I climbed out, ran to my utility drawer, and pulled out a roll. Ripping into the tape, I started to cover every hole that I could find. My frantic work paid off, as the organ was much more playable for the rest of the Mass and the tape held until professional repairs could be made.
Recently, while sitting around talking with friends, I was retelling that story. Later, I reflected that duct tape really did save the day. I know the joke is that duct tape can fix anything, and in my case on that cold Christmas Eve, it did the job. I started thinking, “What are the duct tape and tools of our daily lives?”
The answer to that question is very plain and simple. Jesus Christ is the duct tape of life. He fixes everything! It may not be in the way we envisioned or as simple as we planned, but in God’s time, everything happens according to His plan and His expectations of our use of free will. Duct tape is a tool, and God has given us so many valuable tools to assist us in our earthly journey towards Heaven.
The first tool I want to focus on is prayer. Everyone has their favorite prayers, myself included. Depending on what I am praying for, I have certain prayers that come to mind. In times of struggle against the forces of evil, I turn to the powerful prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. During times of despair, I find myself saying the Memorare, reminding Mary that no one has been left unaided that has fled to her care. When I need to stand strong, I recite the prayer of Saint Patrick, asking Christ to be before, behind, and beside me. In times of joy, proudly saying the Magnificat reminds me of the blessings God has bestowed on me. These are just a few of the many prayers I turn to and use often. Just thinking of these prayers brings joy and comfort to my soul. I encourage anyone who does not have favorite prayers to do a simple internet search for some, look through the hymnals before or after Mass, or even talk to others and ask for guidance. A simple prayer is an extremely powerful tool!
Speaking of powerful tools, some of the most powerful ones that God has given us are the Sacraments. Receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is fuel for our spirit, just as gasoline is fuel for our vehicles. It gives us the strength to live and encouragement to continue striving to do better in all aspects. Pumping gas makes our cars go, and we need to constantly return to Mass and receive Communion so that we can continue on our journey. More often than we refuel our vehicles, we should be refueling our souls! There are also times when our souls need a tune up. Guess what? Jesus Christ left us another tool in the form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation! Approaching God with a humble and sincere heart, admitting our sins, receiving absolution, and carrying out our penance is a great check up for our souls. Just like any form of machinery needs a good “once-over” every so often, so do our souls. Also, in times of illness, we are given the opportunity to be anointed with oils. This anointing is assurance for us that no matter what, God is with us. Sometimes, the anointing is done as a precautionary measure, such as going into surgery. Just like preparing our vehicles for a trip, we also need to be prepared internally for whatever may happen. Other times, the anointing is performed when the end is imminent, helping to prepare us for eternal life. All told, these Sacraments are great tools given to us by our Savior to help us stay fueled, repaired, and prepared for anything that comes our way.
A third tool that we should utilize is the Bible. The Word of God is a powerful tool, containing all of the guiding information we need. I remember when I was a teenager, a priest was addressing a group of us and said, “Do you like to read intriguing books? Ones full of adventure, deception, disaster, war, murder, betrayal, and heroic acts? Then pick up the Old Testament!” So many people own Bibles and yet so many collect dust. My father once said to me concerning his mother, my grandmother, “She was Irish Catholic, which meant she owned a Bible but never opened it.” There are many concepts in the Bible that are difficult to understand, and people today are craving the Word of God. Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” was the most popular podcast last year. It was not just the most popular Catholic podcast, it was the most popular podcast, overall! That speaks volumes to the number of people seeking to understand God’s Word. When I read a historical document to my history classes, such as the Gettysburg Address, it always strikes me that I am reading the writings of a great man, Abraham Lincoln. I feel unworthy to do so! When reading the Word of God, we should feel so unworthy to read it! It is one thing to repeat the words of man, but an entirely different thing to repeat the Words of God. These words are important tools, especially the words of Jesus Christ Himself in the New Testament. I encourage everyone to try and read a chapter of the Bible daily and reflect upon the deep meanings.
We are blessed in our diocese with so many wonderful and holy priests. I truly enjoy when I am invited to gatherings with our priests and just listen to what they have to say and engage in conversation with them. They are a valuable tool in our toolbox, and they are always willing to assist our spiritual needs. We need to support our priests and encourage other young men to answer God’s call, for without priests, we do not have the Sacraments! The absence of a priest is similar to missing our duct tape. Priests act in persona Christi, meaning “In the person of Christ,” and they help hold everything together for us here on Earth. I ask everyone to say a prayer daily for their parish priest and all priests who are doing remarkable work, tending the flock of the Lord.
We are given so many other tools to help us in our journey, including great books written by saints, theologians, and evangelizers. Little pearls of inspiration can help us daily. God has put many other people in our paths who are there to assist us in times of need. Simple daily reminders of God’s power and presence also keep us on the path to Him, such as a crucifix in our house, religious art on the wall, a scapular around our necks, or a Saint Christopher medal in our vehicles. I know how privileged I am to spend so much of my time in a Catholic high school and a Catholic Church, surrounded by so many sacred images. I also have been noting how many I have collected for myself at home and have begun sharing books and prayer cards with people that I feel could benefit from these tools.
God has given us so many tools that can address all of our spiritual needs. God’s Tool Box was the theme of recent retreat that a fellow teacher and I hosted for our junior high students. We encouraged them to see the tools that God has provided them. I also encourage everyone to open their tool box and see and use the tools that I have listed here to bring us all closer to God. Never forget, just like duct tape, Jesus Christ holds everything together!
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.