Column by Jonathan Nagy
Meet my dog, Leia. Four years ago, I rescued this cute, sweet, fun dog from the Humane Society. She is a constant joy in my life and someone I look forward to seeing every day when I get home. Her Christmas present was a stuffed Lamb Chop, which she is pictured with here. She carries her Lamb Chop all around the house, even taking it to bed and taking naps with it during the day. She greets me at the door each afternoon holding it in her mouth. When she goes outside, she gently lays Lamb Chop down on the kitchen floor and picks it up when she comes back inside. Leia is always so happy to show her Lamb Chop to anyone who enters my house.
Leia shows an innocence and joy in taking her Lamb Chop with her everywhere. She is happy in caring for it and sharing it with others. Her actions made me stop and think about the overwhelming symbolism. Leia does with her Lamb Chop what everyone should do with our Lamb, Jesus Christ!
Since the founding of Christianity, brave and virtuous individuals have died in the Name of Jesus Christ. Anthony Socci, in his 2017 book The New Persecuted, Inquiries into Anti-Christian Intolerance in the New Century of Martyrs, estimates that in the past 2,000 years, 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith. Of that number, 45 million have been murdered in the last century, with 900,000 killed for their faith in the last decade alone. American Christians feel comfortable in knowing that no one is coming after them violently because of their religious beliefs. The story is not the same in other parts of the world, with an average of 160,000 Christians murdered yearly because of their steadfast belief in Jesus Christ.
Many individuals who identify as Christian or Catholic have become very nonchalant in their faith, attend Mass infrequently, and talk about their faith even less. Dr. Curt Brannan from the Grace Classical Academy, wrote about the trap of becoming a “Casual Christian.” Dr. Brannan commented, “The word casual is, by definition, lack of emotional commitment, seriousness, and loyalty. It is permissive in its approach to things and has little interest or enthusiasm to be more than superficially involved. Though not many want to think of it this way, casualness mostly centers on ‘me,’ and doing what makes ‘me’ comfortable, fits ‘my’ schedule, or fulfills ‘my’ agenda.”
Specific to casual faith, Dr. Brannan explained, “Here is my deepest concern. Though none of us would suggest God isn’t central to life, though we mostly go to church with regularity and though we want our children to be taught in an environment where God is given His place, we can fall into living our faith with a casualness that borders on indifference.”
I sadly agree with Dr. Brannan with his comment about indifference to the faith. I cannot fathom being indifferent to anything that I deem important in my life. Individuals are not indifferent about the food they eat, the teams they root for, the activities they like to do, or the people that they enjoy being around. So why are so many people indifferent about their faith in Jesus Christ, while at the same time claiming that He is so important in their lives?
Many theologians and Christian scholars have analyzed over the centuries what it means to live a Christian life. In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus himself laid it all out very clearly in response to the question, “Which is the most important commandment?” He stated, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
There it is. That’s it! Plain and simple, from the Savior Himself! Love God and love your neighbors, and you live the life that Jesus asks of you. Everything else Jesus says in the Gospels comes back to those very simple words. He never strays from those points, using them as His mission statement, which He hopes becomes everyone’s mission statement.
In my history classes, I am notorious for assigning difficult essays to answer. I always start with the basic question, but then pose follow up questions to help guide the students with their writing. That is exactly what Jesus did with his discussion on the greatest commandments. If one loves God and loves one’s neighbor, inherently they will be following all of the other commandments! By following the commandments, individuals carry the Lamb of God with them everywhere that they go.
Almost everyone would be willing to give their life to protect the ones that they love. With that being said, we have to address some difficult questions, such as, “Are you willing to give your life for Jesus Christ?” Again, it is not something that most Americans have to contemplate, which also leads to such great indifference. We become comfortable in our faith to the point where the fire is low or even non-existent. Numerous stories exist of extreme acts of heroism performed by individuals in the act of saving others, from little grandmothers lifting cars off of children to individuals going into Ukraine to assist in the humanitarian efforts. The greatest act of heroism was Jesus dying for us. He died to save US! Beyond the actual pain and suffering he endured on the cross, he then, as we say in the Nicene Creed, “descended into hell,”, where he fought for the souls of those taken by the evil one. He sacrificed so that we may live!
This takes me right back to thinking about my dog and another lesson to be learned from her. She was so grateful to be rescued from the shelter and to gain a warm, comfortable home in which to live. She continues to show her love and loyalty to me every day. Jesus rescued us, but how often do we show our gratitude and love for his acts? Again, Jesus gave us the road map to doing so with his greatest commandment.
Let me provide some suggestions on how to fulfill the greatest commandment while at the same time taking the Lamb with us on our daily journey. First, say a simple prayer of thanks to God several times a day. The manners we were all taught as children to say, “Please and thank you,” apply to God. I have to admit, I do a lot more “Please” than “Thank you” in my prayers, asking God to guide me on the right paths and provide me with answers. We can say a thank you prayer in the morning before getting out of bed, a thank you prayer before and after meals, or a thank you prayer for safe travels, just to name a few examples. This does not have to be a difficult, long, or complicated prayer. It can simply be “Thank you God!”
Another example would be to demonstrate the Golden Rule, to treat others as we would want to be treated. It is not the store cashier’s fault that there are supply shortages nor it is not the Sheetz employee’s fault for high gas prices. There is misplaced anger and frustration in acting like these hardworking individuals are the problem. We need to show gratitude for the things that others do for us and learn patience and exhibit more kindness.
Finally, displaying small acts of our faith can speak volumes. One day a year, our country knows who are the Catholics among us because of the ashes we receive on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Catholics walk around proudly in stores, at their jobs, and at school with ashes on their foreheads. Most other days, it is difficult to know who is a Catholic, especially if they are not demonstrating Christian attitudes and behaviors. Love your neighbors, especially the ones that you struggle with in your life. Say a prayer for them, exhibit patience and kindness, offer to be of assistance, and be a reflection of Jesus Christ to everyone.
These are all little ways to live and display our faith. While in the larger scheme of life these suggestions may seem insignificant, remember that it only takes a spark to start a fire. Once the fire is raging, it is difficult to stop! By doing these little acts, we live out the greatest commandments that Jesus gave us in Mark’s Gospel. Hopefully, we can begin taking the Lamb with us everywhere we go in what we say and what we do.
Jesus himself told Saint Peter that if he loved him, he would “Feed his lambs.” We can feed His lambs by acting like the Lamb, demonstrating the greatest commandment. Wear your faith daily the same way that you proudly wear on your forehead the ashes you received on Ash Wednesday. You do not need to wear a shirt that says “I’m a Christian” for people to know you are a Christian. Simply “Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself!”
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.