Column by Jonathan Nagy
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
Recently, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I found myself at the new daily 4:15 p.m. Mass at Saint Francis University. I had just finished a long day of work and was feeling tired and weary, but something was calling me to attend Mass. While it felt a little awkward at first because it was a small and quiet crowd of individuals I did not know, I immediately felt at ease as Mass began with familiar prayers. As the First Reading began with the words from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, I felt a spirit of inspiration come over me. The words from the reading (Romans 8:28-30) stuck with me, and I looked the reading up again later that evening and again the next day to reflect upon. Suddenly, a reading that I honestly did not pay much attention to before now had vast meaning for me.
It is not often that I just get to ‘sit and be’ at Mass. Do not get me wrong, I am not complaining. I thoroughly enjoy my role at Mass providing music. But every once in a while, I look forward to just participating as a congregant, not worrying about when to come in with a hymn, how many verses to sing, if someone will miss their cue, and so on and so forth. The occasional Mass that I attend that I am not playing my “music man” role allows me more time to reflect, such as the Mass I referenced on the birthday of Mary.
I would venture to say that everyone gets caught up in their work so much that we all forget at times WHY we work. This reading from Romans refocuses for us the purpose of our work. In his homily for Sunday Mass Labor Day Weekend, Father John Byrnes, Rector of the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel, said, “Along with the dignity and necessity of work, there is a danger that work, which is a means to an end, can become the end itself. Work can become an escape mechanism from whom or what we are running from, our self, our spouse, our family, or God.” Father is absolutely correct! I know this because I am guilty of doing this. I have often used work as a distraction from life. Sometimes I use work, even menial tasks, to block other things out. I’ve many times been accused of being a workaholic, a comment I do own. However, I always focus my work and believe that I am doing the work of God.
Father Jeremiah Lange, pastor of Saint Nicholas Parish in Nicktown and chaplain at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, remarked to me his thoughts on the reading from Romans: “That reading is meant to bring a sense of consolation and assurance for us, that God brings a greater good from everything, good and bad. We sometimes struggle to understand how some things, especially bad things, can all be in God’s plan. All work is good when we work FOR the good.” God calls each of us to do His work in the most dignified way possible.
Several years ago, during a discussion as to why things feel so difficult, a friend remarked to me, “When you do the work of God, the devil works harder against you.” I discover daily how very true that is! When we look at the world today, while so much good is taking place, it is often overshadowed by evil and nefarious works. When we truly examine that quote, many things become evident. First of all, as Father Jeremiah said about the Bible verse I referenced earlier, it should come as some consolation to us that we are doing good work for God because of the pushback that comes. People doing the work of God have the evil one scared, and he must work twice as hard to overcome good. We must remember one of our core beliefs – that God is ALWAYS good, and that God ALWAYS wins. This thought reminds me of a very popular Christian saying: “God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!”
We cannot let the negativity and despair of the world stand in our way of doing great things in the Name of God. Let’s return to the original Bible verse I quoted and focus on the phrase, “who are called according to his purpose.” God has a purpose for each person he created, and that purpose is not always evident. God knows us, even before we are born. I am reminded of the final verse of Bernadette Farrell’s hymn, “O God You Search Me.” She writes, “For you created me and shaped me, gave me life within my mother’s womb. For the wonder of who I am, I praise you. Safe in your hands, all creation is made new.” God created us in His image for a wonderful purpose!
I would like to focus on one phrase in that verse. Farrell wrote, “For the wonder of who I am, I praise you.” Not often do we stop and reflect on the wonder of who we are and what God created, but we should! This is not meant to be a boastful reflection, but one of honor of Him and the path he has set us on for life. We have much to be thankful for in our lives, but sometimes we can lose sight of those wonders, and need time to pause and regather ourselves. As someone who struggles often with anxiety, I am aware that I do need to first pause and then ground myself. There is an exercise that I found for coping with anxiety called “5-4-3-2-1:”
1. Acknowledge five things you see around you.
2. Acknowledge four things you can touch around you.
3. Acknowledge three things you can hear.
4. Acknowledge two things you can smell.
5. Acknowledge one thing you can taste.
By using that grounding technique, I can often bring myself back to some inner calm. However, I turn that technique into a prayer in the following ways:
1. I think of five things around me that I can see, and I thank God for those things and for sight.
2. I think of four things I can touch, and I thank God for the ability to do so.
3. I think of three things I can hear, and I thank God for creating wonderful sounds and the ability to listen to them.
4. I think of two things I can smell, and thank God for all of the beautiful, natural aromas of the earth.
5. I think of one thing I can taste, and I thank God for not only food, but for daily bread from Heaven.
Putting everything in our lives in God’s hands is the safest place to put them. He will help us with all of our fears and concerns. Just a simple prayer or reflection technique such as the one above can help us to refocus.
Coming full circle to bring this back to the reading from Romans, I want to look at the last part: “And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.” The way to Heaven is not an easy one. Jesus used many examples and parables to explain this, but at the same time encouraged us not to give up, because Heaven is the ultimate goal for us. He predestines all of us to goodness, for we are made in His image and likeness. He calls us to live a just life. By living that just life, we are then glorified in His Name and welcomed into our Heavenly home.
Make no doubt about it, life is tough. Everyone gets down on themselves and life. Work, family, friends, and more that are intended to bring us joy can sometimes become a struggle. When we focus on the struggles and not on the solutions, we find ourselves in opposition to God’s intentions. He created us as beautiful individuals, each with special talents. We are designed to be people who work with each other to solve issues and help one another get to Heaven. That should be the focus of our work: that everything we do for ourselves and others should advance the cause of bringing us closer to God. As Father Jeremiah remarked, “All work is good when we work for good!”
Take time to reflect and pray daily. Often, a simple prayer can ground us. Use the positives in your life to focus and de-stress. God does want us to be happy people, and to enjoy life, even if our lives aren’t perfect in our eyes. While our life is about the destination, we should also enjoy the journey. Every encounter in our lives, for good or bad, helps us to see the true path and strengthens us as individuals.
As Saint Paul wrote to the Romans, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” Demonstrate your love for God by tending to your neighbors and performing good works. Take time to pray and meditate on the goodness of God. In the process, take time for self-care and rejuvenate yourself so that you are better able to answer the call of God in your daily life!
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.