If you read one item in the paper this week (and I sincerely hope you…
Learning to be missionaries with Hard As Nails
“We work out a lot.” For some reason that’s the line that most sticks out to me upon finally meeting Justin Fatica, the founder of Hard As Nails Ministries, which brings the Gospel to youth around the country and the world. Once you meet the 20-something missionaries he trains, you understand why. They are all in.
At the Shrine of the North American Martyrs this September, they died to self. With every bad thought and sin written down, they burned them. That was their commissioning to start getting on the Hard As Nails bus and going around the country to love people, to walk with them in their pain, to show them the love of Jesus Christ.
But first they received Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. And they did so with love, like people whose aches can’t be satisfied by anything else — people who know Christ is what everyone needs and who want to bring him to people. They are joyful. They are accessible. They are pure and beautiful. That doesn’t mean they are levitating or free of the pain of this world. It’s because they know the pain that they serve.
Meeting Fatica was like meeting a brother. There was laughter and understanding, gratitude and love. That’s how all our encounters should be! We are brothers and sisters in Christ. How can we approach people otherwise?
He also had mercy on an otherwise stranded downstate New Yorker who was not getting an Uber to the train station. He might have driven me in the wrong direction, but it was right in keeping with his calling. Fatica has a servant’s heart, with a big dose of St. Joseph’s protecting instincts. He is a husband and father, after all, and he seems to radiate that, too. In the age of #MeToo, that is no small thing. We all need a lot more of St. Joseph around.
I went up to their missionary commissioning day because I had been longing to visit the shrine up in Auriesville, New York. It’s less than four hours from Manhattan, which is just far enough to have it be neglected by many of us. The grounds are located on a former Mohawk village where St. Kateri Tekakwitha was baptized and three Jesuit priests were killed, including Isaac Jogues. I realize, of course, that the reason “We work out a lot” stuck out to me is because Hard As Nails has captured the charism of St. Ignatius Loyola when he founded the Jesuits. Ignatius was a soldier, and his Spiritual Exercises are rigorous, as I discovered when I did a 30-day retreat with them a few years ago. His rules of discernment are the kind of tools we need for clarity at a time when so many of us appear to be suffocating in darkness. Fatica is preparing young people for spiritual battle as a good father who knows the love of the heavenly Father, who knows the love of Jesus on the cross and the glory of his resurrection, and who trusts the Holy Spirit to guide him. This is the type of mentor you want your children hanging around and learning from.
The Hard As Nails mission is also living out St. Augustine’s message in the world today, as I was recently reminded while praying the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours: “You have failed to strengthen the weak, says the Lord. He is speaking to wicked shepherds, false shepherds, shepherds who seek their own concerns and not those of Christ.”
We’re weak because so many of us have not been walking boldly as heralds of the love of the Lord. It’s not just bishops. Pope Francis seemed to be tenderly shouting it from the rooftops in the Year of Mercy and his emphasis on the Beatitudes. But the darkness seems to choke the good that comes from God, the plea for humility in the face of so much misery.
But it’s not just bishops. The Church is all of us. Yes, the bishops, as the successors of the apostles have a critical teaching responsibility. But so does each and every one of us who claims to be Christian. Like the Hard As Nails missionaries, we are all called to accept this responsibility and share the Gospel to those we encounter.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.