I write to you from the back pew of a chapel at St. Matthew in Charlotte, North Carolina, the biggest Catholic parish in the United States. It has something like 12,000 people at Mass every Sunday. I saw it for myself recently. Even the 7:30 a.m. Mass was packed. I didn’t think they could pull it off again after seeing the standing-room-only vigil Mass the night before, but midmorning they need a second Mass simultaneous in the gym; their sanctuary for upwards of 2,500 won’t quite do the job. By the time it came around to evening Mass on Sunday, I thought surely this is the one that won’t be full. I was wrong. It was a sight to see, but it was even more powerful, encouraging and enlivening. I was there with the group Hard as Nails, which was giving a parish mission. But this was a parish mission like nothing you’ve ever experienced unless you’ve been with Justin Fatica and his crew before.
I was with them before the first evening mission when they prayed for holy tears, to feel the suffering of others, to always be sensitive to it. This is what Hard as Nails wants: that no one suffers alone. And I have to tell you, as director of spiritual formation, Dominican Father Peter John Cameron (formerly of Magnificat), preached to every Mass, he increased his plea that they come and bring others as each Mass was celebrated. And as the hour neared for the mission, it became more urgent with every set of eyes he gazed at, with every soul who shared his heart.
As Father Cameron talked about St. Paul going to people in his weakness and fear and trembling, insisting this is the only way to truly share Christ with others, hearts were opening. Barriers were falling just by the sound of these words of life and freedom.
I was in Charlotte for the Hard as Nails mission for many reasons, but the main one is these people know Jesus and only ever want to know him better — so that they can bring him to others, so he can show his boundless love to others in some miracle of a way through them. Hard as Nails has lay missionaries who radically sacrifice and fervently serve one another and every stranger because every stranger is their brother or sister; every stranger is Christ.
The mission in this extraordinary parish, which has so many donations going to the needy that they need a warehouse to store it all, didn’t even have to begin before miracles started to happen. Hearts are open to Jesus, and they are being healed and made more tender. Hard as Nails calls this the “You’re Amazing Parish Mission” because God’s will for you is amazing.
We live at a time when way too many people are overwhelmed by their imperfect lives. We are culturally conditioned to idolize an impossible worldly standard of success for our lives and our happiness. But what about the joy of the Gospel? What about the union with Christ and one another that comes when we suffer well, when we keep our eyes on Christ crucified and reach out to others in their suffering because of the love of Jesus. This is why I went down to Charlotte. Because when you meet a group of people who strive to live this, to work to empty themselves of anything that isn’t Christ, that’s where you want to be. Because it may just be contagious! May it be so!
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.