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OPINION

Amazing Grace in Ohio

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek

GRANVILLE, OHIO -- Whit's frozen custard shop was invaded by joyful young people one recent Sunday night. After pizza, 20-somethings on a weekend religious retreat were hard to miss amid the locals walking their dogs or enjoying a cone. Many of the young people were telling passersby: "You're amazing!" and receiving double takes, strange looks and smiles in return.

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The Hard as Nails ministry group, of which the young people on a retreat were a part, has a sense of urgency about it. The founder, Justin Fatica, is on a mission to remind people they are loved by God and by the members of Hard as Nails. It's a message that bears repeating, again and again.

The Hard as Nails ministry works to find a solution to the loneliness, disconnection and depression that's increasingly plaguing our society. It's based on a basic but increasingly less-practiced principle: actual human encounter.

"I'm a lost cause. Baby, don't waste your time on me. I'm so damaged beyond repair. Life has shattered my hopes and my dreams." Those are the searing words of the refrain of the country artist Jelly Roll's song "Save Me." He sings: "Somebody save me, me from myself. I've spent so long living in hell. They say my lifestyle is bad for my health. It's the only thing that seems to help. All of this drinking, this smoking, is hopeless, but feel like it's all that I need. Something inside of me is broken, I hold on to anything that sets me free."

What Jelly Roll is turning to, of course, doesn't help. But it's all too familiar. In a reflection to the missionaries on retreat, I played Jelly Roll's video and suggested that more people than not can relate on some level to his words.

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I would find young people telling me "You're amazing!" a little annoying if it weren't so different than what people tend to hear from or about Christianity. Hard as Nails wants to bring people to the Gospel -- and, as Catholics, to the Eucharist. Their track record is replete with conversions and reversions to Catholicism. Their focus is providing examples of courage, authenticity and obedience to young people. But whatever one's age, it's hard not to be affected.

There is something contagious about the missionaries' joy, especially when it's not a surface-level joy. They live in the real world. They've had to confront their own "lost cause" feelings and know they are works in progress, with God's grace. As the ministry's name references, Jesus was nailed to the cross, and so no one is promised a life without pain, but there is love. Spreading love is their mission, with the firm conviction that God does not leave anyone alone. "You're amazing" is just a baby step at the custard shop. The dream is that it can become something of a movement, inspiring Christians to make sure they are not leaving anyone behind -- because these days we sure are.

Hard as Nails has the right idea about how to help people. Sensitivity to sin and suffering is key to their approach. We are all sinners. And we all suffer. Whatever one's politics -- and there are some people who couldn't care less about politics, even as it seems to be our national never-ending reality-series obsession -- this is a meeting ground for encounter and service. And these frontlines of love tend to bear more fruit than politics -- thanks be to God.

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(Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book "A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living." She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan's pro-life commission in New York, and is on the board of the University of Mary. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.)

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