“I don’t need my name in lights, I’m famous in my Father’s eyes, make no mistake, He knows my name.” These are lyrics from the song “He Knows My Name” by Francesca Battistelli. I heard this song playing in the house the other day and I think a lot of us have wanted to be famous and for the whole world to know who we are at some point in our lives. Whether it’s famous for being a movie star, finding a cure for cancer, or being Pope, we all secretly want to leave our mark on this world somehow. But most of us have a group of people or at least one person in our lives that knows our name. What if no one knew your name? What if you haven’t been called by name in days or even months? Sadly, this is the case for a lot of our friends on the street. Thousands of people walk by friends on the street without even acknowledging them. The reality is that not everyone can know everyone’s name. But God does. And He calls us each by name, including and especially the people who don’t hear their name by other humans. Earthly fame shouldn’t matter, but we should do the best we can to remind each other that our Father does know each of our names.
We are terrible at living in the present. This is the number one thing I learned on our pilgrimage to Chimayo New Mexico a few months ago.
We walked for four days and endured snow, rain, sleet, tears, and blood. We stayed for a total of two hours at our destination, the El Santuario de Chimayo, (a local shrine where a miraculous cross is said to have appeared over 200 years ago). Do the math, it doesn’t make much sense. But then you start thinking of the way we treat our lives, we realize that is just as baffling.
So much of our time is spent daydreaming and looking forward to the next thing or adventure coming our way. The thought of the weekend is the motivation people hang on to to get through the work or school week. The thought of summer or Christmas break is fresh in every student’s mind during a difficult semester. Future plans are not a bad thing, in fact, they can be very helpful in rough times. However, if we don’t learn to enjoy the present, our lives our going to be endless pursuits of future circumstances. The moment we reach the circumstance we have been dreaming of, we have to find a new one to consume the mind and drive us forward.
Walking along the country roads of northern New Mexico I got to encounter my fellow pilgrims. We talked, shared stories, laughed, and got to know each other on a whole new level. These moments were the true highlights of our mission trip. The Santuario was stunning and truly powerful, but the little moments taking in the beauty of the mountains and each other were the moments where our lives were transformed.
“The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” – St. Therese of Lisieux
Life is a pilgrimage and Heaven is our destination. When we forget where we are heading we have no direction and lose our way. When we forget about living in the present, we miss the joy of life. There is only one option to complete a pilgrimage: one step at a time.
What the Homeless Need Most Is You
I felt the Holy Spirit push me forward, through the tables where women were eating tonight’s chili and canned green beans, past the regular women I talk to at the local homeless shelter. The Spirit’s nudge pushed me to a woman I’d never met before, standing in the corner glancing around.
I walked past, checking out the situation. Is she homeless or just a volunteer? I wondered, not wanting to make an embarrassing assumption. I knew I had to talk to her.
Lucy was young, in her mid-20s, and had been homeless for only a week. She and her boyfriend were traveling through Denver and got stranded. She was dressed nicer than I was and had more energy and joy, despite her situation. As we got to talking, I realized Lucy might not be as happy as she was putting on.
“You know, Lucy, you don’t have to pretend everything is fine. What you’re going through is really difficult,” I said. “It probably sucks.”
“Yeah, it kind of does,” she said as she let out a sigh of relief.
“Would you want to hang out this week?” I said. “Maybe get coffee or even go to a movie together, just get out of here?”
She smiled, amazed and relieved that there could be normal life outside of the shelter where she had been staying.
Lucy and I spent time together the next week, hanging out at a coffee shop. She got off the street a few weeks after we hung out, and she and her boyfriend now have jobs.
As a Christ in the City missionary, I’m spending a year in Denver getting to know the homeless. I go out to the city streets every day to meet the homeless and spend time with those the missionaries have already gotten to know, like my friend Lucy.
When I’m walking the streets, I often feel nudges of the Holy Spirit, like the one that led me to meeting her.
For example, I felt his nudge when I first encountered Daisy. She was sitting in the park drawing in a sketchpad. After walking by and feeling like I had to go back and say hello, I asked what she was drawing. This began a deeper conversation than I ever expected where she opened up about childhood wounds, abuse and despair. Daisy and I kept in touch, and I was able to connect her with help to heal these wounds.
When it comes to helping the poor, we’re tempted to shy away because we feel powerless in the face of problems bigger than we can tackle. Maybe you avoid eye contact with a man or woman asking for spare change at the stoplight because you don’t feel like you have anything to give or don’t want to give money.
But what the poor really need is you. They need your smile. They need a handshake. They need you to ask how their day is going and mean it. They need you to ask their name and remember it.
I’ve gotten to know a young woman, Megan, who is pregnant and homeless. I take her to her prenatal checkups and ultrasounds every month at the local Catholic women’s clinic. As she approaches her due date, she’s found a larger support system to help with government assistance and a place to stay. At first, I felt almost replaced.
But one day over lunch, Megan casually said to me, “You know, you’re my best friend.” I was a little surprised and didn’t know how to respond. It isn’t what I’m able to provide for her that matters, but our friendship.
Simple actions make a difference. Saying hello to a man or woman at a stoplight is important. More often than not, the man or woman you encounter will be surprised that you care and will be truly grateful.
Like my simple coffee date with my friend Lucy, small actions make a difference. Sitting and talking with someone, reminding them of their dignity is what the poor really need. I’ve learned this year that I am powerless. I can’t fix people’s lives. I can’t end poverty. But I can love others in small ways. I can make a difference in their day and their lives and give them hope.
Even as a Christ in the City missionary, it can be difficult for me to roll down my car window when I’m off duty. About four months ago, after struggling and hesitating one day, I rolled down the window to meet the man with a sign on the corner. I asked his name and introduced myself. Jesse and I shook hands and he seemed excited to meet me and know someone cared.
Ever since then, I greet Jesse by name. He’s always ready for me and says, “There she is!”
Next time you encounter the homeless, do not be afraid that you have nothing to give! What they need most is you.
Makena Clawson is a first-year missionary and recent graduate of Benedictine College. She wishes the whole world loved Jesus, speaking in Spanish, and Nancy Drew as much as she does.
“Miss Marie, I was telling my friend on my baseball team about Purgatory like we learned last week in CCD and he told me I was making it all up. Can you help me answer his questions?”
Elijah, one of my 3rd grade CCD kiddos, ran up to me yesterday at the beginning of class and was so excited to start answering his friend’s questions about the Catholic faith. With an hour and fifteen minutes of catechism a week, this nine year old was spreading the faith. The same boy who five minutes later asked me how to spell the word “Catholic” and then proceeded to trip on his shoelace and spill his juice box on a clean carpet was an authentic missionary.
I want to have a heart for mission like him.
Someday, I want to travel the world. Someday, I want to be a missionary. I want to convert souls. I want to go to extremes. I want to take bucket showers and drink coconut water. I want serve the homeless. I want to love the unloved. One day, I want to serve in a visible way. Eventually, I want to be like my sister and some of my best friends who have answered their vocations to the missions. I want to be radical… Someday.
But why can’t someday be today? Why am I waiting? Why do we wait until we have graduated? Why do we wait until mission work looks “fun and adventurous”? Why do we wait until we “know enough”? Why do we postpone God’s plan? I’ve been so focused on my desire to serve in crazy and radical ways… that I have forgotten to simply serve the people I see every day. The people who surround me on campus daily have a physical home, will eat dinner tonight, and wear designer jeans, but their hearts might be homeless. The people who surround me might look the part, but are spiritually wounded. Who am I to say that my classmates don’t deserve authentic joy, genuine friendship, and honest truth… everything that a “missionary” can offer?
I want to be a missionary. And I choose to start now.
Someday I hope that God calls me to foreign lands or a liberal campus or a radical vocation of loving the homeless. But today He is calling me to loving those who sit next to me in the lecture hall. To love those who wait with me at the bus stop. To love my roommates and my best friends. To love the rowdy 3rd graders who run into my classroom. To love those who walk into the Newman Center searching for a true home.
And that… that is just as radical.
“Anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” – Pope Francis
Marie Foley is currently a student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, pursuing a degree in secondary education for mathematics. She enjoys running marathons, drinking coffee and driving minivans.
The only barrier between him and the sky
is the bridge
under which he sleeps.
He can sense
the dark storm clouds
Yet he knows that at 6:38
the sun will rise
despite the hopeless scrawls that cover the bridge
despite the needle marks that scar his arms
despite the sharp chill that penetrates his sleeping bag
because it is Easter Sunday.
6:38—kneeling on the ground his arms outstretched
his shadow forms a cross.
Catriona is a first year missionary from Lakewood, Colorado who was studying English before she came to Christ in the City.