He’s Waiting for You in the Poor

I first met Jesus in a homeless person. No, like, really.

You might have read that and assumed I was speaking metaphorically. Or maybe you thought I was just being pious and self-congratulatory, trying to spiritualize a community service experience that any decent person could have done.

Three years ago, I would have thought all of those things. I would have thought the idea that talking to a homeless person was literally “talking to Jesus” was self-serving and cheesy at best, and threatening to actual social justice at worst.

But when Christ in the City says that they meet Jesus in the poor, they mean it. They’re not talking about a good feeling or an abstract idea, but a spiritual reality that Christ Himself taught.

When I first encountered Christ in the City on a visit to Denver, my faith was bottoming out. After throwing God to the wayside during my first year of college, I was trying – going to Mass, making Confessions, singing some Worship music – but in the midst of a tumultuous college career, something just wasn’t clicking. I needed a spark to ignite the fire of Love in me again.

I had always loved community service, though, so when some friends invited me to my first Lunch in the Park, I figured it couldn’t hurt. At least I’d get a chance to help someone, right?

I was right in a way, but I didn’t realize just whom I’d be helping. As I nervously handed out water, met missionaries, and eventually talked to some homeless friends, a sort of electricity filled me. My heart had felt a similar warmth before, but this was different; this wasn’t just the joy of helping out.

It set in when I met a smiling older woman who told me that she liked the song I was playing. The face of this woman was, in a mysterious way, the face of Jesus himself. And the glow I experienced was the deep, inexplicable soul-quenching peace that had to come from Him. It was the glow of community, of love, and – ironically enough – the glow I had felt once before, upon finally receiving the Eucharist after weeks without it.

My experience was undeniable – this was the fire of the Holy Spirit, alerting me of the presence of Christ in my midst and calling me to deeper communion with Him.

I had always been frustrated that I “couldn’t find” God in the experiences that others did, but He was never hiding from me. He simply chose to reveal Himself to me in the poor.

In Matthew 25:40 – Jesus says “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” – We as Catholics take Him literally here. We believe that because of this Scripture, we don’t just honor Him – we actually encounter Him when we serve our brothers and sisters on the street. In a special, mysterious way, He is present in them.

St. John Chrysostom even went so far as to say that “if you can’t find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will never find Him in the chalice.”

After that first experience with CIC, I moved to Denver, began praying every day, and started Spiritual Direction. My life took a radically different direction, and I eventually took ministry to the extreme by living as a missionary in a homeless shelter for six months. The impact of my encounter with Him was all too real.

If Christ is truly present in the poor like this, it’s life-changing. It means that, when we risk a little bit of vulnerability and are companions to the less fortunate, Jesus uses the poor to transform us. It means they become a unique way in which the Living God speaks into our hearts, just as He can do with charismatic prayer, praise-and-worship, theological study or any of the other unique spiritualities that He’s given us.

And, it means it’s entirely possible that you could have a story just like mine that hasn’t been fulfilled yet. And it is for that reason that I’m calling you to come experience Christ in the City, at a Lunch in the Park, on a mission trip, or even as a full-time missionary.

I’m calling you, good-hearted skeptic, I’m calling you, burnt-out ministry leader, and I’m calling you, who want to live in relationship with God but just can’t seem to make it work.

Maybe you don’t feel you’ve encountered the Lord in Praise and Worship. Maybe He doesn’t present Himself to you in all the theology. Maybe you’ve heard all the talks, been to all the retreats, tried all the devotions, but just can’t seem to find Him.

Maybe He’s waiting for you in the poor.

Daniel Lorenzo was a missionary with Christ in the City in the summer of 2017. He loves playing indie music and reading, and hopes to become the Patron Saint of Memes. He just finished a missionary experience at a homeless shelter in the Bronx, and now works as a freelance writer.

He Reverences YOU (yes, you!)

They all had an attitude.

I could see it in the gratitude they expressed for one another and the recognition of each community members’ unique and unrepeatable hearts and gifts.

I could see it in the way each missionary gave their mission trip visitors their complete attention.

I could see it in the intentionality of their conversations with their friends on the street.

I could see it in the dignity with which they treated every Lunch in the Park guest.

They gave every person they encountered the freedom and space necessary to be who they were, feel the emotions being triggered, express their experiences, and grow at whatever pace they needed.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until one of the Christ in the City missionaries shared Dietrich von Hildebrand’s definition of reverence on the first day of our spring break mission trip: “leaving a being the space it needs in order to unfold itself.”

An attitude of reverence. That’s what I witnessed every missionary living out in all aspects of their lives: with their friends on the street, with each other, and with God. This realization and its application to my life have yet to leave my heart.

During my time on the streets with Christ in the City, I recognized that I too had reverence. I was able to encounter, listen, and receive with patience and mercy the people on the streets with whom I came in contact as well as the missionaries and mission trip crew. I wasn’t expecting them to do more or be more. Just being present with who they were in the moment was enough. It was surprisingly easy to have reverence for them. To just allow them the space and time they needed to reveal themselves to me as they were.

However, as I reflected on my own life I realized how often I struggle to have reverence for myself, especially in context of my relationship with God. I often get frustrated at how my heart continues to struggle with the same things, and it seems like I should be “over them” by now. I get stuck in the lie that a less-than-perfect me isn’t lovable, and God is probably tired of hearing me ramble.

But the truth is, He is not. Just as it was my pleasure to receive the people I encountered at Christ in the City with gentleness, patience, and compassion, the Father delights to sit with me and hear all about both the joys and brokenness of my life.

In other words, the Father has perfect reverence towards me. The God of the Universe does not impose or force Himself or His will upon me. Rather, He gives me the space and time I need to unfold my heart to Him as it is.

The Father reverences us, so we must reverence one another. Just as He is so content to receive us in all our brokenness, imperfection, and weakness, we must also be willing to receive the people in our lives with that same receptivity. And when we do, just as our Father does for us, we will be able to give others the gift of being loved just as they are.

This may seem like a small act, but in a world that does nothing but set unrealizable expectations on us to earn our worth, it is actually one of the most priceless gifts we can give. On our own, we are not able to love in this way—so it will actually be the Father in us who allows us to see beyond what the world sees, love with His love, and open doors for people to meet Him.

Morgan is a FOCUS missionary at University of Nebraska Omaha. She has served with CIC in our Summer of Service Program as well as on Mission Trips. She enjoys playing card games, watching This is Us, and cheering for the Huskers!

“I’m So Happy You’re Here…”

I heard her put the phone to her ear and then the words, “Well hello, Abby!”

There it was, that raspy voice I knew so well. It was one of my last afternoons of street ministry and one of my fellow missionaries had found my dear friend on the street, Deb, whom I hadn’t seen or heard from in over 7 months. I was told she was back sitting in her usual spot.

Immediately, I dropped everything I was doing and went to go see her. Still in disbelief, all I could do was hold her hands and repeat the words, “Deb, I am so happy you’re here.”

That woman showed me how necessary it is to recognize our brokenness and our littleness, because it allows us to see that we are in need of a saviour.

There is a point that every missionary goes through during their time at Christ in the City, when you develop a true friendship with someone and grow to love them deeply. You then realize that no matter how hard you try, you can’t free your friends from their crosses. You cannot free someone from addiction, mental illness, or trauma. You probably can’t convince them to get into housing or at the very least go sleep in a shelter when it’s below freezing.

But that’s precisely the point.

I found myself constantly having to surrender Deb to the Lord. I realized that as much as I wanted or tried, that I am not the one who can free her, or the one who can make her know how deeply loved she is. I had to realize that I am not her saviour.

It was both heartbreaking and beautiful to see her recognize that she can’t do it by herself, can’t recover by herself, can’t become the person she was created to be by herself. She needed something and someone more; we all do.

We need the One who knows us, who adores us, who drops everything and runs to see us.

Even still, I find myself looking back and reflecting on this and needing to remind myself time and time again that the Lord is so patiently and eagerly waiting for me to surrender myself fully to Him. For me to stop saying, “I really think I can get this one on my own,” but instead to allow Him to help me carry my cross, and to humbly say yes to his abundant love, and to trust when He says to us “I’m so happy you’re here”.

Abby P. served with Christ in the City from 2016-2018. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, sunshine, and the adventure straps on her Crocs. 

You. Are. Enough.

I’ve tried so hard to cover it up so that no one can get close to it.

With our culture’s emphasis on perfection, I’ve found myself becoming perfection crazed. However, when I see a friend on the street who is openly broken, I’m immediately put at ease. Because I’m broken. I’m broken and don’t want to admit it.

But with the poor there is no hiding.

When I spent time with the homeless as a Christ in the City missionary, I felt like I was caring for Jesus.

Whether that was consoling a wounded and bruised friend on the street who had fallen down drunk the night before, accompanying a pregnant woman back to her shelter before curfew, or sharing a laugh with a friend who told a joke he was really proud of, my brokenness was revealed. Through sharing such intimate experiences with my friends on the street, my brokenness was not only revealed, but consoled.

Encountering the brokenness in others – that which I’m so afraid of in myself – not only puts me at ease when found in others, it allows me to see Christ more clearly in the other person.

The homeless are who they are. No pretenses, no masks. And they radiate Christ’s presence.

Yet today, over two years after my missionary year, and with little contact with the poor, I’ve almost lost the conviction that Christ abides in each person. Not just in the good parts that we are proud of, but the parts that we resent, that we keep from others, that we cover up and run away from.

The humility, vulnerability and weakness of the poor makes me take a step back. It reminds me of a young, simple girl carrying the Christ child. It reminds me of a hard-working man feeling like a failure as he couldn’t provide a warm place for his wife to give birth to the son of God. It reminds me of a strong man’s weakness carrying the cross and falling under its weight.

Maybe I don’t need to be afraid of my brokenness.

And maybe I can learn to recognize Christ in others who aren’t outwardly broken. And slowly help them let their guard down, to be their authentic selves

In a culture so worried about failing, maybe we should give it a try. Maybe we should let our brokenness and weakness be visible for a minute and give someone the gift of being able to love us.

Makena served with Christ in the City from 2015-2017. She enjoys painting, speaking Spanish, and rolling down hills. 

What Do I Want to Look Like on Easter?

Never had I both hated and so longed for bread in my life.

It was the Lent of my year at Christ in the City that forever changed my understanding of fasting. A group of missionaries and I decided that Wednesdays and Fridays would be bread days: at each meal, bread and water only (ok, and coffee). I ceased snacking, indulging in sweet drinks, comfort food, etc. And of course, it hurt!  

But it was the first time in my life that I connected this physical pain to something greater.

No, no…not shedding a few pounds by white-knuckling my way through a 40-day diet that Lent conveniently opportunes.

Rather, I began asking myself questions like: 
What do I want to look like on Easter Sunday?
How do I want to present myself to the Lord at the Mass that celebrates His resurrection?

For the first time, I dove into the paradox of Lenten fasting and Easter feasting. How often we hear about this paradoxical combination in Scripture! Fasting and feasting, abstinence and abundance.

The Church in Her wisdom understands that God has woven paradox into the fabric of reality. The Liturgical calendar reflects that understanding, and we, disordered in our fallen human nature, need to embrace paradox for our salvation.

Christ in the City’s mission to “Love until it Hurts”  is full of paradox.

What did St. Teresa of Calcutta mean by those words? Gazing up at the life-size Crucifix in the Missionaries’ of Charity chapel, praying with them after Mass before we started our day…I began to get a sense of that paradox.

Each full day at Christ in the City gave me a better understanding of our mission. Spending hours on the streets, in the shelters, at Lunch in the Park, praying Divine Mercy chaplets and lifting up my homeless friends in prayer; through the ups and downs of community life, praying the Liturgy of the Hours together, cleaning the laundry room, cooking with my crew and giving thanks at day’s end and, finally, sleeping… those full days taught me to live that paradox.

Love until it hurts.

This love that hurts is not just for our hearts and our heads to experience; it is also for our bodies. Never had I both detested and so longed for bread in my life as I did on some of those Wednesdays and Fridays that Lent, being so tired of it and yet so hungry.

But in that pain, I discovered the vitality that comes from fasting and abstinence alone.  In other words, by finally allowing myself to enter into the pains of actually fasting from food and abstaining from certain regular or unthinking behaviors, I in turn allowed the Lord to open up to me a whole world of silence and further reflection.

What does God want me to look like at Easter?
What is His dream for me to ‘look like’ at the eternal feast in heaven?

I invite you today to consider fasting and abstinence not as rules imposed, but as an invitation to deeper relationship. In choosing to withhold from the “quick fillers” we unintentionally “worship”, we make space for the Lord to reveal Himself in a still, small voice (cf. 1 Kgs 19:12).

You are the gift He wishes to receive. What—who—will you present to Him on Easter?

Take to heart the Lord’s Word: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!”  And have courage: you can do this — for He, Emmanuel, is with you!

Jayne served with CIC in 2016-2017. She works now in a bread bakery seeking God’s will for “next,” only to find that “now and at the hour of our death” are the only moments of our lives that really matter.