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.

The Day I Quit Trying to be Perfect

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

As a seminarian, I tend to get caught up in the idea of perfection. As I prepare for the priesthood, there always seems to be something more I need to learn or something essential I need to grow in.

Thinking back to all the conversations I’ve had with others about the priesthood, I’ve found that there seems to be a reoccurring list of expectations and it usually goes like this:

“A priest should be thoroughly trained in theology and apologetics…
…proficient in scripture
…and church history
…and finance
…and psychology
…and religious dialogue
…he should be funny
…and smart
…give good homilies
…and be punctual
…he needs to be perfect”

These conversations were followed by many stressful years in seminary in which I did whatever I could to become this perfect priest that would somehow be enough for his parishioners. But as hard as I tried, I kept tripping over my own shortcomings.

Eventually, my potential as a priest seemed so small compared to the list of my failures. Any failed test, any meeting I was late to, any question about the faith that I couldn’t answer only seemed to confirm this. The further I fell from perfection, the more I believed I could never be a good priest.

This was constantly on my mind as I arrived in Denver to do a year of mission work. Once the street ministry began, I quickly found myself again striving for this idea of perfection.

I put so much emphasis on needing to say the right words to my new friends on the street. If religious dialogue ever came up, I would do my best to transform into a human catechism and correct any misunderstandings they had.

But it wasn’t long until I realized my interactions were so superficial.

What were my words if they were only a chance for self-satisfaction in saying the “right thing”? What was the point of citing doctrine if I failed to notice another’s personal wounds that would prevent them from trusting God in the first place?

I finally realized I wasn’t living out of love, I was living out of fear.

With the help of others in my community and my formators, I was able to stop worrying about what I was doing right or wrong, about how I could fix homelessness, and about whether people were better off for meeting me or not.

I’ve realized that my time with Christ in the City isn’t meant to make me perfect. Rather, it’s a precious time to learn how to meet others where they are and simply be with them there.

I can’t free my homeless friend from addiction, or convert the one who blames God for his misfortune in life. I can’t erase the guilt from a fatal car accident that’s plaguing another, nor can I tell him that there’s any true moving on from that.

I know I cannot remove the pain, or even offer the perfect words.

What I can do is acknowledge their agony, and be wounded with them. I can remind each person that he or she is not alone, and I can allow God’s Love to enter into that place.

I can’t take away their suffering, but I can be with them in it…

I often think of the two thieves at the crucifixion alongside Jesus. I wonder their final thoughts after a life of crime. And I marvel at the fact that Jesus came to earth, endured scrutiny, betrayal, and condemnation, just so that he could carry His cross to the side of the wicked thief and be crucified with Him. Not because the thief was perfect, but so that despite all the sin and all the failures, that man in his greatest loneliness would not be alone.

It’s here, with the help of my friends on the street and my fellow Christ in the City missionaries, that I’ve been able to find the heart of the priesthood; not in being perfect, but in being present.

I think it’s simply the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ being with His people.

I’ve learned that perfection isn’t punctuality. It’s living so that Jesus can be with people.  

Max is a year-long missionary and a seminarian for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, SD. He enjoys hacky sack, rock hounding, watching classic movies, and going on every sort of adventure.  

Why Nights Are Hard

To be honest, I don’t want to see it all.  

We typically encounter our homeless friends in the daylight – when they likely feel most safe, free, and stable. However, there are certain nights each week that we do night ministry.

With this type of ministry comes added suffering, challenges and insecurities. Night ministry at Christ in the City adds a dimension to our mission and gives us a different perspective on the lives of our friends on the street.

Some missionaries go to a local homeless shelter to be with the women and children, others go to 16th Street Mall to encounter the poor. These night ministries are eye-opening. We are able to encounter, even just briefly, the vulnerability and fear that many of our friends face every evening as the sun sets.

These moments are often dark and full of heartbreak, like the teenager we’ve seen riding the free mall shuttle, barefoot, blankets over his shoulder, desperately seeking warmth and rest. He likely stays on the bus as long as he can, until the mall rides stops and he is forced outside into the elements.

But amid such darkness there are also moments of profound light, like getting to encounter the inspiring women at Samaritan House. We discuss human dignity and God’s unconditional love for each of them. Every week, I leave those meetings in awe of the women who attend.

All of them have faced challenging circumstances. Many of them have not had their dignity upheld by those closest to them. They have suffered a lot. Yet in that meeting room there abounds nothing but hope. The trials these women have faced seem to have ignited something within them that fiercely shines and gives light.

Being exposed to the more vulnerable moments of our friends’ days has affirmed for me that darkness will not prevail. Even the smallest light shining in the darkness can be seen from far away. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Anna is a 2nd-year missionary from North Platte, NE. She enjoys eating good food, time spent in adoration, and any opportunity to say Go Big Red!

How Jesus Stole My Heart

I never used to cry and I was proud of it.

Raised by two teenage parents, on government assistance, wanting stability and a steady routine, I didn’t cry.

During my year at Christ in the City, visiting friends on the street in the hospital, hearing their most heart-wrenching stories, accompanying them through loss and relapse, I never shed a tear.

When I moved back to New York City and found myself overwhelmed, without a community, trying to adjust to the radically changed Catholic life I was now living, nothing.

I deemed this quality one of strength and self-control and labeled it as a positive character trait.

Until all of the sudden, I began to get emotional at the start of Mass. At first, I ignored it, sucked in the tears welling up in my eyes, and blamed it on the stress of school. Then it happened again…and again, and again.

Seeking guidance from my spiritual director to help navigate this new foreign territory of my being (and secretly hoping I could just blame it away on stress), I was gently reminded I had been desiring to feel Jesus in my heart and to grow in deeper trust with Him.  

So the next time I was in Mass and got emotional, I tested Jesus. Carefully allowing myself to attend to the bizarre flux of emotions I was experiencing, I allowed a single tear to fall. In the smallest act of resignation, Jesus was there, waiting.

Now in my moments of loneliness, insecurity, sadness, shame, guilt, and fear, when I surrender the tiniest white flag I can find in my bag of human imperfections, He floods my heart. In his always patient, often quiet, loving perfection, He captures my emotions allowing me to feel, to cry, to take my heart and be stolen by Him.

Erica served as a CIC year-long missionary from 2017-2018, She is currently attending graduate school at Columbia University. 

Being the One Sheep

Thank God for the gift of being the one sheep! As strange as that might sound, it’s one that’s been on my heart lately.

It all started one day with a friend on the street named, C. When we first met him the conversation started slow and awkward, but quickly shifted when one of C’s “friends” approached without the bike he had borrowed from C. We watched as a heated confrontation began. C was upset because his bike was sold, but even more so because his “friend” had betrayed him. After talking it out for a bit, the “friend” walked off and we were left alone with C.

He mentioned, in his frustration, that in the past he would have hurt this guy and then made him go get his bike back. Seeing as he hadn’t done that, I asked what had changed.

For him, it was his granddaughter. He said it was a blessing to be present at her birth. Seeing this new life come into the world struck him, expanded his heart, and inspired him to change his life. He shared with us his pain which included major, tragic losses, and his guilt and blame over those losses. Over the years, that guilt has resulted in a broken vision of himself. And as he shared, I saw myself in him.

How often is it that I fall into the trap of guilt and blame, beating myself up for my sins, faults, and failings? If I’m honest with myself, it’s pretty often.

After talking with C., we made our way to Mass, where the Gospel was the parable of the 99 sheep. Father’s homily spoke of the Lord’s tremendous desire for the return of His flock. “I want you back in my flock because I love you.”

Even when we feel unworthy, the Lord calls us home. Because He loves us. He calls me home, because He loves me.

I can’t help but get emotional realizing the Lord’s pursuit of me. I am often the lost sheep that Jesus pursues with such fervor, leaving the ninety-nine. Even when I feel unworthy, even when I get caught up in my sin, even when I don’t think I deserve anything much less the overwhelming love of God, Jesus pursues me.

How beautiful to realize that Jesus speaks the same thing to C.’s heart, to all of our friends’ hearts, and to your heart too: “I want you back in my flock because I love you.” The Lord, who knows everything about us – sins, faults, failings, strengths, talents, and skills – recklessly pursues us, leaving the ninety-nine to come after us. Thank God for the gift of being the one sheep!

Andre is a year-long missionary from Bridgeport, CT. He enjoys tea, sweets, and experiencing new cultures and people!