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!

Can the Homeless Actually Be Happy?

He must be lying to himself. There is no way he is actually happy.

“It’s a beautiful day and I’m just happy to be alive!”, one of my friend’s on the street proclaims again.

Everytime he says it, I ask myself, is he being honest? He is a homeless man living on the streets of Denver. Does he even know what happiness is?

As we enter into the lives of the homeless on the streets, we are greeted by every personality type. Each type unique to the other and each with a different response to their homelessness. Yet there is still a small group that is rarely rattled and who always seem to be having a good day. They somehow find things in life to be happy about, even when it would appear these things don’t exist.

While there is always something negative they could focus on, they choose the other option.

They choose to focus on the good.

I visualize this focus as a spotlight. The spotlight passes over all of the good and bad parts of my life, but I get to choose what I am going to let it illuminate.

However, even with this visual, I don’t always choose to shine light on the good in my life, all of the blessings God has bestowed upon me. It’s so much easier for me to focus on the negative. There is always something I could complain about, (legitimate or not) that I could shine a light on and dwell over.

If there is anyone in life we would never blame for focusing on the negative, it is the homeless. Yet, we encounter homeless friends every day who are happy. They are focusing their spot light on the good, choosing to find the subtle joys in their lives. They have figured it out. Where they shine their light is their choice, a choice we are all free to choose.

Now when I hear my friend say he’s just happy to be alive, I believe him.

Blake is from Hastings, NE. He served as a missionary with Christ in the City from 2015-2017 and is now on staff as the Director of College Outreach & Recruitment. He enjoys Husker football, Dr. Pepper, and long road trips.