I Can’t Make This Person Talk to Me

I can’t make this person talk to me. 

It is very easy to let a rejection with the homeless, or in life, get to me. Realistically, I know when I approach someone on street ministry I cannot expect them to want to talk to me, but I really hope they want to. 

We often say that the first gift we give to the homeless or a stranger when we introduce ourselves is taking the awkwardness of a first encounter upon ourselves. We offer a free gift of our time and presence to the homeless, which means they have the free will to accept or reject this gift, but man, I want them to accept it. 

Intellectually, I know what a free gift is. As a gift giver, I give the freedom of the other to accept or reject the gift. There is a risk with every giving of a gift that it will be rejected. It’s a risk we take regularly. And in all honesty, I’m really used to people accepting my gifts. So much so that it’s easy to get discouraged or put my identity in a rejection. This summer my understanding of the freedom of a gift was tested. 

During the Summer of Service in Los Angeles, I got rejected and denied a lot. I got yelled at and cursed at in a way that I couldn’t help but be impressed by the creativity of profanities so eloquently put together in a sentence. During these rejections, I had an overwhelming sense of peace in knowing that I did all I could in the moment. I knew that I was walking into these people’s “home turf” and taking a risk. A risk for the Gospel and to show them the love of Christ.

This is the closest I have ever been to understanding the gifts God has given to me. As our loving parent, God the Father freely gives me gift after gift. I am in disbelief at how, regardless of my acceptance or rejection of His love and gifts, He still continues to give them.

It is easy to give when I know my gifts will be accepted and embraced. But I can barely think of any occasions where I have continued to offer gifts to those I know will reject them. 

The saints show me a different way to give: in imitation of God the Father. A Father who gives with total respect toward the freedom of the recipient. A Giver whose identity is not changed or even affected by acceptance or rejection. For these things are out of our control when we accept the other’s free will. 

It is not my duty or responsibility to control how the recipient receives. All I can control is my response to the simple nudges of the Holy Spirit throughout my day to give. This makes my aim simple. To each and every person I encounter, small things or big things, spiritual gifts or material gifts, I am called to freely give. 

“The success of love is in the loving—it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done. The more we can remove this priority for results the more we can learn about the contemplative element of love.” – Mother Teresa

Blake served as a missionary from 2015-2017 and is now Christ in the City’s Program Director. His favorite saints are JPII, Mother Teresa, St. Joseph and St. Monica. He enjoys Husker football, Dr. Pepper, and road trips.

Fraternally Corrected.

My community this year has loved me where I am at, but refused to leave me there. At Christ in the City, one of the most important ways we build community is through fraternal correction, where we challenge and call each other higher.

As missionaries, we talked a lot about fraternal correction. Thinking fraternal correction resembled the self-condemnation and mental self-deprecation I was used to, I avoided it at all costs. Yet as I grew in my understanding of real friendship, I began to see its value. 

I love people. I am wildly happy encountering our friends on the streets. I thrived when college students visited on spring break mission trips every week of March. But encountering the people I live with? Something has held me back. 

The devil wants me to believe that I’m alone. 

I have no idea how to be seen in my failures. Knowing I make mistakes is hard to live with. It’s terrifying to know my Christ in the City community sees all my weaknesses too. I have tried to hide, putting up walls and masks so they don’t see all the things I don’t like about myself. 

Fortunately, my fellow missionaries love me too much not to challenge me to grow. 

The first person to fraternally correct me was one of my teammates. As we walked the streets together, we shared stories, processed encounters, and teased each other. As our friendship deepened, we were able to gently call each other out in a spirit of trust and openness. I challenged the false perceptions he seemed to carry about his worth and identity, but also affirmed the good that I saw in him. 

Then, he did the same for me. Gently but firmly, he showed me the ways I responded from a place of woundedness and of weakness. He challenged my defence-mechanisms and the way I hid my heart from my community. Because I trusted him, his words weren’t hurtful. My experience of his fraternal correction was an experience of being known.

In the months that followed, we continued to correct and hold each other accountable. Through his friendship and friendships with other missionaries, I began to see myself more objectively. And when the masks and walls I had built to hide my weaknesses began to crumble, I was surprised to discover that I was still loved. 

Though I often resisted this love, my eyes were opened to the importance of being real with those around me. 

I don’t have the courage to be honest about myself on my own. That courage has only come through a deeper relationship with God. Before I can be open with others, I know I have to be honest with Him as my Father. Placing myself before God and allowing Him to love me in my weakness has given me the courage to allow others to encounter that weakness too.

Fraternal correction still makes me uncomfortable. It is hard to be correct, but I am learning how to do it from a place of humility and real love. Similarly, I am learning not to shut down when others correct me, but to receive it with trust and gratitude. 

I came to Christ in the City desiring authentic friendship, but afraid of the growth it would take in my heart to find it. The love I have been shown by my community has changed that. These friendships have finally made me believe that I am not alone.

Amy is a yearlong missionary from Derwent, Alberta, Canada. She enjoys music, old films, and walking in the rain.

Let Nothing Disturb You

What’s the deal, Denver?!

Since March, we have repeatedly had days of beautiful sunshine and 75-degree weather followed closely by a blizzard and sub-freezing temps.

Many times, I’ve been surprised by the massive effect that weather can have on my mood. I can almost guarantee that I’ll be chipper on sunny days and dragging on cloudy ones. Digging deeper, I realized that it’s not only the weather that affects me dramatically and without warning. My emotional highs and lows are so often wrenched one way or another based on the things going on around me. A bad story on the news will wreck me for days. The tragic stories of some of my friends on the street can occupy my mind and trouble me for weeks.

Okay, fine. I’m empathetic. Highly affected, you might say. But the emotional ups and downs tend to affect so much more than just my emotional equilibrium. When I talk with my friends experiencing homelessness about the intense things happening in their lives or hear the latest news of the disturbing things happening in the world, I am tempted to allow them to get to my very core. I am tempted to doubt that God has a plan in all things. I am sometimes brought to a point of near despair feeling that goodness is not winning in the world.

Recently, one of these cloudy, “doomsday” emotional states came over me. Thankfully, I remembered a quote from my dear friend St. Teresa of Avila:

“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”

And it struck me that as a Christian, everything is different in light of these words. All things are passing away; God never changes. We’re currently in the tail end of the season of Easter and what an important time to remember this truth. It is because God doesn’t change that we can look at the Passion and see that it makes sense because of the Resurrection.

This has made me reevaluate my own faith and has tested my trust in God. When I am allowing myself to be thrown back and forth by the tough things in life and allowing them to make or break my day, I am not actually trusting that Jesus has my back. I’m not trusting that no matter what good or ill comes to me, the Lord is there holding my hand and directing the waves. I’m not seeing that the only thing that makes my suffering make sense is knowing that if I trust God through it all, I will reach the Resurrection.

God alone suffices. He’s enough. He’s all we need. He’s got my back and life with Him means that I don’t need to be affected by the highs and lows. He is holding it all together and there is nothing for us to be disturbed by or afraid of. My interior peace comes from knowing that Good has already conquered evil and nothing that I or anyone else does can change that. God is so good!

Sarah joined the CIC team as a Formator in 2017. She’s most content in the presence of good people, good wine, good music, and good mountain views. In August, she will be heading off to pursue a role as a Behavioral Health Specialist for the US Army!. 

The Beauty of Failure

“Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

If I’m bad at something, I usually do a pretty good job of avoiding it at all costs. I don’t want to show others my weaknesses and allow them to know I’m actually human. I’m scared to fail and even more scared to be humiliated.

For most of my life, ‘failure’ has been a bad word to be avoided at all costs. In sports, in school, and in life, all I told myself was, “Do not be a failure.” Sure, I’ve heard how great it is to learn from mistakes and failings, but even then I can’t tell you the last time I saw an unhappy customer give the waiter a high-five for getting the order wrong. I’ve also never received a, “Hey, nice chatting with you” after I butcher an interview.

This realization started seeping into my faith life and how I viewed my relationship with God. It became almost like a game I had to win or a test I had to pass. However, after reflecting on the Stations of the Cross this past Lent, I began to see the importance of failure.

At first, I was critical of the fact that Jesus didn’t throw the cross above His head and sprint up to Calvary to prove He is the Son of God. Instead, He showed us that He was actually human by falling down three times; failing three times. He wasn’t even strong enough to carry the cross by Himself the whole way, someone had to help Him.

Through His weakness He showed us His greatest strength.

This was something I learned very concretely in my time at Christ in the City. Whether it was in ministry on the streets or within the community, there was no hiding. I had to let others see me fail, and as hard as it was, allow them to help me carry my cross.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux sums up this lesson pretty well by saying, “A saint is not someone who never sins, but one who sins less and less frequently and gets up more and more quickly.”

Following this example of Jesus, I will continue to fail along the way, and that’s okay, as long as I get up and continue on my journey. Allowing the people around me to see my shortcomings and help me carry my crosses is not always an easy task, but an important one. I’m still not always eager to throw myself out there and be humiliated, and I definitely do not strive for failure, but I know that it is necessary. I have learned that failing doesn’t make me less worthy, it makes me more human.

Nick was a missionary with Christ in the City in Philadelphia, summer 2016 and is currently a FOCUS missionary at Drexel University. He only drinks coffee, beer, and Gatorade, and loves Nebraska. 

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.