September 13, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)
This was the verse in Matthew’s gospel that originally drew me to start thinking about how I could give more of myself to serving the least of these. So when I discovered Christ in the City, the missionary program that I have recently become a part of, I thought it would be amazing to go out into the city and serve Christ in all those who society tends to ignore and neglect.
Except once I got here, I realized that this is not an easy task. It’s not something that I am well equipped to handle. I struggled to grasp how I could show love to these people I didn’t know at all. I don’t understand where they are coming from. We have different interests. We like talking about different things. What do I say? How can I come off as compassionate and not judgmental?
How can I? Alex is a flawed person. He can’t fix these people’s problems. He can’t console the woman at the cathedral who is upset that her children have stopped caring about God and never baptized her grandchildren. He has no words to say to the young woman at the homeless shelter who is worried because so many of her friends on the street are contemplating suicide because they don’t think they have anything to live for. He doesn’t know what directions to give the man whose only possessions are his bicycle and the clothes on his back, and who can’t find a job because of a mental illness.
Alex can’t. But Christ can. What I quickly learned within my first week of service is that the name of our ministry, “Christ in the City,” isn’t just referring to seeing Christ in the people we serve. It is also about being Christ for the friends we make on the street. As Blessed John Paul II said during his first visit to the Americas, the best proclamation of Jesus Christ comes from someone who has encountered him. One who has truly encountered the Lord Jesus, and remains in communion with him, can announce him in the first person. His witness is convincing because he carries Christ within himself. With his presence and words, he can transmit the light and peace of Christ.
Until now, I’ve never felt like I really “got” what Paul was saying in his letter to the Galatians when he states “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal 2:20)
It is no longer I who am living, but rather Christ is living in me. In order to truly share Christ with others, I need to have experienced him and be able to announce him not just in the third person, but also in the first person. I need to allow him to use me as his own hands and feet, so that my presence and words can transmit the light and peace of Christ.
It was not I, but Christ working through me that has allowed me to speak the right words to those people who I have encountered this week.
I’m not trying to say that I’m suddenly this incredible, sinless person, because that would be a lie. I still fail to live the life I should. But focusing on how I can be more Christ-like has allowed Christ to shine through me more than he ever has before. It’s happened by examining my conscience every night and reflecting on ways that I did not allow Christ to act through me. It’s happened by reading the gospels every day. It’s happened by praying for God to possess more and more of my heart each day, so that I can think not just about myself all the time, but also think about the needs of others. It’s happened by expanding my worldview and considering what life would be like if I came from a different background and had different life experiences that may have put me in a different position than I am now. Hopefully you may find ways that work for you too, so that Christ can be announced not just by you talking about him, but by living as he would, showing compassion and mercy to all you encounter by living a life of charity, spreading hope to the world.