You call yourself a Christian? Jesus wouldn’t turn me away.
I tell you what, little missy, this ain’t no way to run a poor house. We got needs and you ain’t fillin’ ‘em. Why are you even here?
I heard these words, in various dialects and from male and female voices several times during my stint as a summer staff member at the Andre House of Hospitality in Phoenix. Andre House is a Holy Cross mission that strives to meet the immediate needs of the homeless men and women who live in the shadow of the state capitol’s copper dome.
The guests at Andre House who accused us of falling short in our mission to be the hands and feet of Christ may have been rude, but they were right. We could not meet all their needs; what is more, we could not show them all the love and attention that Christ would have shown them. But at least we tried, right?
My response to such accusations evolved over the 8 weeks I spent at Andre House, but eventually I settled on, “I’m sorry, ma’am,” or “I’m sorry, sir; we are doing the best we can.” But was I?
I was disturbed by how hypocritical I felt, leaving central Phoenix on my day off each week to spend an air-conditioned 24 hours with my family in the north valley. I was trying to live out my faith with my family, as well, but it felt much easier to be Christian in a comfortable, safe environment.
Any Notre Dame student who has tried to put their faith in action has probably experienced the same challenge. We all tried to do so much to be Christ to the needy, but no matter how much I did, I felt like I couldn’t be consistently Christian. At the end of each long day our food ran out, the showers had to be cleaned and my ability to empathize ran dry. When I had to turn hungry people away from the dinner line and sweaty people away from the shower, it became difficult to call myself a Christian.
“Christian” is a loaded word. We often use it to identify the nice people in our lives who represent something wholesome and respectably popular. In high school, one of my theology teachers recounted an incident in which a successful coach was asked how he handled the different faiths of his players. He said something along the lines of, “Oh, my boys are all good Christian men, they’re nice guys, we never have any trouble.” What is that supposed to mean?
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote about the difference between being nice people and new men. He depicted the Christian as a man come alive, like a tin soldier brought to life by a supernatural power. Being Christian involves so much more than not cursing around ladies or tipping waiters 20 percent. But to many people today, Christians are supposed to be nice, tolerant people because God is love and love takes us as we are, right?
Yes and no. Christ loved the woman he saved from stoning, sinfulness and all, but then he told her to sin no more. Our loved ones know our flaws, but they do not have to tolerate them; as Christians, they should not. My sister has every right to hate my bossiness and call me out when I am being unfair. Her love is actually stronger when she is willing to risk confrontation to improve our relationship.
We are far from perfect. Our actions hardly ever live up to the titles we bear, whether it be our majors or our religious commitments. No matter how hard we work and how much of ourselves we give, we will fall short of being Christ to people on a daily basis. But we are actually called to try and be perfect in love. Recognizing our hypocrisy can be a way to grow closer to Christ, rather than a deterrent.
First and foremost we need to understand ourselves as human beings, not human doers. We are made in the divine image and likeness; I know I sound like a broken record, especially if you went to Catholic school, but I really believe it. Our identities exist not in our accomplishments or associations, but in our relationship to the Creator, with Whom we only need to be to live well. And I thank God for that.
Becca Self has said plenty about herself in this piece. She would love to hear from you. Contact her at email@example.com.