By Kevin Kolker
Special to The Texas Catholic
Communion. This word best captures my experience of collaborating with Christ in the City while encountering the poor on the streets of Dallas. For three weeks our group of seminarians and lay missionaries started and ended every day communing with God in prayer, most especially at Mass. We lived a joyful and robust community life together at Holy Trinity Seminary. Then this overflowed into a communion of friendship with those we met on the streets each day in our apostolate.
Christ in the City, a vibrant and growing lay missionary group from Denver, Colorado, has worked with Dallas seminarians these past two summers so we can live out their mission both now, and God willing, as priests. That mission involves going out in groups of two or three to areas where many homeless live or gather, carrying some basic necessities like water, snacks, and clothing. However, we are not social workers. Our main goal is not to provide services or even to get the homeless into housing. Rather, we are disciples of Jesus Christ trying to live out our baptismal call to mission, seeking to encounter the poor in friendship. In this way, we aim at the heart of the issue of homelessness; beneath every surface problem — joblessness, drug addiction, mental illness — lies some broken communion with God or with neighbor.
It’s no coincidence that the through-line in all this is the word “communion.” As Catholics, hopefully that word makes us think of our reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at Mass. Rightly so. Yet, as Saint Mother Teresa loved to emphasize, love for Jesus in the Eucharist helps us to love Jesus in the poor. There is only one Jesus after all, and we know from his own words that, in different ways, He is truly present both at the altar (Jn 6) and in the outcast (Mt 25).
Every encounter with Jesus Christ should transform us. When we receive the Eucharist we are invited to “become what we receive,” in the words of St. Augustine. Pope Francis offers us an analogous challenge when encountering Christ in the poor: “we need to let ourselves be evangelized by them” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198).
I was jolted by that suggestion when I first heard it. After all, I was the one going out to them, and wearing a clerical collar, no less! Shouldn’t I be the one evangelizing? But then I experienced it. One of my new friends on the streets near Deep Ellum shared his story with me. “When I was 27, I had a house worth $400k,” said this gruff man of at least 50. “But now,” he continued while standing beside his dirty mattress under a noisy overpass, “I feel like I have more than I had back then.” What made the difference? In short, his radical poverty led to radical vulnerability, vulnerability to trust in God, and trust to a peace that the world cannot give. The one who became poor for us made him rich in what truly matters.
It’s providential that my friend was 27 when he lost his material wealth. That’s my current age and, had I not entered the seminary, I might have owned a home of similar value. In that moment I realized the razor’s edge that separates me from someone I might otherwise think is so unlike me. One of my brother seminarians said it best: “Last summer I saw Christ in the poor. This summer I saw myself in the poor, which was scarier.”
Once a week, those seminarians serving in parishes this summer continue visiting our friends on the streets. As we do so, I am moved by these interactions that transcend mundane economic and political categories, replacing exchange with encounter and results with fruit that will last. Joyful communion: this is what happens when we live the Eucharist.
Kevin Kolker is a seminarian for the Diocese of Dallas studying at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, La.