United in Christ, united in charity

Not all Christians agree on every aspect of their faith, but that doesn’t mean they can’t begin a dialogue about Christ, the common tie that binds them together.

This was the conclusion of a conversation had by three local Christians—two Catholic women and one non-denominational man—who are actively involved in ministry to the homeless population. Last week at the Purple Door Coffee in the Five Points neighborhood, the trio shared with the Denver Catholic Register their idea of Christian unity.

Christians around the world are halfway through an annual week of prayer as a visible sign of their unity under Christ. Jan. 18-25 is observed worldwide as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, established in an effort to fulfill Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper that “they all may be one” (John 17:21).

Mark Smesrud, program director of Purple Door Coffee, said his experience with various Christian denominations taught him that if Christ stays central, Christians can engage the world together.

“You just have to start with Jesus,” said 26-year-old Smesrud, who attends the non-denominational Bloom Church in southwest Denver. “We’re going to disagree on a bunch of other things … but as we engage, we always need to gaze back to the person of Jesus and we can navigate those things.”

Smesrud talked about finding unity with other Christians.

Catholic Yvonne Noggle, director of Christ in the City Missionaries in Denver, and Irma Montes, the homeless mission’s first missionary who now does Hispanic outreach, agreed the best way is to seek Christ first.

“We share Christ and let’s focus on that,” said 24-year-old Montes.

Montes was baptized Catholic but explored many different denominations until she was invited to Mass and kept attending ever since.

She noted it’s important not to make assumptions about a person’s relationship with Christ and where their heart is at. When she works with Christians who are not Catholic, Montes said she believes her primary task is not to convert them, but first to make sure she is following Christ and loving her neighbor. From that all things will flow and the Holy Spirit will guide conversions, she said.

“I completely agree it’s not our job (to convert others),” Smesrud said. “Our job is to continually present Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to (do this transformation).”

The hope is as more Christian denominations collaborate with each other, the more Christ will become known, he said.

Noggle, 31, added, “There just has to be continued dialogue.”

She said she was raised Catholic and felt called to serve the poor after an experience in eucharistic adoration at 15.

It was in 2010 that her efforts bore fruit when the then president of Catholic Charities of the Denver Archdiocese supported the idea of forming young Catholics through service to the homeless.

“We were going to serve the poor and we were going to pray,” Noggle said was their foundational mission.

Missionaries serve through the downtown Denver-based program to “love until it hurts” and help homeless youths realize their dignity. Missionaries are formed spiritually, intellectually and charitably in keeping with Church teaching.

Noggle said the ministry is there to give people what they need most—that loving personal experience of Christ.

“I think service is another common theme we have together,” she said.

Smesrud said he joined colleague Madison Chandler in 2012 to help the nonprofit coffee shop grow. He said he was drawn to the hope he saw in Denver’s homeless youths and was attracted to the coffee shop’s mission to develop the whole person.

It was founded to create a Jesus-centered community where everyone is valued. The purple color painted inside signifies the belief that everyone should be treated as royalty, Smesrud said.

“The innate worth and value of every human life is based on the person of Jesus Christ,” he said. “The sacrifice he made communicates worth and value to every single person on an individual level not just humanity in general.”

With the backing of Dry Bones Denver ministry for homeless youth and Belay Enterprises, a faith-based nonprofit, the coffee shop grew and began hiring homeless youths.

Its current two employees were taught job skills and assistance in rebuilding their lives, he said.

Although many denominations and churches exist among Christianity, the three said Christians should anticipate complete unity in heaven.

“We look forward to this spiritual reality that awaits us,” Noggle said. “If not here, it’s in the next life and we better practice what that means now in order to fully understand it later.”

Smesrud said Christians should strive to live the truths of Christ until then.

“In the end, unity will be,” he said.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.