I grew up in a very loving and secular family in Stockton, California. The only time I heard the name of God growing up was when someone dropped something on the floor or when someone was upset about something. Despite the absence of God in my family life I always wondered about him for as long as I can remember. As a child I would think, “Who is this God?” and I was absolutely awestruck that communities of people would gather together to worship him.
I also had a secret fascination with the Cross. Every time I went to a jewelry store at the mall and when I went to visit a California mission for my third-grade school project, I would always pick out cross earrings or a cross necklace and then hide them in a secret place at home where nobody could see them. As a kid I didn’t want to upset anyone with my “Christian paraphernalia.”
I went to a Catholic high school because it provided the best education in my area. While attending St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, religion became a topic of discussion at home. The discussion was centered on how the Church was a big institution run by power-hungry men telling the world that if people did anything wrong they would go to hell. The Catholic Church was viewed as a negative religion that is made up of limitations and empty rules. I remember thinking, How could this be when this has lived for over 2,000 years and is still thriving?
As strange as it sounds I ended up finding my faith by being surrounded by people who thought devout Catholics were out of their minds. The beliefs of those in my family contested my Catholic education and sparked a relentless search for answers and for truth. I listened to the arguments against the Church and searched for answers until I was satisfied. To this day the Church has not failed me in providing rational answers to my many questions.
I entered the Church on Easter of 2007 before I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder. I figured if I was going to join the Church I better do it before I got to Boulder, or it might never happen. During college I made it a point to take classes that would challenge the Catholic Church. By intellectually challenging my faith I continued to grow closer to Christ and developed a great understanding for those who hate the Church. This hate is always rooted in pain, whether it is recognized or not. Coming from a privileged upbringing I began to wrestle with the reality that life is hard and people suffer, some more than others.
As I approached graduation I was presented with the opportunity to serve those who suffer on the streets of Denver with Christ in the City. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but the Lord made it clear that this was where he wanted me. After one of the most challenging years of my life, living in a three-bedroom house with 11 women and serving the poorest of the poor out on the streets and in Catholic Charities’ Samaritan House, God has continued to make it clear that my work with the poor is not finished—I was offered a position at Samaritan House.
Today I am able to bring the experience I gained as a Christ in the City missionary to the world as the faith-based coordinator and transitional case manager. This job has given me the opportunity to lead a team in creating opportunities for those affiliated with Catholic Charities to encounter Christ and to help the residents at Samaritan House who have the most difficulty in the program. My personal relationship with Christ has continued to grow thanks to those I am privileged to serve every day. It is in them that I see the face of Christ.
It all started with an innate longing to know God, but after searching for a long time I have come to build a relationship with him. Just like everyone else it is not easy for me to live a Catholic life. The Catholic life is not easy for anyone. The only thing that allows me to get back up when I fall down is the friendship I have developed with Christ. I am constantly affirmed that Christ will love me in all of my brokenness and I know I must continue to see him in all I do. I know that Christ will make the next step of my life clear. It has already started with the education I am receiving at the Augustine Institute as I pursue a master’s in theology. When I graduate, I am sure God will reveal more of his plan for me and I pray that I have the courage to say, Yes.
Shaina Stein is faith-based coordinator and transitional case manager at Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Denver.