Cristina is a student at the University of Notre Dame, She spent eight weeks this summer living and working at Casa Juan Diego.
“What image comes to mind when you hear the word ‘God’?” Upon reading this reflection prompt I first thought it seemed incredibly simple. Growing up I often pictured God similar to Michelangelo’s famous fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, “The Creation of Adam” in which God appears to be an elderly white-bearded man towering above Adam looking powerful, wise, and intimidating.
However, during these past two weeks, as I have immersed myself in life at Houston’s Catholic Worker House, Casa Juan Diego, and reflected upon the powerful stories and experiences, I have gradually seen a transformation in the way I perceive God. In James Martin’s, “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” I was deeply inspired by the story of St. Alphonsus. Martin states, “finding God in all things also means finding God in all people.”
Martin describes how St. Alphonsus possessed the humble job of being the doorkeeper at a Jesuit college for forty-six years but evidently he saw beyond the simple task and devoted himself enthusiastically to fulfilling the job to the best of his abilities. Martin describes, “Each time the bell rang, he looked to the door and envisioned that it was God himself who was standing outside seeking entrance. On his way, he would say, ‘I’m coming, Lord!’” I was deeply inspired by this story since it is so pertinent to our daily work at Casa Juan Diego.
As Catholic Worker volunteers, our days are filled with a wide variety of tasks from helping interpret and complete intake at the free community health and dental clinic, to driving single mothers to buy groceries, to babysitting a newborn baby at the house of hospitality, or helping welcome an Ethiopian refugee. Other times though, our job is to simply be the doorkeeper. At times it seems as though the doorbell never stops ringing. An amputee in a wheelchair asking for food, a single mother asking for monetary aid since she’s coming up short in being able to pay her rent this month and is afraid of being evicted, four men still wearing the same ripped jeans they crossed the border in a few days earlier looking for clothes and a place to stay the night, a man who’s wife just had a stroke leaving him to care for their five children, a woman who has to bury a relative but cannot afford even a simple funeral, a man on crutches who fell during his construction job who is afraid he can no longer provide for his family. The stories go on and on and I’m often left deeply moved by the insurmountable struggles each person is facing and the resilience and determination they possess driving them to do anything possible to support their families. I try my best to attend to each person with as much compassion as possible and to fulfill their unique needs to the best of my abilities with the limited resources that we have. At times the job feels both physically and emotionally exhausting as the small waiting room becomes full of individuals asking for help and I catch myself becoming detached and falling into a repetitive pattern trying to just complete the tasks.
It is at these times that I am awoken by the story of St. Alphonsus and realize that God is present in each and every single individual knocking at the door and that I have to attend to them with the same love and attention that I would bestow if God himself were at the door. In this way I have come to realize that God is not just a powerful, aged, bearded man. God is Mexican, Honduran, El Salvadoran, Ethiopian, Ni-gerian, young, old, sick, disabled. I have realized that God is present in every individual that I have the privilege to meet and support and this awakening has made all the difference in allowing me to truly love the work I am doing and fully immerse myself at Casa Juan Diego.
Houston Catholic Worker, VOl. XXXV, No. 4, September-October 2014.