Joanna was a Catholic Worker at Casa Juan Diego last year. She has recently joined the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.
My time as an active Catholic Worker at Casa Juan Diego drew to a close in the middle of May, and I had a speech to prepare. It’s a tradition at Casa Juan Diego to give a farewell speech to our fellow Catholic Workers, and the time had come for me to give mine. As I sat down in the chapel to spend a little time contemplating what was best to say, I found I was stumped. Not that there was nothing to say- quite the opposite. I had experienced so many new and beautiful people, so much mercy, so much love in the face of the suffering- how could I put it all into words? It was as though I had been Veronica on the walk to Calvary, and someone had asked me to talk about it.
Eventually, I turned to the gospels for help. If I had to pick a gospel story that encapsulated how I had grown through my experience at Casa, I would pick the story of one of my favorite saints, St. Peter, on the occasion when the Lord called to Peter to walk towards Him on the water.
Before I went to Casa, I had stayed safe and cozy in my boat all my life. The waters of truly selfless love were deep, dark, cold, and uncertain, and I wanted to stay out of them. I would occasionally splash my hand in the water, or dip a cautious toe into the shallows, and that was enough for me… but it was not enough for the Lord. He called me, and called me again, “Come to me. Walk on the water.” Finally, I listened. I left for Casa Juan Diego in Houston, Texas, and I was a stranger in a strange land. I didn’t know a single person. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I held my breath, looked at the Lord, and jumped out of my boat.
Things were a little scary at first, or at the least, somewhat embarrassing. Eventually, it became normal to speak Spanish all day, to buy twenty bottles of oil at once from the supermarket, to sort through 8,000 lbs of donated oranges, or to give the grumbling postal workers a gracious smile as I paraded in with my seven carts of newspaper packages ready for mailing. And there were hard times, too. There were times when we had to turn people away from the door because we had no space. There were times when we had to hear horror stories, and look with awe at those who could still go through their day with a smile after having lived those stories out. There were times when I wanted to cry; days when it had been so busy I thought I couldn’t take another step to do anything for anyone, but somehow found myself doing it. And through those times, I knew that I couldn’t have done it on my own; Christ was making me walk on the water.
Sometimes I would stop looking at Christ, forgetting that in the people I served, I served Him. Then I would start to sink. That was how I learned to trust Him even more completely. I found that even when I lost sight of Him, and started to become selfish, and make mistakes, Christ would catch me. He never let me sink. His mercy and love reached beyond my imperfections. And often, He would catch me through my fellow Catholic Workers. When I had initially stepped out of the boat, I thought I would be walking to the Lord all alone. But I was far from alone. I had the other women’s house volunteers, Shannon, Heather, Dawn, Lenore, and Wendy; the men’s house volunteers, Mark Hernandez, Anthony, and Illich; at the ends, our pillars, Mark and Louise, and so many others in between. We all linked our arms and walked together towards Christ. If one of us looked away, the others were there to catch him.
Sometimes I think we little realize the power of God. We don’t trust Him with our lives. But the truth is, we’ll never know if the parachute really works until we jump out of the airplane and try it. We’ll never know how much we can do with God until we step out of the boat and out onto the water. But when we do, we will walk, and He will never let us sink.
Houston Catholic Worker, October-December 2016, VOl. XXXV, No. 4.