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Life at the Houston Catholic Worker

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”– 1 Corinthians 13:13

In my two-month stay as a Catholic Worker at Casa Juan Diego, God taught me about faith, hope, and love.

The Houston Catholic Worker House ran on faith. The apostle Paul tells us that faith is belief in things not seen. When the Catholic Workers couldn’t see the money for the next month’s bills or meat for next week’s meals or a vehicle to replace the one that was dying, they
believed that God would provide. Mark and Lousie Zwick frequently referred to Matthew 25 as the basis for their way of life. This is the chapter in which Jesus says that we will be judged according to how we treat the least of his brothers and sisters.

A less frequently cited scripture passage also formed a foundation for Casa Juan Diego, and that was Matthew 6:25-34. In this passage, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will
wear…strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We never discussed this passage while I was at Casa Juan Diego, but the words were fundamental to the Catholic Worker way of life.

Casa Juan Diego did not have thousands of dollars collecting interest in the bank somewhere; the money that was donated was used daily for the needs of the poor. Following Christ’s command was of utmost importance: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” The Houston Catholic Workers had faith that God would take care of their needs, the needs of the poor, and the needs of Casa Juan Diego.

It was important for me to see the faith of both the guests and the volunteers at Casa Juan Diego. There, God began to teach me to let go of my worries about comforts and financial securities as I responded to His call to live simply and to serve the poor.

The guests at Casa Juan Diego taught me something about hope. One evening I heard excited voices coming from the dining hall (we call it the comedor).

Following my curiosity into the room, I came upon a group of women and children ranging in age from 2 to 23, playing a lively game that was similar to “Duck, Duck, Goose.” When they tired of that game, they played a variation of “London Bridge Is Falling Down.” Among the
players was a young mother and her two sons (ages 2 and 4) who had come to Casa Juan Diego to escape a battering boyfriend. Also playing were a boy, age 11, and his sister, age 23, who had come to the U.S. with their mother to put behind them years of abuse that the mother had suffered at the hands of her husband in Mexico. One two year old girl in the game had come to Casa Juan Diego with her homeless immigrant mother and baby sister. The rest of the players consisted of three brothers and their sister (ages 4 to 12) whose mother had left her husband after he hit one of those children with an iron and verbally abused their mother.

To me, this is hope: finding in oneself the ability to run, to laugh, to sing, and to hold hands with people despite what bad things have happened and what dangers may lie ahead. From now on, when I am in a difficult or desperate situation, I will remember the guests at Casa
Juan Diego–people who had fears and who seemed to have every reason to be bitter or to give up–playing “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “London Bridge” in the comedor. I pray that this memory will always bring me a little of the hope and joy that I tasted as I laughed along with those women and children.

Casa Juan Diego would be nothing without love. One thing that surprised me there was the high number of people who dedicated their time and money so generously for the hungry and homeless. People who worked at their jobs during the week or during the school year to support themselves and their families worked for free at Casa Juan Diego in the
evenings, on the weekends, or during the summer vacation.

A boy scout and his family recruited other workers and solicited donations to build a new sunporch for the women and children’s house. Once a week, two women packaged and delivered groceries for families in Casa Juan Diego’s long×term housing. Two men picked up weekly donations of food from local restaurants. Several women and teenagers provided activities for the children or English classes for the women. Individuals came weekly to sort clothing donations, to paint doors, or to do other ongoing projects. Two women came almost daily to assist the guests in their needs. Men came every Saturday to do the “honeydo”
work: replacing doorknobs and lightbulbs, repairing the plumbing, etc. Full-time volunteers dedicated two months, six months, a year, or the rest of their lives to involve themselves in the day-to-day services of Casa Juan Diego, either at the Catholic Worker House helping the guests or at home maintaining the newspaper mailing list and keeping the books. Members of local churches donated money–a few dollars or thousands of dollars at once. Grocery store and restaurant personnel set aside decent food for charity rather than throw it away. The guests of Casa Juan Diego also worked hard: they took responsibility for cooking and
keeping the house clean. The male guests also helped volunteers load
and unload trucks and vans full of clothes, food, and furniture.

Seeing love in action encouraged me in my work at Casa Juan Diego. Serving the poor seemed less overwhelming when I saw how many people, middle class and poor alike, practiced the virtue of charity.

Faith, hope, and love abided at Casa Juan Diego. I learned much while I was there. I still have much to learn!

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIV, No. 7, October 1994.