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The Beauty of the House of God

Christy is a Catholic Worker and graduate of the Univerity of Wisconsin at Eau Claire.

Last week a seven-year-old boy staying with his battered mother and younger sister asked me something which I will never forget. He asked me, “Is this the house of God?” It wasn’t the first time I had heard Casa Juan Diego referred to in this way. At the previous Wednesday night Mass, a Nicaraguan man finished recounting his tale of arriving at Casa Juan Diego by saying, “…and now here I am at the house of God.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to the boy, so I finally told him that God is everywhere, including Casa Juan Diego. He kind of shrugged, as if not entirely satisfied by my response, but his question started me thinking. Where would a seven-year-old child come up with such an idea? Perhaps from his mother? But where would she have gotten the idea? Then again, maybe he just thought God might find Casa Juan Diego a nice place to live.

Certainly there is nothing luxurious or extravagant about the house itself. Most of the furniture is simple and second hand, many of the walls, bare. It is a functional structure designed to meet the basic needs of battered and immigrant women and their children. It is not a lifestyle padded with material comforts, even given the amazing generosity of those who daily bring donations to us.

Again, why would this child suppose that God might choose for his Dwellings a place like Casa Juan Diego? Only a few miles down the road are some of the most beautiful homes in Houston–homes with perfectly manicured lawns, swimming pools, and even tennis courts.

I suppose this depends on how one defines beauty. Recently, I walked into the T.V. lounge to find that a guest had decorated one of the walls with a tiny picture of Jesus in a simple plastic frame. All around the picture of Jesus were pictures of “Clifford the Dog” that she had cut out of a book. It is as lovely an interior decoration as I’ve ever

I wonder, also, if these mammoth, forbidding homes have enough space to hold all of the love that Casa Juan Diego does. That’s not to say that there is constant harmony here or that everyone is always smiling and kind, but there is always a sense of cariño. Most of the women I have met have an unshakeable faith in God. When I ask them how it is that they’ve come to Casa Juan Diego they often recount a long, sad story, but quite frequently they say that it was God who led them here.

Though it’s certainly not the only one, in many ways, Casa Juan Diego is a house of God. For the women and children who come to our door, it provides a true sanctuary from the violence that has plagued them in their native countries, in this one, and in their own homes. One woman who had just arrived from Nicaragua after two month en camino told me that we were the first kind people she’d met since leaving her country. The first to help her.

If this is true, then I am sad–yes, for this woman, but also for those who missed out on the chance to be the hands of God. I am reminded of a phrase in the Bible which is frequently spoken at Casa Juan Diego–Matthew 25:3l, ff.)–which speaks of how we serve Jesus himself in serving the poor. What an honor and a privilege it is to be a part of this.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XV, No. 4, May-June 1995.