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Mary, Model of Hospitality

by Ade Bethune

Lauren, a recent graduate from Villanova University, is a Catholic Worker in Houston.

At the Annunciation, Mary responded to Gabriel’s announcement of her role in salvation history with perfect humility, wisdom, and faith, saying, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” With that statement, she offered herself as the vessel that would shelter, nurture, love, and protect the child Jesus. She welcomed God’s son into her very being in a perfect action of hospitality. Her openness allowed God to come to earth and dwell among us.

Here at Casa Juan Diego, we are humbled that God continues to come to dwell among us in the faces of those who come to our door every day. As we offer hospitality each day, we participate in the Christian work that was started with Mary’s “yes.” We continue to welcome God, who chooses to hide among the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering.

In my first months as a Catholic Worker, I have found imitating Our Lady’s virtues of patience, humility, love, and faith to be quite difficult at times.  As I have struggled in a new language and an unfamiliar city to serve the immigrants in our clinic, house, and breadlines, I admire Mary’s selfless love of the child Jesus more and more. Entering into the chaos of another human being is not easy. While each day at Casa Juan Diego is full of lessons, joys, and challenges, a few moments in particular have already taught me much about the power of hospitality:

In my first week as a Catholic Worker, we welcomed a Cuban woman who arrived at our house with nothing more than the clothes on her back. She and her husband left Cuba, flying first to Ecuador and then beginning a four-month trek north to the US. A monkey in the rainforest had stolen her backpack and all her belongings. She reached us after spending a few nights on the streets in Texas, desiring simply hot food, soap, and clean clothes. She particularly enjoyed sharing colorful stories about her journey with us at dinner each night.

A few weeks later, as Hurricane Isaac threatened to make landfall in New Orleans, we received an undocumented family who were evacuated from their Louisiana home. Each morning as we watched the news of the damage over our breakfasts, we all felt the worry of that family who may have lost everything. Fortunately, they soon received word that their neighborhood had escaped severe damage. They were able to return home a few days later. Our hearts still broke, though, at the thought of those many families who had not been so fortunate.

Recently, we welcomed a family who came to us after spending two years in other Houston shelters. The mother, the teenage daughter, and the small twins arrived at our door on the twins’ fifth birthday. Of course, we celebrated with a cake at lunch. After one particularly stressful morning, I asked the mother of the family if she would be interested in cooking for the house sometimes. She was simply overjoyed at the prospect of making food that her kids enjoy: she had not been able to cook Mexican food for them in years. How beautiful that Casa Juan Diego becomes a place for these families to feel at home and to reclaim some semblance of normalcy.

Mary’s “yes” to God at the Annunciation was the first step on a journey that would lead her on a series of unexpected adventures, not the least of which was to the foot of the Cross. As a Catholic Worker, with a daily “yes” to God’s challenge of hospitality, I have already been led across Houston into doctors’ offices, a principal’s office, a psychiatric hospital, a prison, a pre-K classroom, and plenty of other unexpectedly beautiful places.

The hospitality we desire to offer every day is in stark contrast to the “no room at the Inn” attitude that awaits most immigrants upon their arrival to this country. Our guests have suffered violence, rape, sickness, and hunger on their journeys, only to find upon arriving that this country offers them little dignified work, few opportunities for shelter, and minimal access to medical care or education.

As the season of Advent approaches, the practice of hospitality here at Casa Juan Diego strengthens my faith in God’s enduring ability to dwell among us. I am comforted that Our Lady is continuing to protect and guide us as we follow her example of openhearted, boundless hospitality to God. Just as Mary provided a place of tender and loving care for the child Jesus, we pray that our houses and our hearts may become places of life-giving refuge for our guests.

Houston Catholic Worker, November-December 2012, Vol. XXXIII, No. 5.