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To Give Is Greater

Bridget is a Catholic Worker in Houston. She came to live and work at Casa Juan Diego after graduation from the University of Mary Washington.

So much of our lives in this world are centered on what we can get.

“Buy one, get one free!” “Get your money’s worth!” “Come and get it!”

Growing up, I always expected to get what I thought was due to me in life. When I was a child, it was simple pleasures like extra Oreos, a new bike and a later bedtime. As I got older, I expected to get into the college of my choice. Later, it was to get a good job, make decent money and be able to live comfortably. Now, at the wise, old age of 22, I am beginning to realize that life does not work that way and, even if it did, it would still not make me happy.

As the engine in my great life plan stalled right after my graduation from college, I was forced to look at my life from a new perspective. A perspective that made me realize that maybe I wasn’t destined to join the ranks of the young professionals right out of college, and that maybe it was actually a good thing. So, as I embarked on my quarter-life crisis, I prayed that God would lead me to a service opportunity that would help me step away from the mirror long enough to really feel what it is when your greatest worry is about more than just your Grade Point Average or the struggle it is to find a job in your field with an English degree. And that’s when God brought me to Casa Juan Diego.

After only two months of living and working at Casa Juan Diego, I have learned what real need looks like. I see it in the faces of the countless men and women who come to the door asking for life’s most basic necessities. I see it in the women and children who come to Casa Juan Diego without even a place sleep. It was so easy to forget that this kind of need existed when I was safe and sound in my home without any fear of losing my house, my food or my family.

One thing I’ve noticed as a common trait in people from all walks of life, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, is the instinct to hoard things. Whether it’s a mansion full of expensive goods or a 5-by-8-foot, borrowed room stuffed with donated items, people tend to want to get and hold onto whatever they can. Often, we get caught up in the idea that, if only we had that one more thing, we’d be happy.

But I am learning more and more how horrid a lie this is. It is a lie that continually deceives many people throughout their lives, despite the fact that every thing  they thought would bring them happiness, they eventually discover was merely a mirage.

I think it’s clear that whenever we rely on material goods to fulfill us, we end up disappointed. We see that poverty can destroy a person’s spirit, but so can greed. I’m losing track of all the sad stories of how rich, unhappy people destroy their own lives.

But how can we fill the void that only becomes emptier the more we try to cram it with things? With so much focus on getting and holding onto these things, we lose track of what truly gives us richness in life, and that is the joy of giving. Proverbs 11:24-25 says, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.” Jesus Himself said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

The solution, of course, is the simplest and most difficult thing in the world; to give. When we give – our things, our time, our prayers – it shifts our focus from ourselves and our expectations of what we deserve to the needs of others.

In his Lenten message, Pope Francis reminds us of how Jesus made Himself poor and gave us everything. We are called to follow His example, not just in emptying ourselves of our desire for things, but in unifying ourselves with the needs of others. As Pope Francis says, “In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.”

This is precisely what I love about being at Casa Juan Diego. I am blessed every day in being able to share in the suffering and need of God’s people. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I can give them a very practical solution. Thanks to the generosity of those who support Casa Juan Diego, every day I am able to give a hungry person a bag of foodstuffs that will feed their family for a week, or medicine to alleviate someone’s pain, or a jacket to warm them from the cold.

In the spirit and purpose of this Lenten season, I pray that the Lord will continue to open my heart and give me the strength to be weak and the will to give more than I seek to receive.

Houston Catholic Worker, March-May, 2014, Vol. XXXV, No. 2