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The Joy at Casa Juan Diego Is Fuller With You In It and With Your Help

Meg is a Catholic Worker at Casa Juan Diego. She graduated last year from the University of Notre Dame.

by L. V. Díaz

“The only answer in this life, to the loneliness we are all bound to feel, is community.”

  • Dorothy Day, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, p. 184

Passing through the front door to Casa Juan Diego’s bustling entrada this past August, I was eager to begin life as a Catholic Worker and yet filled with uncertainty, wondering what exactly I had to offer. With only my suitcase, a love for Dorothy Day, and a tentative trust in the intercession of St. Juan Diego as a teacher in the art of “unqualified” self-gift, I felt unsure of what my role might be here. However, days here are full (and full and full), with a coexistence of more blessing and heartbreak than I’ve ever before witnessed and it wouldn’t take long for the house to absorb me into its rhythm. Soon I was welcoming guests, volunteers, and donors through that same front door with a frequency that was, at times, breathtaking. When a newcomer first arrives, whether they’ve come to live, work, or donate, I recognize the question I had on my face on that first day: Is this a place for me? Am I welcomed? Am I needed?

Within my first few weeks as a Catholic Worker, I channeled my childhood passion for organizing family talent shows and began to “advertise” an upcoming Noche de Talentos, asking everyone in the women’s house to participate. The night of the show, the sign-up sheet was full, the air was buzzing with excitement, and the women and children of the house settled into their seats to enjoy the performances. However, it quickly became apparent that as eager as we all were to watch, everyone was afraid to perform. After the first few people on the sign-up sheet backed out, two young girls bravely came to the makeshift stage to dance. Yet, when the music began they stood stock-still, too paralyzed in front of us to move. No matter, we gave them a hearty round of applause and turned to the next participant.

Martha (name changed) was a first-grade girl who had signed up to jump rope. One of the volunteers had learned of Martha’s plan and purchased a new jump rope in preparation for the show. As she silently came before the gathered chairs, she smiled nervously and tried out her first jump. She tripped over the rope, but was nonetheless met with a burst of applause. Surprised at the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response, her shy smile grew and she picked up steam, jumping faster and faster as her small audience cheered and shouted in support. Now beaming, she stopped to catch her breath and we gave her a final round of applause. To our surprise, Martha wasn’t finished. She repeated the entire act with the same gusto. The audience went wild, with the cheers echoing off our dining room walls.

From this point on the show took on a new life. Children and adults alike jumped up to share a wide range of talents, from singing and dancing to reading from Scripture. Some people truly had what can objectively be called “talent”. Others, myself included, just wanted to join in the fun. All received a thundering round of applause. With each burst of cheering, one of the great lessons of Casa Juan Diego resounded: the joy is fuller with you in it.

This central message of the Catholic Worker has revealed itself to me time and again in my few months in the house. When someone arrives at the door with nowhere else to go and in need of shelter, the joy grows fuller. When a regular volunteer arrives on their regular day and engages in the same ordinary tasks as the week before, the joy grows fuller. When a donation is brought to the door and a new person takes a copy of the newspaper, the joy grows fuller. I can say this with certainty, not because I’m naive to the heavy burdens that a new guest might bring or the volume of work that the house requires, but because I’ve witnessed it to be true. Each person that joins into the chorus that Casa Juan Diego has been singing for the last four decades adds to the rousing melody.

As Christians and as members of the Catholic Worker movement, we aren’t called to simply sit and hope that someone else (perhaps those more qualified) will jump up and exhibit their talents. We are called to participate.  Perhaps not because we have a tangible gift or service that no one else can provide, but simply because we are needed exactly as we are. It’s an invitation that’s extended in countless ways: through the Eucharist, through our neighbor, through this newspaper. We have all been invited to not just watch, but to get on our feet and join in. The answer to my uncertainty when all I had was my suitcase, a love for Dorothy Day, and a friendship with Juan Diego was yes, this is a place for you. The answer to those questioning faces of the newcomers is a resounding yes: you are welcome. The answer to a timid jump-roper and those that followed her is yes, you are needed. May we all have the courage to get on our feet and join in the song.

Houston Catholic Worker, January-March 2020, Vol. XL, No. 1