header icons

The Garden of Hospitality at Casa Juan Diego, the Houston Catholic Worker

Cultivating the
garden of the heart
by Ade Bethune

I find myself planted here at Casa Juan Diego because of the seeds of hospitality that have been graciously sown into my life.

One of the gardeners who most recently pointed me in the direction of the rich soil here at Casa Juan Diego was Catherine Griffin, a former Catholic Worker who spent two years at Casa Juan Diego from 2002-2004. Although Catherine’s life was cut short after a long battle with cancer, she left behind a fruitful legacy here at Casa Juan Diego as one of the founders of our now abundant community garden. Thanks to Catherine, our garden serves as a constant, physical reminder of the blessings that are ever-growing from the hard work invested by those volunteers who diligently tend to the crops season-by-season, combined with the natural nourishment provided by the sun, rain, and God’s many creatures who pollinate the blooming flower buds and cultivate the soil.

Yet the sense of satisfaction and contentment felt by a gardener depends upon the realization that the success of a harvest is not entirely in her hands, as the growth and development of a garden is a co-creative process brought to full fruition by God’s many natural forces. The gardener is humbled by this truth when a cold spell freezes the soil, and shortens the life of her precious crops to an unfulfilled end. She may be surprised later, however, to discover the hardiness of some of her plants, who grew strong despite harsh conditions because of collaborative efforts of tender love and care.

In many ways, the garden gives us a metaphorical image of a fruitful life devoted to the Works of Mercy and the mission of hospitality grounded in the Catholic Worker movement. Here at Casa Juan Diego, we try our best to care for those who lack the nourishment they deserve to grow and thrive by giving food and water; we seek to provide spaces in our houses to protect guests from the harsh conditions of the world that have caused them suffering; we are proactive in preparing for catastrophes that compromise the wellbeing of the most vulnerable among us, giving out blankets to warm community members without heat, just as a gardener covers the flowers in anticipation of a cold spell; we advocate for those hurt by the political, social, and cultural climate in our world today by listening to and learning from the stories of our guests and maintaining an awareness of the signs of the times.

Despite our best efforts to help, heal, and harvest a better future for those who we serve, the spiritual sustainability of our work depends upon the cognizance that we cannot hold ourselves responsible for the complete prosperity of those we serve. To do so would assume that we, lowly gardeners striving to do God’s will in our own ways, have the power to perfectly change all of the conditions of hardship that have and continue to press upon an individual. We may even be deluded in thinking that we have the power to change the individuals themselves to match our own vision of what and who they should be, ultimately dis-empowering an individual to grow and change by their own strength and capabilities and doubting their potential to rise with resilience.

This is not how we cultivate an environment of hospitality, as Henri Nouwen posits in his book Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, when he reminds us that, “just as we cannot force a plant to grow but can take away the weeds and stones which prevent its development, so we cannot force anyone to such a personal and intimate change of heart, but we can offer the space where such a change can take place” (Nouwen 77).       Here at Casa Juan Diego, we strive to be gardeners of hospitality, taking away the weeds and stones that prevent our neighbors, who have grown up in different and distant meadows, from flourishing. The work that we do providing a clean and safe place to stay, putting food on the table, assisting with transportation, and inviting the sick to receive medical aid and attention, may help pull those little weeds from an individual’s life, which have prevented health and growth. When we do that, they can more easily grow with and towards the light of God, to feel God’s true and abundant love with the development of roots and branches. As soon as the humility in our heart shows us the scope of change that we are capable of, we find ourselves growing beside those we serve in the same garden with greater abundance, positioned under the radiance of God’s love that we can reflect back onto others.


Nouwen Henri J. Reaching out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. Image Books, 1986.


Houston Catholic Worker, April-June 2021, Vol. XLI, No. 3.