“How can you cope with all the misery you see on a daily basis? It must be so depressing.” In the thirty plus years I have been a part of the Catholic Worker movement I have often heard this response from people when asked about my work. It is true that in our daily work we often see people at their worst and it can be hard to witness: folks in the throes of addiction, untreated mental illness, depression, self-loathing, poor hygiene, and just general bad behavior. There is no hiding the fact that we experience a lot of the harsh reality of life. But what people often miss, or don’t realize, is the joy that accompanies our work.
Peter Maurin, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, envisioned Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality as “a place where it’s easier for people to be good.” I feel my most important duty at the dining room, shelter, and boarding homes is to create a welcoming, respectful, and safe environment for all who come there. That loving environment, I hope, will bring out the best in people. It also creates the opportunity for meaningful relationships to develop. And that is exactly what we experience on a daily basis. I see our guests trying to be their best (even if they can’t say a sentence without using multiple four-letter words) and we see friendships develop. Recently a new volunteer was amazed at the camaraderie she experienced at the dining room. The friendly conversation and laughter among our guests is not what this volunteer expected of a soup kitchen. Mike, who was working in the dining room that day, responded enthusiastically, “Exactly! That’s what’s so great about this place and what I appreciated when I was a guest here.”
In a world increasingly beset by alienation, isolation and loneliness, we are daily surrounded by people with whom we’ve developed close relationships. Initial strangers become acquaintances who become friends with whom we share the ups and downs of life. I look forward to seeing folks (both guests and volunteers) at the dining room, at stores, or on the street. It always makes my day and has given me the sense of community I’ve longed for since childhood.
And then there are the people who support our work and volunteer with us. I have met the nicest and most inspiring people in my life through my work. Some are truly extraordinary people, but most are just regular people trying to be their best. Whether it’s other Catholic Workers, folks in the peace movement, neighbors, or whoever, I am daily surrounded by generous and grateful people who are giving of their talents and treasures to make the world a better place. What a recipe for a joyful life.
Recently another new volunteer asked if we evangelize at the dining room, do we “preach the gospel” to our guests? My first response was, “No, people come here to get basic physical needs met. I don’t want them to feel like they have to listen to a sermon to get food, clean socks, or take a shower. Also, we have people from many and no faith traditions. I want to respect where and who they are.” But on further reflection I shared with him one of my favorite quotes: “Preach the gospel at all times. When absolutely necessary, use words.”
I like to think that by creating a place where it’s easier for people to be good we carry God’s message of love to all we encounter. In my opinion, it is through the witness of our own lives by how we treat others in our daily interactions that the greatest evangelization occurs. When St. John the Apostle was an old man other Christians would come to him seeking great words of wisdom from the last living Apostle. He would simply tell them, “Love one another.” “There must be more,” they would respond. His response would be, “If you love one another you have lived out the gospel of Christ.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid or ashamed to preach the gospel. When people ask me why I do this work I’m happy to tell them I do it because I feel it’s the best way for me to live out my Catholic faith. When I’m occasionally asked to reflect on the scriptures at an area church or talk to a faith group, I’m there with the “God-talk.” But in my daily work I try to let my actions do the preaching. I believe it’s a much more respectful and effective way to express what having the love of God in my life means.
All of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House – staff, volunteers, and guests – try our best to orient our lives in ways that incarnate the love and dignity of God in our daily lives, whatever our faith traditions. When you create “a place where it’s easier for people to be good” you will see the good side of people. The place brings it out in them and they bring it out in you. We are all so thankful to be part of a place where it’s easier for us to be good. Where we have the opportunity to serve our God through serving others.
As always, we thank you for your great generosity in making Catholic Worker Hospitality House a place where it’s easier for all of us to be good. We hope for your ongoing support that will continue making this special place possible.
In Christ’s Peace,
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House
It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on the progress of construction on the ADU (auxiliary dwelling unit, “in-law unit”) in the backyard of our Second Ave house. Bottom line, progress is being made, just not as fast as I would hope. The first six weeks, progress was great: the foundation was poured and framing was completed in amazing time. Workers were here everyday. Then there was the big storm in October, followed by a series of smaller storms. Since then progress has been sketchy at best. Part of the delay is due to weather, part is due to COVID supply chain and labor issues, and part of it is due to contractor issues. To say the least it’s been frustrating at times. But with the end of the holidays and a break in the rain, work is resuming. Our hope is to have folks in the house sometime in March. I know the two people who will be getting a nice new place to live are hoping for a March occupancy date. Please keep this project and our contractor in your prayers.