Some say working the soup kitchen best defines the Catholic Worker.
Some say opening your home to the lonely and destitute best defines the Catholic Worker.
Some say resisting the war makers, doing the time, refusing to go along with the greed and violence best defines a Catholic Worker.
Some say it’s all of these, knowing full well that the best we can do is plant a few seeds, knowing full well the harvest is a long time coming.
But, deep down, really, in our hearts of hearts, we know…
It’s gotta be the joy!
You lose the joy, you lose it all.
No joy, no hope.
No joy, no endurance.
No joy, no understanding of suffering.
No joy, no meaning of life.
No joy, and it’s just another year on Guantanamo.
No joy, and we’re all just doing time on the planet.
It’s gotta be the joy!!
– BRENDAN WALSH, Viva House Catholic Worker, Baltimore.
I was so moved when I read the above poem by Brendan Walsh that I had to make it the focus of this letter as it speaks to why I’ve stayed a part of the Catholic Worker Movement for over twenty-five years. Brendan and his wife Willa co-founded Viva House in Baltimore and have been living the Catholic Worker life for nearly fifty years, working with the outcasts of a downtrodden city and speaking truth to power. So when he says, “it’s gotta be the joy,” he knows what he’s talking about. And if you ever spend time with Brendan and Willa you’ll feel the joy they radiate.
At first glance it may seem odd to say the hallmark of Catholic Worker life is joy as daily we’re surrounded by brokenness and suffering—folks living on the street, seeing long time guests fighting the demons of addiction and/or mental illness, alienation and separation, visits to jails and nursing homes. It’s enough to make one weep. Yet despite all this, the Catholic Worker is a surprisingly joyful place. I’m always amazed and uplifted when I am greeted at the dining room with smiles, fist pumps, and silly jokes or when I see folks chatting and laughing with friends over a hot meal or helping out around the dining room.
I guess the thinking is how can someone be joyful if they are destitute and broken physically or mentally? But anyone can be joyful, it doesn’t take money or prestige, it just takes the willingness to see the good around you, to let others into your life and to enter into the life of others, to be engaged in the affairs around you—joy comes from being involved.
I think that’s why the Catholic Worker Hospitality House is such a joyful place. It starts with relationships – the friendships and sense of belonging that develop when we open up to each other. Then there is the opportunity to assist. Whether volunteer, staffer, or guest, we are invigorated when we join others in meaningful work, when we help to make the dining room (and the world) a better place. It can be as simple as sweeping a floor or helping to serve meal, yet that simple act unites us to something larger and gives us purpose.
I know this letter is a bit “Pollyannaish.” I realize I have a tendency to focus on pleasant aspects of life rather than the unpleasant ones, but I seriously believe that if we’re to keep hope alive there must be joy. The joy we’re talking about here is not merely “smiles and laughs” (although those are abundant), it’s contentment and acceptance, a sense of peace. I think this is what Jesus means when he says, “Peace be with you. My Peace I give to you.” He’s saying, “you are loved and valued by God even with all your brokenness. Now go, share that love and work to make this world a better place.”
So at Catholic Worker Hospitality House we try to accept ourselves, love our neighbor, and continue our humble work. This is what keeps me going, it is joy that keeps us all going. We thank you for being a source of this joy. We thank you for helping make our work possible with your time, talents, and treasures.
For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House
- HOUSE NEEDS
- Canned Fruit
- Coffee and creamer
- Rain ponchos
- Money, for our ongoing expenses
TINY HOUSE UPDATE
We’re finally making progress on the interior build-out of our tiny house! We received our tiny house on Thanksgiving Day, but between the rush of the holidays and stormy weather we weren’t able to do much more than paint the exterior and finalize the interior floor plan by the middle of January. But over the past couple of weeks Aaron Castle and I (mostly Aaron) have insulated the interior, done rough installation of electrical and plumbing, framed the interior walls and platform bed, and meet with a finish carpenter who’s offered to help with cabinets and counter tops. After a slow start it’s encouraging to see the progress were now making.
In late December there were a couple of local newspaper articles about our Tiny House Project that brought us to the attention of San Bruno city officials. In mid-January we had a meeting with building, planning, and community development staff about our Tiny House Project which went as expected: they praised the work we do in the community, acknowledge the great need for affordable housing, and then said all the reasons why our tiny house on wheels does not meet their current building or zoning regulations. But we are all committed to further meetings to see how tiny houses can be a part of our community. We’ll continue with the process and see what happens. In the meantime we’ll continue working on the house and looking for a home for our tiny house. If you, or your business, or your congregation are interested in hosting our tiny house once it’s completed and ready for occupancy, please give Peter a call at 650-291-2400.