Fellow parishioners, my name is Ashley Alvarez, and I am one of the candidates preparing for Confirmation. Recently, as part of the Confirmation process, we went on a service trip to Casa Juan Diego, and I’d like to take a moment to tell you about my experience.
For those who don’t know, Casa Juan Diego is a shelter for Houston’s disadvantaged. It was co-founded by Mark and Louise, a couple who dedicate their lives to service. They live at the shelter with the people they serve and receive no compensation for their work. When we arrived, Mrs. Louise sat down with us and emphasized the importance of Scripture in the founding of Casa Juan Diego. Inspired by the Lord’s words that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40), Mark and Louise have chosen a life of voluntary poverty in order to seek joy and spiritual fulfillment.
While we were there, my group helped package and sort copies of their newsletter that were to be distributed as far as Japan and Peru. The scope of their influence was both eye-opening and inspiring, and it helped me realize that you didn’t have to travel to third world countries to make a difference in the lives of those in need.
After we finished the newsletters, the volunteers gave us a tour of the garden at Casa Juan Diego. The garden is a self-sustaining, green haven that exists amid the stark urbanization of the downtown area. The garden’s vegetables and fruits that help support both those living at Casa Juan Diego as well as an additional 400 families in need. During our visit, one of the volunteers told us that his work at Casa Juan Diego is work that “feeds the soul.”
For me, one of the most memorable moments of our trip was this distinction between food for the body and food for the soul. While the man’s day job provides the funds for his physiological necessities – the food for the body – it is his service at Casa Juan Diego that provides the nourishment for his soul, a certain spiritual fulfillment that no amount of monetary compensation can begin to satisfy.
When we returned to the Cenacle Learning Center, we reviewed how Casa Juan Diego exemplifies the Catholic values of the innate dignity of the human person, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, and the ever important communal aspect of our faith. When it was time to go home, I, and I hope my fellow candidates, left with the distinct impression that we had taken an essential step forward in both our Confirmation process and, more importantly, in our faith.