Casa de Clara is an experiment in hope. We try to live joyfully in the midst of the pain and suffering that so often surround us.
It is tempting to despair. The United States and North Korea edge closer to nuclear war. Our country is more polarized than ever, and we find ourselves unable to hold civil conversation on matters of significance, whether immigration, healthcare, gun violence, or racial justice. Meanwhile, the predictions of the scientific community from the 1980’s and 90’s have come true, and we see daily the devastating effects of climate change, from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria to the wildfires of the Pacific Northwest. In San Jose, homelessness is on the rise.
Our challenge is to face the darkness of the world, and not despair, to look squarely at the world as it is, and yet find hope. But how? In our experience, hope is found in two places: concrete action, and sustained contemplation.
First, concrete action. What a gift it is to have daily work to carry us forward: cooking dinner for our small community, scrubbing shower stalls between guests at Showers to the People!, loading our pickup truck with fresh groceries for our food distribution, helping our 14 year-old with her math homework. Concrete actions that meet specific needs are a powerful antidote to despair.
This is true for the women staying at Casa de Clara as well. Whether it is taking classes at City College or cleaning hotel rooms, driving their children to school or applying to new jobs, our guests keep busy. It is no small thing that they are able to do this. When living by a creek or in a car, in a storage unit or on a friend’s couch, the demands of mere survival occupy most of a person’s time. It is the stability of a place like Casa de Clara that provides the breathing room for those experiencing homelessness to begin to focus on longer term goals like finding a job, going to school, and paying back debts. A job provides much needed income, of course, but more than that, it imparts a sense of dignity, and with it hope amidst the challenges of homelessness.
Yet action alone is not enough. What we have found in the Catholic Worker is that there is another crucial element in sustaining hope: contemplation.
We all have a vague awareness that there is something more to our lives than what we do and experience in the ordinary course of a day – a deep current that underlies everything. We’ve also encountered people who seem to live out of that stream of life, and there is a different quality about them – eternally youthful, with a deep joy, a wideness of heart, and a large capacity to hold suffering. I am thinking of people like the Dalai Lama or Desmond Tutu, as well as lesser known, but equally holy, contemplatives I’ve met at Casa de Clara. Perhaps you, too, have met people whose very lives are a testament to hope.
The great contemplatives agree: you can’t force this kind of awareness; it is simply given. Moreover, it is the simplest of gifts, and available to all. Convinced that this is the call of all people, we at Casa de Clara seek to cultivate practices and attitudes that open us up to receiving this gift of contemplation. And the result? It is impossible to quantify, but I know that to the extent our lives bring a measure of healing to the world, it is because we’ve tried to open ourselves to the stream of Love that flows from the heart of the world to the places most in need of hope.
We invite you, then, to share our life, in both action and contemplation. Come volunteer with us, greeting homeless visitors in our door ministry, preparing supplies for our shower service, or helping with our food distribution program. Come pray with us, too, especially on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m., when we gather for Sacred Circle, the contemplative prayer group we host in conjunction with the Verbum Dei sisters, and on 1st Saturdays at 11 a.m., when we host a backyard mass in our home.
on behalf of the Catholic Worker community