Friday, November 15, 2013

My Unremarkable House

For the first three years I lived in San Ignatio, I lived in a quite unremarkable house, unremarkable being the most generous word possible to describe it. It was tiny and clearly had gone through many internal modifications over the years. Our best guess is that it had once been a bunkhouse for field hands before San Ignatio expanded from three streets to six.

It was not the kind of house to which one would invite company. My boss dropped by once and never returned. We once also held an SFO (secular Franciscans) formation meeting there, and the formation director did not want to return. In neither case was it a matter of hospitality. I exhibited the same hospitality I offered in other, more popular, houses I have lived in it. No, it was the house.

A muddy path led up to it. The strangely rectangular living room did an inadequate job of hosting facing couch and chairs. A small, square dining room that lurked on the edge of a tiny, turn-in-a-circle only kitchen held no more than four metal chairs and a small, glass-topped table. It was enough for Donnie and me, but guests were crowded. I have always considered that guests came to visit me, not my house. I may have been wrong. The only repeat guest I had was Padre Julio.

Now I live in a house with a green lawn, gravel driveway, deck, and white picket fence. Our rooms are only slightly larger but shaped more regularly. Guests come in droves. We are the popular spot for the prayer group's movie nights and the neighborhood BBQs. My boss has made repeat visits. Padre Julio returned to his home country of Colombia and then was reassigned to San Diego before we moved into our new house, but I am sure that he would have liked it.

What I liked about Padre Julio is that he accepted the first house, too. Three times a week he came for English lessons. When he was in town for other reasons, he would often park in my yard because it was a convenient, albeit muddy, location and parking is hard to find in San Ignatio -- not because of congestion, of which there is none, but simply because of a lack of parking spaces in general. Often, he parked without without asking. He knew mi casa es su casa.

I understood later why he accepted mi casa so easily. One night toward the end of our sessions, as he was preparing to return to Colombia, he pulled out his laptop for Donnie to configure so that we could continue to communicate via Skype. This way, he would not lose his English-language proficiency, which he had developed with great effort (his and mine -- 9 hours a week for ten months). There on the screen was a one-room shack, the kind one sees in ads asking for charitable donations. "That's my home," he told me with nostalgia.

I understand the nostalgia. It's not what the home looks like. It's what happens inside it. Padre's warm, loving mother raised seven sons in that shack, three of whom became priests.

Mi casa
, by comparison, was a palace. At the same time, he was familiar enough with American culture to know that mi casa was very humble in comparison to other American homes. Knowing that allowed him to share with me unashamedly -- in fact, honestly and somewhat proudly -- the humble abode in which he was raised. Somehow, through the picture of that shack in which he grew up, I instantly understood Padre Julio well. We had something in common: unremarkableness.


  1. Good morning Elizabeth
    This is lovely. You have confirmed something that I have always believed and always expressed - " The HOUSE, being only bricks and mortar (or wood or whatever), is not important. The HOME is what is important and that is made by the love and hospitality of the people who live there." Thanks, Elizabeth, and God bless you.

  2. Indeed, I could not agree more. Well said!

  3. Elizabeth,

    I finally made it over here. Yeah! I started following you as well.

    I love this post because it truly shows that this man had the eyes of our Lord, he saw things as they were not as the world saw them and such his reward to you and others will be great. I so loved this post and it convicted me as well as we so often judge by what we see on the outside and not what is on the inside that our spiritual eyes see.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  4. omg Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by and your kind comment. My surprise this morning was actually your heart-touching post... and the reason is that Colombia is my native country. Where does Padre Julio live? Where is San Ignatio located?

    What a noble cause you have been part of. Very admirable. Now we have something else in common...



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  8. Hi Elizabeth,
    Thank you for this lovely post.
    I have tagged you for a Catholic Meme, if you get a chance. The details are at
    Hope all is well.

  9. Your blog post is a true eye opener, but they always are.

    God bless

  10. Thanks, Kee. I will go look a little later. (First things first -- have to go fill the entirely empty refrigerator.)

    Daily Grace, thank you so much for your kind words.

  11. oh Thanks Betty, I have enjoyed both of your responses :-))
    I checked out the project's website... how neat. I will definitely follow up. Padre Julio is right, Colombia not está tan peligrosa! but I wouldn't go to rural areas. I went to Cali, my hometown, this past April, when my mother passed away. My husband went with me -he is an American- and he thought the same, that it wasn't dangerous. Of course, we were just in the city. Thanks for the info, and I will follow up. Ahora soy parte de tu clan de amigos Colombianos!!


  12. Glad to have you in the Colombian friends' club, Doris! (I would have been going to a very rural area; where Padre lives is accessible only on horseback. He wanted to make sure I could ride; I can, but my boss would have none of my adventurous spirit!)

    I have friends from Cali, a lot, actually, and from Bogota. They seem to do fine going back and forth. I also have an American friend who married a Colombian and is living on a hacienda somewhere outside Cali, and she seems happy and safe enough.

    Oh, well! Some day when things improve just a bit, I do hope to go. I feel like I am a little part of the country even living here.

  13. My dear Beth, America is richest and most powerful country on earth, your standards are very high.

    I would feel very much at home in your first unremarkable house. Your friends who did not visit you again would be horrified if they came to my house.

    One man 's mansion is another man 's hovel. LOL
    Jesus did not even have that.

  14. You make a very good point, Amrita!

  15. Elizabeth, my parish in Northern California has an assistant priest from the Philippines whose background is very similar to Fr. Julio's. Jesus' apostles were from humble origins, too. God's grace is amazing.

  16. Hi Elizabeth,

    "It's not what the home looks like. It's what happens inside it." My brothers and I grew up in an apartment building on the West Side of Chicago and yet we experienced a warmth and love from my mother and grandparents; it is what happens inside that matters.

    Good post selection for Saturday Evening meme.

    Blessings to you this weekend.


  17. I love your point that it matters what happens IN a house and not what the house LOOKS like! This post brought a smile to my face. Thank you!

  18. It is indeed, Ruth Ann.

    Thanks, MTJ. BTW, I was just in Chicago yesterday -- just transferring planes at O'Hare, but I ended up with a talkative young man from Chicago in the seat beside me on the plane. He was a hair stylist, going to a Jesuit retreat in San Mateo. The world is full of interesting people!

    Thanks, FI!