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.