Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dorothy Day

I've been reading The Long Loneliness, the autobiography by Dorothy Day who helped form and produce The Catholic Worker, which is made up of both people living in community all over the world (similar to Missionaries of Charity....thanks to Phil from Marquette University who corrected my verb tense usage)and a newspaper. Basically she was one of the first Catholic social activists in the United States. Her story is interesting, especially because she lived out what she believed in the early 20th century at a time when most of what she stood for was not accepted. I think she would have called herself a communist, although she was Catholic and therefore believed in God. Since she wrote her book, we have seen the demise of this political structure and the atrocities that made up its backbone have been revealed. I wonder if she lived now, if she would instead speak more about Kingdom living, rather than the worker and politics. She died in 1980, but her words still resound, as truth typically does.

She's made me think about work and labor, how so much of how we live today and what we want is due to factories and the mass production of everything from furniture to cars to clothing to food packaging. This way of life has inspired our culture to be consumer driven, we want more and more things and we want them for less money and in record time. In such a society, regulated working conditions are mandatory, the menialness of the jobs unchallenging, and, when demand is short, job cuts make for lay-offs and poverty. This creates a system in which the government needs to step in to offer assistance to citizens out of work, which leads to a system of dependence and continued poverty of finances and soul.

Dorothy's thoughts were inspired by a man named Peter Maurin and I wanted to include some of what she says about him here:

"He did not like cars and would not have one. He thought that cars were driving people to their ruin. Workers bought cars who should buy homes, he said, and they willingly sold themselves into slavery and indebtedness for the sake of the bright new shining cars that speeded along super highways."

"Both of them were personalists, both were workers. They did not want mass action or violence. They were lambs in the simplicity of their program. They wanted to see the grass spring up between the cobbles of city streets. They wanted to see the workers leave the cities with their wives and children and take to the fields, build themselves homes, where they would have room to breathe, to study, to pray, where there would be work for all."

"Peter was vehemently opposed to the wage system, so he received in return for his labor, which he pointed out was voluntarily 'given,' the return 'gift' of enough food an clothing from the village store to supply his needs, a place to sleep and the use of the prist's library."

"The holy man was the whole man, the man of integrity, who not only tried to change the world, but to live in it as it was."

"Peter was not so much interested in labor as he was in work and community. He felt that as long as men sought jobs and wages, and accepted the assembly line and the material comforts the factory system brought, they would not think in terms of community, except for that which the union brought them. They might be gathered together in time of crisis, during strikes, but would they listen to what he said about the need for ownership and responsibility?"

"Community- that was the social answer to the long loneliness. That was one of the attractions of religious life and why couldn't lay people share in it? Not just the basic community of the family, but also the community of families, with a combination of private and communal property."

These communities would be... "agronomic universities, where the worker could become a scholar and the scholar a worker."

I know that living in such a way may sound a bit Amish-ish, but I don't think the Catholic Workers intended for that, but they were agrarian based, with an emphasis on relationship rather than possessions, soul rather than meniality.

Dorothy quotes St. Ignatius: "Love is an exchange of gifts." and St. John of the Cross: "Where there is no love, put love and you will find love." She also quotes an unnamed German Protistant Theologian who said that what the world needed was community and liturgy. Dorothy emphasises that living in such a way is an act of worship, "...these fellow workers and I were performing an act of worship. I felt that it was necessary for man to worhsip, that he was most truly himself when engaged in that act." She again quotes the thoughts of Peter Maurin when she speaks of the sens of mission he instilled. "He did not begin by tearing down, or by painting so intense a picture of misery and injustice that you burned to change the world. Instead, he aroused in you a sense of your own capacities for work, for accomplishment (as acts of worship and love). He made you feel that you and all men had great and generous hearts with which to love God. If you once recognized this fact in yourself you would expect and find it in others. 'The art of human contacts,' Peter called it happily."

I think we live in a world that longs for such contacts as never before, to love in such a way, to live in such community. At least I know I do. Please pick up a copy of this book.


angela said...

amish-ish? i love it. i'm going to take your recommendation and read it.

Courtney said...

ami-o. Do you happen to know if the portrait on the front was done by Dorothea Lange? She is one of my favorite photographers and it looks a lot like her work. Can't wait to see you! Love,


Phil said...

THe Catholic Worker movement is very much alive today, with well over 100 communities in the US and abroad--including two in Portland. See

Phil Runkel
Marquette University Archives

Phil said...

THe Catholic Worker movement is very much alive today, with well over 100 communities in the US and abroad--including two in Portland. See

Phil Runkel
Marquette University Archives

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