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Thursday, August 30, 2007

One Year Later...

"May 2. Although the Communists and socialists had their hundreds of thousands out in the streets yesterday, we feel that the CATHOLIC WORKER made its presence felt, too. Fifteen or more high school and college students, from Manhattan, Fordham, St. John's College, Cathedral College and from City College, distributed papers and leaflets In the streets all afternoon and in the evening up around Columbus Circle and Madison Square Garden.

The man who was selling the I.W.W. paper in Madison Square came up to get a copy from me and said, "I was a Catholic myself once -- I'd like to see your paper,"' and people of all nationalities were anxious to get it.

One young woman came in this morning who said she had seen a copy in the square and wanted to find out about the House of Hospitality. She had been living down on the Bowery, paying 25¢ a night for a bed and, now her money was all gone and she had no place to go. She was telling me about her friend, who was also down and out, who went to take a room, or a bed up in Harlem, was seduced by a young Spanish American, and threw herself under a subway train a week later.

Her lips were trembling as she talked (it was only eight-thirty in the morning), so I invited her out to have a cup of coffee.

* * *

Last week a colored woman who has been staying up at the Municipal Lodging House came in for a bite to eat. She looked in need of a shelter where she could stay in bed and rest for a few days instead of having to walk the streets from morning to night as the guests of the lodging house have to do.

So that evening I went up to talk to the girls at the Teresa Joseph co-operative to see if it would be all right with them to invite Mary to stay up there. After all, I did not want to run the risk of submitting her to insult on account of her skin -- nor did I expect too much of the girls in the way of freedom from race prejudice, since I know very well that Catholics of means and better education are not free themselves from it.

I talked to the girls, reminding them how our Lord washed the feet of his disciples the night before he suffered and died for us, and told them how we all should serve each other, whether we are white, black or yellow. The girls were perfectly happy to welcome the new guest, and it was like a special birthday present for the paper to find this continuing of the co-operative spirit among them.

Mary took the paper up to Harlem to distribute for us yesterday, and all the other girls up at the house went to Mass or Communion to offer it up for our special May Day work. Margaret, despite her condition, for she is expecting a baby in six weeks, went on the subways yesterday, passing out papers from Times Square to Astoria and from Manhattan to Brooklyn. I was much touched and grateful at the help they all gave us.

An old Irishman of 73 came in this morning for his copies of the paper. He lives down In the Bowery and has a thirty dollar a month pension, from which he insisted on giving us a dollar. He also takes twenty-five copies of the paper to send out to his friends, and every morning at Mass, he says, he prays for us.

* * *

A few weeks ago I went over to St. Zita's to see a sister there and the woman who answered the door took it for granted that I came to beg for shelter. The same morning I dropped into the armory or Fourteenth street, where lunches are being served to unemployed women, and there they again motioned me into the waiting room, thinking that I had come for food. These incidents are significant. After all my heels are not run down -- my clothes were neat -- I am [missing text] girls, and women, who to the average eye, look as though they came from comfortable surroundings are really homeless and destitute.

You see them in the waiting rooms of all the department stores. To all appearances they are waiting to meet their friends, to go on a shopping tour -- to a matinee, or to a nicely served lunch in the store restaurant. But in reality they are looking for work (you can see the worn newspapers they leave behind with the help wanted page well thumbed), and they have no place to go, no place to rest but in these public places -- and no good hot lunch to look forward to. The stores are thronged with women buying dainty underwear which they could easily do without -- compacts for a dollar, when the cosmetics in the five-and-ten are just as good -- and mingling with these protected women and often indistinguishable from them, are these sad ones, these desolate ones, with no homes, no jobs, and never enough food in their stomachs.

"I often wonder what God thinks of the scribes and orators who thunder terrors at poor women for their desperate attempts at contraception and never have a word to say to the Bank of England and the Treasury which have so obviously chosen birth-restriction as the solution for unemployment and are enforcing this policy on the poor by every means in their power. . . . Indeed, our domination by money lenders is nowhere so disastrous, as in the sphere of marriage and family life. The right to marry is a human right like the right to breathe and eat -- equally the right to bring up a family. The family is the basic social unit, ordained as such by God Himself. Economic systems must be arranged to suit the family, and not the family to economic conditions. When Leo XIII demanded the living wage it was the family wage he meant. All this is ordinary Catholic teaching. For bringing up a family the first requisite is evidently an income. Under the savage economics of the past two years the children of the unemployed have been allowed two shillings per week."

(Fr. Drinkwater in the Sower, a journal of Catholic education.)"

"Day by Day - June 1934"
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, June 1934

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Failure, the future and perserverance

As The Next Worker prepares to turn one, I've been going through early entries and replaying in my mind all the reasons I started this blog. I wanted to document my journey down the path less travelled and capture in words my new life as a Worker. I started with pretty high hopes. And while I wouldn't say I'm discouraged by my lack of progress, I've come to realize how hard it is to leave the comforts and security of suburbia for a radical life. Even creating a plan to get from here to there has been hard. On a 1 to 10 scale of impulsiveness, my husband and I are probably a 6 or 7. However, how impulsive can you be with three small children under 5? Do you haul them all to downtown Camden to feed the poor? Do you move them hundreds of miles from friends and family to set up a homestead on affordable land? Part of me says, "Go for it, let's follow this through hard core! Let's buy and RV, traveling the country and stopping at Worker Houses and farms from coast to coast!" And then a voice says (is it my conscience?) "But if I'm wrong, what lasting negative impact will I leave with my kids?" My husband's long hours at work and the little bit of homeschooling I do, consume so much time I feel we haven't even made baby steps in our charity towards others. It's still something we're planning for, something in the future we can barely wrap our heads around. If it's this hard for us, a family with a goal of become agrarian Workers, how hard will it be for us to change society at large; to even convince friends of ours to come along on our journey? We're working against such a larger system. I sometimes wonder if we'll ever reach our goals or if we'll be stuck here forever reading books, writing fiery articles and bitterly sipping Starbucks.
But a year is only a year. And since last August I've become much more familiar with Day, distibutism and the back to the land movement. While my faith is nothing to boast about, it keeps me going and never once have I doubted the truth of my mission here. In fact I am usually encouraged by what I do read (encyclicals, articles, Church documents, etc.) Through the Internet I've developed a circle of blog acquaintances struggling along the same path, trying to fit their square pegs in the world's round holes. We're doing the best we can with what we have here and now and that's nothing to scoff at.
So my goals for the coming year are more realistic, maybe? If one can be realistic and radical at the same time. Best case, we have a small homestead and my husband goes down to part-time: worst case, we're still in an apartment and my husband is working overtime. Obviously, with the first case, the added time will allow us opportunities to garden, volunteer and write. Time will tell. Just finding affordable housing in Jersey with enough land to garden will be a miracle. I hope the last year has made you wiser with more wisdom, and grace, in the year to come for us all.
"About all the above failures, I must say that I am not much concerned. I think that such failures are inseparable to a work of this kind, and necessary for our growth in holiness. Such failure, for those of us who have dedicated our lives to this work, is our cross. As a matter of fact, our failure is so continuous that we never think of it, we just go on working, without judging ourselves, as St. Paul tells us to. We can list our accomplishments as glorious examples of God's providence, and of our faith in it. We grow in faith in it and in our very persistence, we are growing in hope and charity. God grant that we persevere." [snip]
"But in this happy season, and even while writing of failure, I am filled with a sense of great joy that God has entrusted to us a mission, that we have been given a work to do. In twenty years we seem to have accomplished little. The same long breadlines continue at our houses. Throughout the land many a Catholic Worker family struggles and seems to get nowhere. But meanwhile the children are born, and are fed and launched into life with a more vital sense, let us pray, of God and their place in the body of Christ."

By Dorothy Day
"Have We Failed Peter Maurin's Program?"
The Catholic Worker, January 1954

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Beatific Vision

"Sex is a profound force, having to do with life, the forces of creation which make man god-like. He shares in the power of the Creator, and, when sex is treated lightly, as a means of pleasure, I can only consider that woman is used as a plaything, not as a person. When sex is so used it takes on the quality of the demonic, and to descend into this blackness is to have a foretaste of hell, "where no order is, but everlasting horror dwelleth." (Job x.22) Aldous Huxley has given us a glimpse of this hell in "After Many a Summer dies in the Swan," showing the sexual instinct running riot like cancer cells through the body, degenerating into sadism and torture and unspeakable violence. I speak in extreme terms I admit. But long before I was a Catholic I felt how prevalent was the demi-vierge attitude. I certainly felt that the teaching of Jesus, "He who looks with lust after a woman has already committed adultery in his heart." There is no such thing as seeing how far one can go without being caught, or how far one can go without committing mortal sin.

On the other hand, the act of sex in its right order in the love life of the individual has been used in Old and New Testament as the symbol of the love between God and Man. Sexual love in its intensity makes all things new and one sees the other as God sees him. And this is not illusion. In those joyful days when one is purified by this single heartedness, this purity of vision, one truly sees the essence of the other, and this mating of flesh and spirit, the whole man and the whole woman, is the only way we know what the term "beatific vision" means. It is the foretaste we have of heaven and all other joys of the natural world are intensified by it, hearing, seeing, knowing."

"On Pilgrimage - September 1963"
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, September 1963

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Back for good

Would you believe I was away again? Family trip to the shores of Lake Ontario in Upstate New York plus an overnight train ride to Chicago. A nice trip overall but very exhausting.
Sorry to leave you with so little reading material. Now that September is inching closer I can start thinking about the fall routine and hopefully pencil blogging into my planner more regularily. My travels have given me ample ideas for posts and the 1st birthday of The Next Worker is just around the corner as well. Methinks it a good time to examine my mission and see what a year's worth of posts has done for me.
So stay tuned, things will be picking up again!
"The next day was the feast of the Assumption, which always reminds me of that saying of St. Augustine's "The flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary," and emphasizes to me the dignity of her humanity, just as the feast of the Sacred Heart emphasizes the love of God for man. The feast of the Assumption together with the doctrine of the resurrection of the body makes heaven real, and goodness knows we need to grow in faith and in hope of heaven in this perilous life which we nevertheless so treasure and cling to."
"On Pilgrimage - September 1961"
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, September 1961