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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Our mission

"If we had a better social order we would not have so many destitute to care for. If we had better indoctrinated Catholics, we would not have so big a job to do, it would be spread out throughout the families and parishes." -DD

I feel the need to clarify. One of our goals is still to offer charity in typical Catholic Worker fashion, but charity is not the only aim of the Worker movement, though, it is the most well know. Day is remembered for her Houses of Hospitality, not her writing on distributism and the back to the land movement. Immediate needs for mercy and charity consumed Day but the long-range plan was always to encourage a movement back to the land, away from the city, the factories, the breadlines and day to day grind of the wage slave. Unfortunately, the need for Houses of Hospitality still exists. Society has yet to be convinced of the benefits of an agrarian or distributist system, one ideally rooted in Christ. The failures of our God-less, bureaucratic, welfare state are evident in any major city. Catholic Worker based charity is needed but so is the CW land movement. We (my family) are going back to the land as best we can; we are hoping to contribute to the long term solution. However, our work would be in vain if we did not find a way to share it, and our bounty, through charity. So don't think we're running away to the country to escape the 'hard work' faced by Workers in the Hospitality Houses. May God guide us in finding the balance between immediate needs and the long term program. Servant of God, Dorothy Day, pray for us.

"Peter Maurin talked much of men with a mission, and the need for men to have a sense of mission, that they were sent into this world to do some particular work. One of his little essays was about men with missions and about the women who followed the men who had the mission. I rejoiced in being a follower of Peter Maurin, and thanked God that he had been sent to me to direct my thoughts and writings.

His program certainly was simple enough. Round Table discussions for the clarification of thought, houses of hospitality for the works of mercy, agronomic universities to teach the workers to be scholars and the scholars to be workers. He called the latter "farming communities" also, and he was flexible enough to take in the single family on the land, and the growth of the community about it, and the idea of the village economy, and the southern agrarians and the decentralists, and the English distributists.

What Are We Accenting?

Not a month passes but some visitor comes to us who asks us gently if we have not given up emphasizing some one or another aspect of Peter's program. Didn't it used to be labor? one will say.

Peter thought more of agrarian labor than he did of industrial labor. He referred us to A.J. Penty and the Guildsmen's Interpretation of History and Means and Ends; Tawney's Religion and the Rise of Capitalism; Velblen's Theory of the Leisure Class and such books as David Hennessy lists in each C.W. He hated the machine unless it was the extension of the hand of man. He hated mass action and pressure groups and feared unions deteriorating into political action. He hated class war and wanted us to love the enemy, the capitalist and industrialist and munitions maker, even while trying to "put business out of business."

Didn't we spend more time on pacifism than on unemployment? Didn't we over-emphasize the works of mercy and under-emphasize the land? Didn't we exalt the idea of personal responsibility and the single apostolate and ignore the family and the community which begins with the family? Didn't we over-emphasize liturgy, or later, didn't we tend to neglect to emphasize liturgy?

And many a time, no matter what we talked about we were ridiculed. Either our readers were enthusiastic and read the CW from cover to cover, or they despised what we were writing because of their disagreement with one or another aspect of the work, and threw the paper to one side. Just yesterday there was a mixed letter, addressed to Ammon Hennacy. It is pretty typical.

Friend Hennacy: The enclosed five dollars is to continue my subscription to the Catholic Worker. Several times I have been about to suggest that you stop here whenever you pass nearby on your way to Arizona or back east. I would enjoy having you. There is always an empty room here, and even more empty space on the farm. We are about a hundred miles southwest of Kansas City. I have hesitated to get in touch with you as probably we don't have much in common. As a more or less successful farmer I am familiar with hard labor but for me it is happy labor. Twenty five years ago when I tried to get an education and taught a while, I didn't get much pleasure out of life. Now I hope you can forgive it-I even enjoy paying taxes! However, I am an independent sort of cuss myself and admire a man with the courage of his convictions, especially when they are of the sort that can be easily misunderstood by the ordinary public. I read everything in the Catholic Worker. I just like to suffer, I guess! And I have liked your experiences very much. Also some other articles like Bill Gauchat's article on farming a couple of years ago. He really hit the nail on the head. Some of the other references to farming have seemed ludicrous from out here in Kansas. Write me if you can. You have my best wishes in your work.

    • H. S.

Such a letter makes us feel that we have accented so many things that we misfire on practically all. Anyway, H. S. has a philosophy of work which Peter Maurin emphasizes and it is good to see someone getting joy out of their life on the land. We get too many letters of pessimistic gloom from back-to-the-landers, and one can only say that anyone who feels that way about it has missed his vocation. He wasn't cut out to be a farmer. He should find a trade, run a store, teach in a school, go in for village life rather than farm life. Caussade says that we know our vocation by our delight in it.

I feel that in our desire to stress the whole life of man, we fail to hammer in one or another point. As a paper, we take up so many issues. As individuals, we are prone to hammer away at our pet project and go single mindedly towards one aspect of the work.

Have We Failed?

I know that I will give much satisfaction to many of our fellow workers when I admit that we have failed and that on every front. We have failed to clarify thought and probably will till the end of our days. We have failed in running houses of hospitality, in that they are not indoctrination centers and places to teach "cult, culture and cultivation" as Peter wanted, and all out time is taken up with the immediate practice of the works of mercy there. We have failed in establishing farming groups, whether as agronomic universities, or farming communes of families. This is in spite of the fact that we have fourteen houses and eight farms around the country associated with The Catholic Worker, with these ideas, or some of them. The houses flourish in that there are always the indigent, the destitute, the poor to flock to our doors. There is plenty of obvious work being done and far more than enough to keep every hand and heart busy. But have we even begun to build the new social order that Peter envisioned?"

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Putting it into operation

The purchasing of our house is going smoothly. I've become less interested in The Next Worker and more obsessed with working on the house and working the land. Since the purpose of my blog was to document my transition to a radical life, I wonder if living the agrarian lifestyle (or our best attempt at it) will complete that mission. I will no longer be in a state of flux; I will be a Catholic Worker, a title I would not have given myself up to this point.
The next phase requires not a new blog, but a whole new online identity. This is all still, 4 or more months down the road but our new goal (my husband's and mine) is to have a website devoted to the homestead, yet unnamed, and document our agrarian Worker lifestyle. Day mentioned many times the young families with 'a toehold on the land' who were eking out an existence. Some failed, some succeeded and their voices would be so valuable to us now. Thankfully, many new families are heading back to the land in one way or another and there are plenty of resources and people to talk to. Technology has brought the radicals together in an international online arena where stories can be shared, debated and left to inspire others.
Of course, the obvious difference between our website and other homesteaders wold be the emphasis on the Catholic Worker mission; the vision of Maurin and Day, and utter reliance not only on ourselves but the Church. It is our goal to live on the land, as Day envisioned and prove such a thing is possible for the modern family. Hopefully, we'll even benefit from it. Maybe someone else will too. So stay tuned for more developments. Blogging will be light as I read every book from my local library on chickens, root cellars and gardening.

Up To Catholics

1. Ralph Adams Cram says:
What I propose
is that Catholics
should take up
this back-to-the-land problem
and put it into operation.

2. Why Catholics?
Because they realize
more clearly than any others
the shortcomings
of the old capitalist
industrial system.

3. They, better than others,
see the threat
that impends.

4. They alone understand
that while the family
is the primary social unit,
the community comes next.

5. And there is
no sound
and righteous
and enduring community
where all its members
are not substantially
of one mind.

-Peter Maurin, Easy Essay

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Community Conference

"Last month there was a meeting of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities (Regional Branch) at Pendle Hill, Pennsylvania, at which Robert Steed and I were present. The other groups represented were the Glen Gardner Community, made up of Catholics and non-Catholics, the Society of Brothers, Hidden Spring, Gould Farm, Tanguay Homesteads and Pendle Hill itself, which is a community of study and so a very good place for the conference. The discussions were on sharing within the community, sharing between communities, and the relationship with the state and the "outside" world in general.

Emphasis was placed on the impossibility of any land movement today in the face of growing industrialism and centralization, without community as a way of living. The trouble with all the communities represented was that none of them have time or talent to report or write practical articles on what is going on -- finances, family relationships, relations with the state, so it is good to have these quarterly conferences to keep close contact with each other.
The Community of Brothers at Rifton have a magazine The Plough which can be obtained by writing to them at Rifton, New York. And we will try in succeeding issues to present more material on this movement which would have been dear to Peter Maurin's heart. there is an interesting chapter in Edmond Wilson's To the Finland Station on the growth of communities in the United States which he calls the great nursery for these experiments, from the time that Robert Owen came to America in 1824 and was helped by Horace Greely in the New York Tribune to propagandize his movement, which resulted in forty groups going out to build what they called phalansteries (including Brook Farm in its second aspect). Katherine Burton has written a very good book on Brook Farm, Paradise Planters, which can be obtained at any library.

The hardships of many of these early communities is dealt with in Part II, chapter 4 of Wilson's book, which is the briefest account available. Calverton and Morris Hillquit have also written books on the community movement in the United States.

The foundation of the Community of Brothers is a religious one and Tom Potts who represented them at the conference emphasized their basic desire for a church community rather than a community of families. But the fact remains that it is just as a community of families that their work in South America, England and the United States is so impressive. Recently they have united with one of the Hutterite communities in North Dakota, so there is constant emphasis on the dynamic quality of their witness. They have not only a deep religious sense, an emphasis on the importance of the interior life, but also an acceptance of voluntary poverty, hard work, discipline, a practical working out of that scene at the last supper, where Christ in washing the feet of his disciples, told them that as He had done, so were they to do likewise. I would love to see a community of Catholic families established near them, in either New York or North Dakota, so that they might learn from them some of these profound truths. The nearest beginning we have ever had to a community of families was at Upton, Massachusetts, where four families lived on St. Benedict's farm, and although the men worked individually and supported their families, there was community of land, and a great sharing in many ways with each other. This community has divided up the land, however, and now they are a community of neighbors. The same has happened at the Detroit farm at South Lyons, Michigan, and at the Holy Family Farm at Rhineland, Missouri. There have been many attempts at farming communes, beginning with Maryfarm at Easton, Pennsylvania, and spreading over the country, but there has been nothing we can point to as success. We can only say that we have lived, we have suffered, people have married, brought forth children and somehow have managed to keep going. But the suffering of it all is what stands out the most and with faith we may conclude that this dunging the ground, this ploughing the field, will eventually bring forth fruit. The vision of community is not yet clear, there are not yet those in The Catholic Worker movement who have the vision, or the time, the skill, the ability to work it out. Or even the spiritual foundation.

In the face of war and taxes, however, it still seems to me the only practical and workable method of getting away from the cities and to the land. The ever changing editorial staff of the Catholic Worker has had its hands too full with Houses of Hospitality and the issuing of the paper, meeting head on with the sufferings and anguish of the present day, to be able clearly to work out this aspect of the program of Peter Maurin. And it is true that faith in it has been lacking, the vision obscure. Given the people to carry it out, we are sure that God would send the means, as He always has to houses of hospitality. The fact remains that we have never been able to take the funds sent for the poor, to establish families on the land. What farms still remain are given to caring for the poor so that they too have become hospices on the land. Our farm at Pleasant Plains, Staten island, is a farm only, because Father Duffy, and now John Filliger concentrates on that aspect of it. The vision there is to raise as much as possible for the soup line in New York, besides providing those who live there with fresh vegetables and wholesome labor and to have days of recollection monthly and summer conferences and retreats.

The Glen Gardner community is built around an industry, a printing press, and though they have gardens and a cow, it cannot be said to be a farm. The Rifton community is materially building itself up around a toy industry, a factory where many of the men and women work in making blocks and other constructive and durable toys for children. What with an office force and salesmen who are also missionaries on the road, there is plenty of employment. Their difficulty is lack of housing. But there are already around 150 people there, with well-run kitchen, bakery, schoolroom, laundry, nursery, and so on. It is a joy to visit the place.

There was a good deal of talk at the conference about means of livelihood, from the raising of peanuts to the making of overalls and all the work that could be done between communities. But the conclusion that I reached after a day and a half of sessions was that we must deepen our own interior life and pray for understanding and that the dear Lord would send laborers into His harvest so that this work can grow.

The conference took place between blizzards on Friday and Sunday, though the proper promise of spring was before our eyes, with the children of Pendle Hill tapping the sugar maples for syrup."

"Community Conference"
By Dorothy Day

The Catholic Worker
, April 1956, 6.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tradition; Past, Present and Future

This weekend I'm going to be here . Although, I've never been to the official Oktoberfest, this festival in my hometown is probably the closest I'll come to Munich in the near future. What I like about it is how family friendly the atmosphere is. Most Oktoberfests in the U.S. (or any ethnic festival where alcohol is served) can quickly become overrun with drunken people just out for a good time. At the Liederkranz festival, the focus is on the culture and the people. And the beer, while enjoyable, is in its proper place. The German influence is still strong in Lancaster, and those accompanying traditions and customs are passed down. There is no shortage of children in braids and liederhosen at this Oktoberfest.
When I picture the ideal Catholic community I want to raise my family in, I think not only of self-sufficiency, families lending one another a hand and communal prayer; I think of traditions and culture. I think of a time when all small villages had their own identity, clothing, customs, food and local dialect. Was it so long ago when acceptance was sought amongst your neighbors instead of comparing your lifestyle to those in the entertainment industry? The Jones' next door don't matter so much anymore as the Catherine Zeta-Jones'.
Most media outlets would lead you to believe the only two cities in the world worth inhabiting are NYC and LA. If you live anywhere else, you need to move, and the media tries its darndest to prove anyone 20 miles outside a city is an ignorant country hick. You need the fashions from the East Coast and the gossip from the West for a meaningful existence. If you absorbed all the media had to tell you about your hometown, whether they'd been there or not, you'd likely run screaming to the city.
We've stripped ourselves of any distinct cultural identity in an effort to assimilate into a mass-marketed culture devoid of any meaning or history. America is the great melting pot, but does that mean we can only display our Irish heritage in March and our German in September? And when is the last time you saw anyone publicly take pride in being an American? September 12, 2001? We take more pride in being "unique" and "an individual unencumbered by traditional values." We don't want to be linked to anything or anyone because "we think for ourselves." It's as if celebrating anything besides Gay Pride is offensive anymore.
Certainly, we can't live an exclusionary existence, totally removed from mainstream society. But we shouldn't allow all that is beautiful, innocent and unique to be discarded for a cheap, sexualized, generic society as a means to gain acceptance and approval.
If a tween today told her friends, "Sorry I can't go bump and grind with total strangers at the local teen club with you guys this weekend because I have to perform at the Liederkranz;" what would their response be? If even a twenty-something said he was going to the festival because he enjoys the schuplatller and not the beer, would the response be any different?
Tradition is not cool in today's society, and maybe it never is to teenagers, but mature adults should not be so quick to accept modern customs. They are as meaningful to pass on as an STD. The acceptance of true traditions are not forced down a persons, or populations, throats. They are loved, cherished and passed on carefully so as to maintain the crucial link to the past and the memory of those gone before. Children may reject them at some point, but in maturity turn to them in comfort and embrace them joyfully. I do believe the Amish and many Mennonites exhibit these characteristics.
A community where children are formed with solid Catholic teachings, traditions and local customs is where I want to settle; living in the world, but not of it. Where my children can enjoy the benefits of living in a free country and all it's abundance but not be corrupted by it. Where a small town life still exists, neighbors still look out for one another and everyone attends the local firehouse ham dinner, Memorial Day observance and parades joyfully through the streets behind the Blessed Sacrament.

A New Home At Last?

Your prayers please as we prepare to sign another sales contract. We're excited about this house and we don't anticipate the same problems we faced before. It should be smooth sailing but a couple hollers to St. Joseph couldn't hurt. Many thanks in advance.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Price to Pay for Such Beauty

"Within a radius of a mile, there are four or five farms for rent either for five or ten dollars a month. The houses can be lived in, and if one owned them (the price range is from two to three thousand), repairs could be done little by little. The ground is good bottomland. There are streams for fishing, and there is hunting. There are pines and black walnut and locust on the gentle hills, and there is pulpwood to be cut for selling and plenty of wood for the fires in winter. Taxes are low, and there are no gas or electric bills. But, and here is the rub, the nearest town, of 1,500 inhabitants, is twelve miles away with its church and schools and hospital. The larger towns of Martinsburgh and Winchester are each about thirty miles away. But it's surprising how much company one has, how neighborly people are. And the joy for the children in such surroundings! But there is a price to pay for all this beauty, and that price a willingness to accept the poverty of the people on the land. Old houses, oil lamps, wood heat, water to be carried in pails, the tattletale gray of clothes so washed, and the quiet, the solitude of life with neither radio, newspaper, nor telephone, . . . where the daily mail becomes the event of the day.

People are more afraid of such a life than they are of the atom bomb! And so Peter talked of agronomic universities, farming communes, so that people could go in groups, and in groups hold each other up. Man is not made to live alone; he is a social being. So where there is a crowd, they flock together. Peter used to say, "They are not communitarian; they are gregarious."

Let us hope that Maryfarm at Newburgh will give a taste for the simplicity of life on the land and the courage to face it, and that other Maryfarms throughout the country will be performing the same function. A place to make retreats, to learn to meditate, to think in the heart, "to be quiet and see that I am God," a place to learn to work, and a place to go from, as apostles, and make a life for the family."

On Pilgrimage,
July - August
By Dorothy Day

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Blog Worth Reading

Please check out the newest blog addition, Take the Poor With You. Someone else is seeking to strike a balance between service to others and service to her family. Sacrifice is not always a black and white issue. Check out Tienne's unique perspective.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Where it is easy to be good

After a wonderful baptism yesterday, conversations with some of my friends turned to moving from Jersey. My husband and I are not the only ones considering an escape to the country and I'm not always sure in these conversations who is trying to convince who to move where. But I have one close friend my husband and I are always talking to who can't seem to grasp the concept. I mentioned to him about maybe fleeing to Kansas and would he join us and he made the comment that he didn't want to leave behind his good salary and his 12 weeks of vacation. (He's a public school teacher.) I said, (to paraphrase because I'm probably remembering myself as being more articulate than I was), "If you would sell your home here, you could buy a small home outright in Kansas and have no mortgage. And if you live where costs and taxes and lower and you grow or raise the majority of your own food, you don't need that salary. Imagine covering expenses by just being a substitute teacher." He had his concerns about the hard work of farming but I told him I'd rather work for myself and provide for my family than spend hours slaving away for someone else. Besides, ideally in a community we'd all help each other. I also made the point that living in Jersey can be a hindrance to a deep spiritual life because the effort (and stress) spent earning money to pay for the taxes, housing, and over priced necessities takes away from time we could be spending with our families or in prayer. In addition, we're surrounded by an overwhelming amount of worldly distractions; malls, shopping centers, designer cars, McMansions, etc. It's easier to do good and to be good in an area with less distractions. It's amazing what you learn to live without, what you learn you never needed to begin with, when it's not a quick drive from your house.
He did pause in thought for a moment or so, but I don't think I completely converted him this time. It's not about who's right or wrong, it's just trying to get people to think in new ways about how to live, one conversation at a time.
"A philosophy of work is essential if we would be whole men, holy men, healthy men, joyous men. A certain amount of goods is necessary for a man to lead a good life, and we have to make that kind of society where it is easier for men to be good. [snip]
A philosophy of work and a philosophy of poverty are necessary if we would share with all men what we have, if we would each try to be the least, if we would wash the feet of our brothers."
"On Pilgrimage - May 1948"
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, May 1948.