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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