As the HQ of the London Catholic Worker movement is just a stone’s throw from my North London terrace house, and in fact is a terrace house just like mine, I had no excuse for not meeting them. They are one of the most inspiring and extraordinary sets of people I have been privileged to meet. But don’t get me wrong – they are not saints – far from it. When a lot of strong personalities share a cramped property and try to live communally it can be like a tumbler drier full of hand grenades! Things can get said and done that are later regretted. There are unhealable divisions and people leave with feelings of bitterness. Not everyone in the house feels appreciated. Then there are the freeloaders, the dreamers, the betrayers, the manipulators….(I don’t think I’ll get invited back if they read this!!)
Pretty much like the 12 apostles I should imagine. It’s hard work for very little reward.
But the homeless destitute immigrants they put up in the old church hall next door surely appreciate the hot meal they come home to every day, and the mattress on the floor.
Since I started Zingcreed 18 months ago I have written several Posts describing their work (See list at end)
The Catholic Worker movement was founded in the USA by Dorothy Day (i) and Peter Maurin. They care for the homeless both in towns all over the place as well as on the farms they have got in rural areas. They don’t get much interference from the Catholic hierarchy, and they frequently protest in London town outside the Ministry of Defence and the US embassy (and get arrested for their pains, as they have no money and can’t pay their fines they sometimes end up in prison).
All because they are followers of Jesus….
THE AIMS AND MEANS OF THE CATHOLIC WORKER
The aim of the Catholic Worker movement is to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ. Our sources are the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures as handed down in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, with our inspiration coming from the lives of the saints, “men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses to Your unchanging love.” (Eucharistic prayer)
This aim requires us to begin living in a different way. We recall the words of our founders, Dorothy Day, who said “God meant things to be much easier than we have made them,” and Peter Maurin, who wanted to build a society “where it is easier for people to be good.”
When we examine our society, which is generally called capitalist (because of its methods of producing and controlling wealth) and bourgeois (because of prevailing concerns for acquisition and material interests, and its emphasis on respectability and mediocrity), we find it far from God’s justice.
-In economics, private and state capitalism bring about an unjust distribution of wealth, for the profit motive guides decisions. Those in power live off the sweat of others’ brows, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work. Usury (the charging of interest above administrative costs) is a major contributor to the wrongdoing intrinsic to this system. We note, especially, how the world debt system leads poor countries into greater deprivation and a dependency from which there is no foreseeable escape. Here at home, the number of hungry, homeless and unemployed people rises in the midst of increasing affluence.
-In labour, human need is no longer the reason for human work. Instead, the unbridled expansion of technology, necessary to capitalism and viewed as “progress” holds sway. Jobs are concentrated in productivity and administration for a “high tech” , war-related, consumer society of disposable goods, so that labourers are trapped in work that does not contribute to human welfare. Furthermore, as jobs become more specialized, many people are excluded from meaningful work or are alienated from the products of their labour. Even in farming, agribusiness has replaced agriculture, and, in all areas, moral restraints are run over roughshod, and a disregard for the laws of nature now threatens the very planet.
–In politics, the state functions to control and regulate life. Its power has burgeoned hand-in-hand with growth in technology so that military, scientific and corporate interests get the highest priority when concrete political policies are formulated. Because of the sheer size of institutions, we tend towards government by bureaucracy – that is, government by nobody. Bureaucracy, in all areas of life, is not only impersonal, but also makes accountability, and, therefore, an effective political forum for redressing grievances, next to impossible.
–In morals, relations between people are corrupted by distorted images of the human person. Class, race and gender often determine personal worth and position within society, leading to structures that foster oppression. Capitalism further divides society by pitting owners against workers in perpetual conflict over wealth and its control. Those who do not “produce” are abandoned, and left, at best, to be “processed” through institutions. Spiritual destitution is rampant, manifested in isolation, madness, promiscuity and violence.
–The arms race stands as a clear sign of the direction and spirit of our age. It has extended the domain of destruction and the fear of annihilation, and denies the basic right to life. There is a direct connection between the arms race and destitution. “The arms race is an utterly treacherous trap, and one which injures the poor to an intolerable degree.” (Vatican II)
In contrast to what we see around us, as well as within ourselves, stands St Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of the Common Good, a vision of a society where the good of each member is bound to the good of the whole in the service to God.
To this end we advocate:
–Personalism, a philosophy which regards the freedom and dignity of each person as the basis, focus and goal of all metaphysics and morals. in following such wisdom, we move away from a self-centred individualism toward the good of the other. This is to be done by taking personal responsibility for changing conditions, rather than looking to the state or other institutions to provide “charity”. We pray for a church renewed by this philosophy and for a time when all those who feel excluded from participation are welcomed with love, drawn by the gentle personalism Peter Maurin taught.
–A decentralized society, in contrast to the present bigness of government, industry, education, health care and agriculture. we encourage efforts such as family farms, rural and urban land trusts, worker ownership and management of small factories, homesteading projects, food, housing and other co-operatives – any effort in which money can once more become merely a medium of exchange, and human beings are no longer commodities.
–A green revolution, so that it is possible to rediscover the proper meaning of our labour and our true bonds with the land; a distributist communitarianism, self-sufficient through farming, crafting and appropriate technology; a radical new society, where people will rely on the fruits of their own toil and labour; associations of mutuality, and a sense of fairness to resolve conflicts.
We believe this needed personal and social transformation should be pursued by means Jesus revealed in His sacrificial love. With Christ as our Exemplar, by prayer and communion with His Body and Blood, we strive for practices of :
–Nonviolence. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matt 5:9) Only through non-violent action can a personalist revolution come about, one in which one evil will not simply be replaced by another. Thus, we oppose the deliberate taking of human life for any reason, and see every oppression as blasphemy. Jesus taught us to take suffering upon ourselves rather than inflict it upon others, and He calls us to struggle against violence with the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting and non-cooperation with evil. Refusal to pay taxes for war, to register for conscription, to comply with any unjust legislation; participation in nonviolent strikes and boycotts, protests or vigils; withdrawal of support for dominant systems, corporate funding or usurious practices are all excellent means to establish peace.
–The Works of Mercy (as found in Matt 25:31-46) are at the heart of the gospel, and they are clear mandates for our response to “the least of our brothers and sisters.” Houses of hospitality are centres for learning to do the acts of love, so that the poor can receive what is, in justice, theirs; the second coat in our closet, the spare room in our home, a place at our table. Anything beyond what we immediately need belongs to those who go without.
–Manual labour , in a society that rejects it as undignified and inferior. “Besides inducing cooperation, besides overcoming barriers and establishing the spirit of sister and brotherhood (besides just getting things done), manual labour enables us to use our bodies, as well as our hands, our minds.” (Dorothy Day) The Benedictine motto Ora et labora reminds us that the work of human hands is a gift for the edification of the world and the glory of God.
–Voluntary poverty. “The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge and belief in love.” (Dorothy Day) By embracing voluntary poverty, that is, by casting our lot freely with those whose impoverishment is not a choice, we would ask for the grace to abandon ourselves to the love of God. It would put us on the path to incarnate the Church’s preferential option for the poor.
We must be prepared to accept seeming failure with these aims, for sacrifice and suffering are part of the Christian life. Success, as the world determines it, is not the final criterion for judgement . The most important thing is the love of Jesus Christ and how to live His truth.
The Catholic Worker (US) May 2011 p.3
(i) Day, Dorothy “Selected writings” DLT (1983)
Here is a quote from the Summer 2014 (no. 43) issue of The London Catholic Worker which shows how the above is being put into practice:
“We are a part of the radical Christian pacifist Catholic Worker movement started in 1933 in New York by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. There are now over 150 houses and communities in the US and in other countries. More information is available on the US based website http://www.catholicworker.com. Better still, come and visit us in our house of hospitality, Giuseppe Conlon House in North London.
Catholic Worker houses are independent financially. There are no headquarters, nor is there a central organization. In London we are a network not an organization.
Between Giuseppe Conlon House and the Catholic Worker farm we now run three houses of hospitality for thirty five destitute refugees who are not allowed to work or receive social security benefits. They are among the most disenfranchised of our society. In collaboration with 2 local churches we also run a soup kitchen in Hackney.
We are not paid for this work: it is a gift of the heart. We receive nothing from the government. For reasons, including that of our political witness, we are not a registered charity.
We continue to rely on our supporters’ and readers’ donations to pay our rent, bills and other costs…Please give generously to support our work with the crucified of today’s world.”
Related Zingcreed Posts:
Now that’s what I call practical Christianity # 1: Shannon
Now that’s what I call practical Christianity # 3: Homeless
Now that’s what I call practical Christianity # 11: Jailed priest
Now that’s what I call practical Christianity # 19: Ciaron O’Reilly and the whistle-blowers
[294 linked & indexed, t&c]