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Home arrow Blog arrow August 2009 arrow August 23, 2009

August 23, 2009
August 23, 2009: I hear 'dead' people talking...

"Where there is no love, put love and you will find love."-
St. John of the Cross

"And, in the end, the love you take; is equal to the love you make." -The End by The Beatles


Physical work is hard. Mental work is harder. Spiritual work is the hardest of all for it is a solitary suffering that requires an endurance that can only be fueled by a burning love for God and God is within All.  


Dorothy Day lived a diverse 83 years that culminated in 1980. She spent her youth amongst anarchists, communists and bohemians, in bars, on picket lines, in jail cells and through many unhappy love affairs. She ended life with a mile high FBI file and a paper trail that testifies that what she wrote, she believed, she did and lived.

When Dorothy Day was a child she dreamed of writing "such books that thousands upon thousands of readers would be convinced of the injustice of things as they were."

She accomplished that and in the end; much more.

As an unwed mother she shocked her progressive friends when she entered the Roman Catholic Church, and from the inside, she began to critique it. She called herself a journalist, but she was also a spiritual writer and a St. Francis of Assisi-a lone prophetic voice of wisdom that challenged church-and state-and illuminated their corruption of the gospel/good news that Jesus said was non-negotiable for his follower's; to be NONVIOLENT, to forgive in order to be forgiven and to love even those who do not love back.


In a 1994 issue of The Progressive, Erwin Knoll reported "the day after the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor [was] a day when even the most committed pacifist might have been forgiven for maintaining a discreet silence…There was nothing discreet about Dorothy Day."[1]


On the Sunday after Pearl Harbor, Day spoke out, "There is now all this patriotic indignation about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Japanese expansionism in Asia. Yet not a word about American and European colonialism in this same area. We, the British, the French, and others set up spheres of influence…control national states-against the expressed will of these states-and represent imperialism…We dictate to [all] …to where they can expand economically and politically, and we declare what policy they must observe. From our nationalistic and imperialistic point of view, we have every right to concentrate American military forces [Everywhere we chose]…But I waste rhetoric on international politics-the breeding grounds of war over the centuries. The balance of power and other empty slogans inspired by a false and flamboyant nationalism have bred conflict throughout 'civilized' history.


"And it has become too late in human history to tolerate wars which none can win. Nor dare we quibble about just wars…All wars are, by their very nature, evil and destructive. It has become too late for civilized people to accept this evil. We must take a stand. We must renounce war as an instrument of policy…Evil enough when the finest of our youth perish in conflict and even the causes of these conflicts were soon lost to memory. Even more horrible today when cities go up in flames and brilliant scientific minds are searching out ultimate weapons.

"War must cease. There are no victories. The world can bear the burden no longer. Yes, we must make a stand. Even as I speak to you, I may be guilty of what some men call treason. But we must reject war: Yes, we must now make a stand. War is murder, rape, ruin, death; war can end our civilization. I tell you that within a decade we will have weapons capable of ending this world as we have known it." [IBID]

In the pages of the all volunteer The Catholic Worker, which Dorothy Day founded, she advocated nonpayment of federal income tax as a protest against war and nuclear weapons. She stood her ground against Big Brother and corporate interests girded by her love for the NONVIOLENT Christ and under conviction that if the gospel that Jesus actually preached was practiced, it would transform the world.


In the 1950's an IRS employee asked Day to estimate her personal income tax for the previous ten years. She quipped, "You estimate my income for the past ten years, and you estimate what I owe. And how about, I won't pay that?"


Not until 1972 did the IRS bring another suit against Day's newspaper and also issued a threat to put it out of business. Dorothy responded:

"One of the most costly protests against war, in terms of long-enduring personal sacrifice, is to refuse to pay federal income taxes which go for war…Wars will cease when we refuse to pay for them…Our lives are open books-our work is obvious…Christ commanded His followers to perform what Christians have come to call the works of Mercy: feeding the hungry…visiting prisoners…And how opposite that is to the works of war which starve people by embargoes, lay waste the land, destroy homes, wipe out populations, mutilate and condemn millions more to confinement…Here in the Western Hemisphere, we went for precision bombing [reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki] we went for obliteration bombing.


"We are on the side of revolution…Jesus said that the worst enemies were those of our own households, and we are all apart of this country, citizens of the United States and we all share in its guilt…We disagree with all political parties dedicated to maintaining the status quo. We don’t think the present system is worth maintaining…something else is necessary, some other vision of society must be held up and worked toward…We must reach our brother…the bridge is love and compassion-the suffering together which goes with love."


Day understood that the higher law is God's law and not man made laws.

She knew that God is love and "Love is not the starving of whole populations. Love is not the bombardment of cities. Love is not killing...Our Manifesto is the Sermon on The Mount, which means we will try to be peacemakers."


From his jail cell in Birmingham, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

"There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

"A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

"An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

"One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."- Letter from Birmingham Jail



"While there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."-Eugene V. Debs

Dorothy Day's muse's included Tolstoy and most especially Peter Maurin, of whom she wrote:

"When I first saw Peter Maurin…he had tried to dress up by wearing a tie and a suit which looked as though he had slept in it. I found out afterward, indeed he had…he was one of those people who talked you deaf, dumb and blind, who each time he saw you began his conversation just where he had left off at the previous meeting, and never stopped unless you begged for rest, and that was not for long. He was irrepressible and he was incapable of taking offense.

"The night I met Peter I had come from an assignment for The Commonweal, covering the Communist-inspired "hunger march" of the unemployed to Washington. I had prayed at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that I might find something to do in the social order besides reporting conditions. I wanted to change them, not just report them, but I had lost faith in revolution, I wanted to love my enemy, whether capitalist or Communist.

"I certainly did not realize at first that I had my answer in Peter Maurin. I was thirty-five years old and I had met plenty of radicals in my time and plenty of crackpots, too; people who had blueprints to change the social order were a dime a dozen around Union Square.

"He had been sent to me, he said, by George Shuster, later president of Hunter College, who at that time was editor of The Commonweal. George thought that we were alike in point of view, both interested in changing the social order and in reaching the masses with the social teaching of the Church.

"I had been a Catholic only about four years, and Peter, having suggested that I get out a paper to reach the man in the street, started right in on my education…I met Peter in December, 1932, and the first issue of The Catholic Worker came out in time for the May Day celebration in Union Square, 1933.

"What Peter Maurin was interested in was the publication of his essays, and my journalistic sense led me to report conditions as they were, to paint a picture of poverty and destitution, homelessness and unemployment, in short, to so arouse the conscience that the reader would be willing and ready to listen to Peter when he talked about things as they should be.

"Peter slept in the back of The Catholic Worker office, and he soon brought in an Armenian anarchist poet and a German agnostic to share his quarters with him and to provide sparring partners for round-table discussions. He never took part in any of the work of the paper, except to turn in each month half a dozen "Easy Essays." [2]

 

In the 1930's Peter Maurin wrote about feeding the poor and starving the bankers, on capitalism and greed, on borders and nationalism and love of God who indwells All; and he usually did it in rhythm and rhyme:


Modern society has made the bank account the standard of values.
When the bank account becomes the standard of values the bank account has the power.
When the bank account has the power the technician has to supervise the making of profits.
When the bank account has the power the politician has to insure law and order in the profit-making system.
When the bank account has the power the educator trains students in the technique of profit making.
When the bank account has the power the clergyman is expected to bless the profit-making system or to join the unemployed.
When the bank account has the power the Sermon on the Mount is declared unpractical.
When the bank account has the power we have an acquisitive, not a functional society.
 
 
Maurin saw what the Industrial Revolution had done to human beings and he had no faith in unions and organizations, or in strikes for higher wages or shorter hours as the solution to fix what society suffered.

"Strikes don't strike me," he used to say, but he did work for hours on picket lines as he distributed-leaflets regarding men and women's dignity and their right to associate themselves with trade unions,  cooperatives, maternity guilds, etc.


Day wrote, "He liked the name "radical" and he had wanted the paper to be called The Catholic Radical. To him, Worker smacked of class war. What he wanted was to instill in all, worker or scholar, a philosophy of poverty and a philosophy of work…he never preached; he taught. While decrying secularism, the separation of the material from the spiritual, his emphasis as a layman, was on our material needs, our need for work, food, clothing and shelter...Though he lived in the city, he urged a return to the village economy, the study of the crafts and of agriculture. He was dealing with this world, in which God has placed us to work for a new heaven and a new earth wherein justice dwelleth." [Ibid]


Before Maurin died in 1949, he was interviewed by the Houston Catholic Worker/HCW  from which I excerpt:

HCW: Am I my brother's keeper?

Peter Maurin: No matter what people's preferences are, we are our brother's keeper.

HCW: What did your father mean when he talked with you about the "shock maxims of the Gospel?"

Peter Maurin: As we walked back and forth to the village our father spoke of the shock maxims of the New Testament. He was talking about the Sermon on the Mount: going the extra mile, having a coat and a cloak and giving one away, loving your neighbor as yourself, turning the other cheek.

HCW: What's wrong with industrial capitalism?

Peter Maurin: It is incompatible with the Christian Gospel because it renders the person subservient to the production of wealth. No economic system which places greater value on the accumulation of wealth than on the dignity of the human person deserves the support of those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and the Pope. It leads to alienation and a loss of a sense of personal participation in community life. With industrial capitalism it is not clear who is responsible for problems that arise.
 
HCW: The Easy Essays seem so simple. Why did you write that way?

Peter Maurin: They are deceptive. My writing is the fruit of much study and prayer. The essays were written to entice people into more profound study regarding the rich Christian tradition and radical ways of living the Gospel.

 
HCW: What did you do when the FBI came to investigate conscientious objection at the Catholic Worker during World War II?

Peter Maurin: FBI agents continually came to check on the sincerity of those who had registered with the Association of Catholic Conscientious Objectors. These agents were courteous and frequently Catholic. They had never heard the morality of war debated from a Catholic point of view. They often stayed to talk; some subscribed to the paper or left money for the bread line.

HCW: What should we do about our borders and immigrants?

Peter Maurin: We call barbarians people living on the other side of the border.

We call civilized people living on this side of the border. We civilized, living on this side of the border, are not ashamed to arm ourselves to the teeth so as to protect ourselves against the barbarians living on the other side.

And when the barbarians born on the other side of the border invade us, we do not hesitate to kill them. So we civilized exterminate barbarians without civilizing them. And we persist in calling ourselves civilized.

HCW: Do you have a blueprint for a farming commune?

Peter Maurin: I don't give blueprints or five-year plans. You must learn by doing. Education is a life process.

HCW: Do you believe in freedom?

Peter Maurin: Freedom is a duty more than a right. Having pure aims and using pure means is making the right use of freedom.

HCW: Why do you always talk about the Works of Mercy?

Peter Maurin: In the first centuries of Christianity pagans said about Christians: "See how they love each other."

The love of God and neighbor was the characteristic of the first Christians. This love was expressed through the daily practice of the Works of Mercy. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to instruct the ignorant at a personal sacrifice was considered by the first Christians as the right thing to do.

We cannot imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to get all we can.

We can only imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to give all we can.

I feel that you have to keep to a personalist approach, which is so much more profound than politics.

Charles Péguy used to say: "There are two things in this world, politics and mysticism."

Politics is just politics and is not worth bothering about and mysticism is mysterious and is worth all our striving.

HCW: What do you think of the present secular and theological world?

Peter Maurin: We have entered into a new Dark Age in a century and culture of death, holocausts and exploitation of poor workers.

To be radically right is to go to the roots by fostering a society based on creed,
systematic unselfishness and gentle personalism.

To foster a society based on creed instead of greed, on systematic unselfishness instead of systematic selfishness, on gentle personalism, instead of rugged individualism, is to create a new society within the shell of the old.

Modern society is in a state of chaos. And what is chaos if not lack of order?

All founders of orders made it their personal business to try to solve the problems of their own day. If religious orders made it their business to try to solve the problems of our own day by creating order out of chaos, the Catholic Church would be the dominant social dynamic force in our day and age.

HCW: How is a personalist different from other people?

Peter Maurin: A personalist is a go-giver, not a go-getter.

He tries to give what he has, and does not try to get what the other fellow has. He tries to be good by doing good to the other fellow. He is altro-centered, not self-centered. He has a social doctrine of the common good.

HCW: What is the most important thing in your economic reform?

Peter Maurin: Peter Kropotkin said: "The economic problem is not an economic problem; it is an ethical problem."

Economic reform must begin with the individual. No effort to build an economic order embodying Catholic teaching can succeed unless Catholics begin to live out their principles in their personal lives.

If I am anxious to build an economic order which cares for the needs of the poor and the needy, I must care for the poor and the needy. If I want to love Jesus, I must love my neighbor, especially my neighbor in need.

HCW: Do you believe in systems?

Peter Maurin: We believe in systematic unselfishness.

HCW: Do you believe each person has a vocation?

Peter Maurin: Each person has a specific purpose in God's plan and has unique gifts to contribute to the community. Before discovering their vocation, people might be envious or jealous of others; they might even wish to be some other person. They might be afraid.

Vocation means to be a friend of God.

HCW: What is the solution to our economic problems?

Peter Maurin: Business men say that because everybody is selfish, business must therefore be based on selfishness.

But when business is based on selfishness everybody is busy becoming more selfish. And when everybody is busy becoming more selfish, we have classes and clashes.

Business cannot set its house in order because business men are moved by selfish motives;

Business men create problems they do not solve them.

When the bank account is the standard of values the class on the top sets the standard.
When the class on the top does not care for culture, nobody cares for culture. And when nobody cares for culture civilization decays.

When class distinction is not based on the sense of nobless oblige, it becomes clothes distinction. When class distinction has become clothes distinction everybody tries to put up a front.

The world would be better off if people tried to become better,

And people would become better if they stopped trying to be better off.

For when everyone tries to become better off nobody is better off.

But when everyone tries to become better everyone is better off.

Everybody would be rich if nobody tried to become richer.

And nobody would be poor if everybody tried to be the poorest

And everybody would be what he ought to be if everybody tried to be what he wants the other fellow to be.

A radical writer says: "Rome will have to do more than to play a waiting game; she will have to use some of the dynamite inherent in her message."


To blow the dynamite of a message is the only way to make the message dynamic.

It is about time to blow the lid off. - Peter Maurin



I am no theologian, but I have concluded that the ONLY 'sins' are selfishness and being boring. Dorothy Day and Peter were never either!


1. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1295/is_n4_v58/ai_14951440/pg_1

2. http://www.catholicworker.com/cwo003.htm


3. http://www.cjd.org/paper/interv.html




 
   
 
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The Paradoxical Commandments
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Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
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If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
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The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
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