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Home arrow Blog arrow October 2008 arrow October 13, 2008

October 13, 2008
WAWA Blog October 13, 2008: "It is about time to blow the lid off"

If I had to choose to pursue only one passion in life,

It would be to bring in the kingdom of God.

And the kingdom of God comes from above and it comes from within.

The kingdom of God is a kingdom of justice ruled by love.

The kingdom of God has always been envisioned by Christian Anarchists.


Dorothy Day 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." [1]

 
A Peter Maurin Easy Essay on money from the 1930's:

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 that unions and organizations, and strikes for higher wages and shorter hours were going to be the solution to what society suffered.

 

"Strikes don't strike me," he used to say, but he did work picket lines and 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 [2] 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 babarians
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.


If the Church
is not today
the dominant social dynamic force,
it is because Catholic scholars
have failed to blow the dynamite
of the Church.


Catholic scholars
have taken the dynamite
of the Church,
have wrapped it up
in nice phraseology,
placed it in an hermitic container
and sat on the lid.


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


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

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

 
 
 
 


   
 
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