The Practices of Joy and Hope for a Tired, Old CW’er
By Frank Cordaro, Des Moines Catholic Worker
( for St Louis MO CW News Letter )
I remember reading somewhere that towards the end of her life Dorothy Day felt that the health and wellbeing of the planet was worse than when she started the CW movement, in 1933. Dorothy saw that the wars were bigger and more deadly, the number of people living in poverty and in oppression were far greater, the gap between the rich and the poor was wider and the overall health of the life forces of the planet were greatly diminished. What I cannot remember was what Dorothy’s response was to this otherwise bleak assessment of the human – planetary condition after 50 years of her struggle for justice and her service to the poor.
After 30 years of my own investment in the Catholic Worker movement, I find myself considering and reconsidering my own response to that same bleak assessment.
When I joined the CW movement, I was 24 years old. Filled with the Holy Spirit and the energy and spunk of youth, I was ready to take on the world with a crusaders vigor. In those days, joy and hope came easily to me. I embraced the voluntary poverty, communal life and the pacifist, nonviolent, resistance ways of the CW movement with a convert’s zeal. No doubt about it, God’s saving ways were working through me, as was my very large ego. I was very much filled with myself.
Through the years, life has taken its toll on my youthful spirit and outrageous ego. Carrying the scars of communal living, falling in and out of love, becoming a priest on the rebound, fighting the good fight with both the world and the Church, suffering a life-threatening heart attack and resigning priestly life, after 18 years, has taken its toll on my spirit. I now find myself literally in the same place I was when we first started the DMCW back in 1976.
Our newest Catholic Worker House in Des Moines is the Phil Berrigan House. It was the original Catholic Worker House in which we started our community. A couple of years ago, we bought it back from a Mexican family we gave it to 15 years ago, I am currently living in the same bed room that Joe DaVia and I shared when we first opened our house.
Over the last 30 years a lot of good things have happened to and for me. And, I have had my share of heartaches and failures. I have no doubt that the Catholic Worker path I embraced over 30 years ago is the path God wanted me to travel. And mercifully, my outrageous youthful ego has greatly diminished and is much more manageable.
Recently I have recognized a more cynical and negative spirit in my every day life, a dark spirit that did not exist when I first embraced the CWer movement. However, none of my core values or beliefs have changed; at its core, Christianity is a very hopeful and positive Faith tradition. Yet, in my everyday life a dark spirit had taken hold. I suspect it reflects a measure of what we call “Burn Out”.
I didn’t really know how cynical and negative I had become until it was pointed out to me by my friend Elaine, the love in my life. Elaine is one of those people in the world who is a natural healer and light bearer. She left organized religions long ago and has embrace the truth found in all traditions. She has a bed rock optimism about the future of the planet and the human race. It’s not a Pollyanna optimism. Her positive spirit and outlook is akin to the joy and hope that we Christians claim from the Cross.
The first thing she did for me was to give me two cats. As a child, I used to threaten to torture cats! She thought they would be a good vehicle to get me in touch with my own heart. I named them Daniel and Philip. Next, she challenged me to start practicing in my daily life, the joy and hope I claimed in my Christian beliefs. I have taken her challenge to heart.
For us Catholic Workers, the practices of joy and hope are found in the way we do the works of mercy. We call it Hospitality. It is a mystical dynamic in which we believe we are the host to the Christs in our midst. We Christians call ourselves God’s Kingdom’s people, who’s realm is claimed, not in the bleak big picture realities of the human and global situation but in the mustard seed personal acts of love and forgiveness that take place from one person to the next.
These days I am making a conscious effort to live in the now. And when I am on duty at Dingman House, I am paying more attention to our guests than to the endless tasks and worries that come with operating a hospitality house. In the process, I am rediscovering the joys and hopes of that comes with doing the works of mercy