2002 Sept 8 – Community -Where the rubber meets the road (Prison Writings)

2002 Sept 8 – Community -Where the rubber meets the road (Prison Writings)


By far the hardest thing about living a Catholic Worker/Resistance way of life is living in community. It’s harder than voluntary poverty, harder than doing the hospitality, and harder than peacemaking and going to jail.

A sin I am prone to commit is to place ideas, concepts, and task over the needs of real people. I can be saving the world and at the same time ignore the hurting person right in front of me. One Friday night when I was on house duty at the Catholic Worker, dinner was served, folks were leaving and we were hurrying about cleaning the kitchen and dining area, getting ready for Mass that evening. It was 6:45 p.m., 15 minutes until we were officially closed. I was not feeling well. I had a lot on my mind. And as many who know me well, I can be a bit obsessive and direct in getting things done, especially cleaning task.

Some guys came to the back door and asked if there was any food left. I quickly said, “Sorry, we are closing down. We serve at 6 p.m. Try to get here on time next time.” Then I went about my manic cleaning way. Some of the volunteers who brought the meal saw what happened and were shocked. These are folks who have been bringing meals to our house for years. There was plenty of food left over. It would have been no problem to make carryout plates for these men.

Nothing was said at the time. Before the volunteers left that night, they went to talk to Carla and Jackie about my behavior. They were so distraught that they were thinking about not returning to the Catholic Worker again.

Carla came to talk to me the next morning about the incident. Upon listening to her account of what happened, I, too, was shocked and mortified by my behavior. If the Des Moines Catholic Worker is anything, we are a place where hungry people are fed. The fact that we were 15 minutes from closing and had plenty of leftover food makes what I did all the more scandalizing. My sin was an “observable, public behavior” which clearly “impacted others.” I was struck to the heart, mortified by my behavior.

The incident was brought up at our community meeting that Sunday night. Others had heard about what happened. An explanation was needed. I publicly apologized for my behavior. And I promised to apologize to the volunteers.. I did not know who the men were who were turned away, so could not apologize to them. Two things were decided at the meeting: 1) I was not to take the Friday night hospitality shift because I am often too distracted with preparing for Mass to do the hospitality well. 2) When hungry people show up at our door and the house is open, we feed them unless we have no food. If the house is closed, the individual community member decides whether to feed them or not.

Living in community is by far the hardest thing I’m looking forward to doing when I return to Des Moines. It is also the best thing I can do to keep myself honest, true, and humble. It takes a lot of trust to put yourself in the hands of others, who can, and will, call you to accountability. What makes all the difference in the world is that I know the people I am living with really love me and want the best for me.

Without love, there is no trust. Without trust, there is no community. Without community, I’m just one more arrogant, self-consumed individual in this crazy individualistic consumer society gone amok.




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