1993 Feb – Review of R Cleaver’s CW Positions book
Richard Cleaver’s 1982 C.W.er Positions and Essays Revisited
by Fr. Frank Cordaro
I remember well the reasons Richard Cleaver took up the task of revisiting the Catholic Worker positions back in 1981 at the Des Moines Catholic Worker. An increasing number of new young people were coming into contact with the Catholic Worker movement in Des Moines. President Jimmy Carter had just reinstated the registration for the draft. The Des Moines Catholic Worker community was taking a very strong and public stand against the revived draft registration. Young people were showing up at our door wanting to know more about the Catholic Worker.
They were attracted by our houses direct work with the poor, our communal, seemingly ‘free’ and ‘bohemian’ lifestyle and our communities strong public stands against US militarism. Many came to live and work at the Des Moines Catholic Worker with little or no knowledge of the rich Spiritual tradition and philosophical underpinning upon which the Catholic Worker movement was built.
Richard, responding to a real need back in 1981, took upon himself the task of revising the Catholic Worker position, updating and expounding upon them, through a five part series of articles that appeared in the via paics, Des Moines Catholic Worker news letter, starting in the Fall of 1981 and running through till the Summer of 1982.
Richard began by reissuing the Catholic Worker positions that were first published in the NY Catholic Worker paper in the 1950’s. These positions were authored by Robert Ludlow, the editor and main strategist for the NY Catholic Worker paper at the time and approved by Dorothy Day. Richard does a re-write of the Ludlow’s positions, updating and expanding upon them. He than writes five separate essays, expanding upon his revised Catholic Worker positions as they relate to economics, politics, psychology, social relations and relations to nature.
In the revised positions and expanded essays Richard breaks new ground and takes on some hear before ‘tabooed’ issues within the C.W.er movement. As a ‘gay’ man, Richard clearly calls to question the official Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality. He does so not by going outside of the Catholic Worker tradition, but by taking the central tenets of the tradition and the movement to their logical and lived out conclusions. From a Catholic Workers point of view, Richard declares that any form of persecution and oppression is wrong. The Gospel demands for unconditional love put all the ‘isms’ of the world, be they racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism and classism; outside the discipline of true Christian community. Richard reminds us that it is from the voices and lived experiences of the poor, the oppressed and the persecuted of our time that Christians are to get their worldly bearings. This is no less true of the gay and lesbian community that has suffered so in a society and Church that continues to excluded and persecuted them. In this regard Richard does a great service for the Catholic Worker movement by putting it in a healthy & loving tension with the debased ‘Ways of the World’ and the flawed practice of our Institutional Church.
Perhaps the greatest service Richard’s Catholic Worker positions and essays render is his clearly reasoned and strong endorsement of the Catholic Worker’s central Gospel tenets of unconditional love with its applied personalism and its the strict adherence to non violence. It has been a shear joy for me to reread again these well thought out Positions and Essays.
Richard’s 1993 revised and update version of his 1982 effort is no less important today. The world has seen great geo-political changes take place in the last ten years. The dismantling of the Soviet Union, the so called fall of Communism, the end of the Cold War and the start of the New World Order and has put of for grabs most of our deeply held World Views.
Those of us in the Faith Based Peace and Justice movements in the U.S. are grappling with these new realities and trying to find our niche. Richard brings a clarity of thought and word to the essentials of the Catholic Worker philosophy that makes Gospel sense for the challenges of our time.
Yet, through it all, there is never any doubt in Richards writings that the Gospel truths proclaimed and embrace in the Catholic Worker movement are just as foolish by worldly standards today as they were when Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin first began the Catholic Worker movement back in 1933. For the bottom line for any Catholic Worker today, is the same as it was in its beginnings, as it is for every follower of Christ. Ultimately none of us will be judge on how effect our efforts have been by worldly standards but on how faithfully we come to embraced the deeper radical way of living and spirituality found in the Gospels of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This up dated version of Richard Cleavers 1982 Catholic Worker Positions & Essays is a welcomed guide and reintroduction to the essentials of the Catholic Worker thought and spirit. I highly recommend Richards writings to all those who wish to understand the philosophical ground upon which the Catholic Worker movement was build and how they might be applied in the world we find ourselves in the 1990’s. It is my hope and prayer that Richards C.W.er Positions and Essays get the widest reading within the Catholic Worker movement. To this end I give my full heart support and blessing.
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