Jan 1977 v.p. A Midrash of Worker Positions part 2 p. 1,3-10
A Midrash of the Catholic Worker Positions, Part 2
Via Pacis Vol. 1 #3 – Jan 1977
By Frank Cordaro
The Catholic Worker’s critique of our society is not significantly different from other altruistic humanist, existential, socialist, libertarian critiques. Many of the proposed Catholic Worker criticism of our unjust society are mirrored in varying degrees by other critical voices.
What is unique about the Catholic Worker is that for over 40 years, a group of people, each acting on their own authority are saying, “Enough! Faceless social sin ends with me.” Each Catholic Worker takes personal responsibility for the social ills in which they live. This taking of personal responsibility sets the Catholic Workers apart, not in another world, a utopia, but puts them in the very midst and heart of the faceless and impersonal “city of man” that they are critiquing from the bottom up. The Catholic Worker reaches out to those most bruised, cut, shouted out and hidden in our midst.
Our reaching out to others person to person is not a mute isolated act but a proclamation of Gospel’s Good News, liberating news, news that is hard to articulate in flesh, yet the news that is not our own but is the news Kingdom of God announced by Jesus. The difference between other critiques of the Capitalist system and the Catholic Worker is not in the critique, but in where we find our answers and solutions. The Catholic Worker movement is at heart, a spiritual soulful movement. This “soul” is in the Hebraic sense, as an embodied spirit grounded in a this-worldly situation. It is from this perspective that we should study the Catholic Worker positions, as printed on the cover of this newsletter.
“Rejection of the present social order”
So clear, cut and dried. What does it mean? In light of the Catholic Worker’s critique, rejection of the present social order, a social order that continues to affirm and support an illegitimate status-quo, a social order which has covertly oppressed any threat to the status quo, and will continue to do so, must be completely and totally rejected. The law of the land, law enforcement, the political structure, the church institutions and even the very school systems that ingrain conformity, all institutions and organizations that feed into stabilizing our present political socio-economic system must be rejected and called to task.
A non-violent revolution; in as much as the present social order must be 5rejected, it cannot be done violently. Non-violent means are the only real threat to a violent status-quo. Violent means are the easy and faceless means of confronting the social order. A violent response to our present social order is no response at all, but rather a Pavlovian response to a faceless stimulus. Violent means of rejecting the present social order provide no rejection. One group or ideology may win or lose, but nothing will change.
By direct action since political means have failed: we are so dependent and frightened of freedom that we profess communion with a political system that is incapable of fellowship. That system demands only allegiance in return for the claim of shelter from freedom’s responsibility.
The Catholic Worker professes what the gospel of St. John so artfully conveys in the dramatic trial sequence. Jesus the person stands before Pilate the state. Pilate so desperately trying to get a handle on Jesus. He asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus speaks of a kingship, but not one of Pilate’s making. Jesus talks of truth and how he is the wetness of truth – how Jesus the person is truth. But Pilate and the state ask the most pitiful of all questions: “What is truth?”
The sadness of that question has spilled out in every generation since. When standing face to face, person to person with truth, the state will always be indecisive and its indecisiveness will destroy truth – destroy persons. The Catholic Worker calls for direct action, but not the action of the state.
Personalism: Now 40 years have passed in a movement that has never appealed to the masses. Yet, this movement continues to speak and live this simple ideal, not away from the “City of Man” in some sort of sectarian seclusion, but right in the very heart of man’s brokenness. It stands with society’s most shattered human beings and in the midst of all its complexities has made its message authentic.
A truly just society for the individual and the collective must be a personal society carried through consistently in its economic, its social, its spiritual, and its political realms. If structures are too big, if problems are too complex for individuals to decide for themselves, if individuals must relinquish their responsibilities to faceless others in matters that concern their very livelihoods and the livelihoods of other brothers and sisters no matter how far away, then that society is too big and must be broken down. Personalism calls for the person in all of his or her wholeness to take direct action to change society to the extent that they are able to do so: no more and no less and leave the rest to God.
Houses of hospitality; one doesn’t start reorienting society by finding all “like individuals” and then banding together to find a new promised land. A true revolution creates “the new in the shell of the old.”
What better accountability to one’s self than being available to the “least in our midst” in houses of hospitality – centers where the rich and the poor come together. The poor come because they have to, the rich because they must and both come naked – no state requirement, no paying salary, no prescribed degrees or professional position to separate person from persons. This is a true university setting where the students learn more about themselves than they do about others. Houses of hospitality in all shapes and sizes across the whole country serve the needs of the least in what ever form and capacity that a local group comes to enflesh.
What anyone possesses beyond basic needs does not belong to them but rather to the poor who are without it; We have no right to live affluently while others starve. A society that allows for an over-consumption of food and resources by individuals and yet those individuals can do nothing to make available to the poor on a personal level what they have above their basic needs is evil and impersonal and must be broken down. Those individuals who sense this injustice along with their own powerlessness and are waiting for the system to heal itself (Republicans) or to apply a new program (democrats) are “blind men leading other blind men.” If you are not a bearer of the Good News to the poor, you are not a bearer of the Good News.
Withdrawal from the capitalist system; what other alternative is there? Our quasi-capitalist, massive centralist economic system is completely incapable of responding in a human manner regardless of anyone’s sincere intentions. We are called to disassociate ourselves from this economic system to the extent that we can and move towards a new.
A distributist economu . . . decentralized economy . . . federationist in character; the intended direction is clear but incarnating this economy is in no way a simple matter. It truly calls for all the tools available to modern man – mind, body spirit, technology.
This is not a decentralized economy of the past but an actual intended decentralized economy for survival in the future. Economists, such as E.F. Schumacker in his book Small is Beautiful, help to point out the direction that we must go. All types of alternative economic systems have been rooting across our country in the past few years. At the 1976 People’s Food Conference in Ames, one of the final statements proposed that if it were a priority, every country could feed its own. The Catholic Worker’s economic reform is merely re-asserting what many others have already recognized and are applying in a Christ-like answer: “Wherever genuine human society has since developed, it has always been on this same basis of functional autonomy, mutual recognition and mutual responsibility, whether individual or collective.” – Martin Buber, Paths of Utopia.
A vocation to the land; we have surely lost our sense of integration to mother earth. It seems that the lack of control over our own personhood and our complete dependence on impersonal institutions and organizations is directly related to our distance from the land. Peter Maurin used to say “You grow what you eat and you eat what you grow.” Control is a constituent part of any real just society. We have sold our souls to “bigness.” “The City of Man” now reaches across the whole land. Musch is implied in a vocation to the land. In a truly decentralized regional economy, all will embrace again the holiness of Mother Earth’s wisdom. This wisdom leads man to a much needed integration of God-Man-creation.
Worker-ownership . . . distinguished from Nationalization; though the Catholic Worker is anti-capitalist it is not pro-communist or pro-socialist. Worker ownership and control in a decentralized regional economy could not function in present day Russia, with its state owned, centrally run businesses. The elite0run state bureaucracy of Russia or any of the European socialist nations has everyone doing his or her prescribed part and Holy Mother the State takes care of them.
The Catholic Worker economy believes in showing the respect and trust to each individual and local community in their autonomy, to decide for themselves. They shouldn’t fit into any national or global 3 year plan, but they should be allowed to take care of themselves within their own means and never at the expense of others. “It is a revolution from below and not (as political revolutions are) from above.”
Universal ownership of property; these are strange words for some Americans. This is often understood as communistic or socialistic but it isn’t necessarily.
Perhaps the best example in the past of universal ownership in practice can be found in our own American Indians. Truly decentralized economists, the American Indians had a keen sense of their true wisdom, they never proclaimed private ownership of any of creations gifts and used only what they needed. Though there were many tribes, each had its own autonomy and none claimed ownership of any natural resources. Of the resources used, they never used more than was needed for their own basic survival. No local group would feel the need to hoard any natural resources. Each respected the right each other had to the land, sea and air, and all things within them, to meet their basic needs. Of course individuals possessed privately those personal belongings that could not be used by another (clothes) or things that an individual would lay claim to, such as a horse. Still, others had an abundance to choose from. Never were basic needs denied to persons and tribes while others lived far beyond their own basic needs. The Catholic Worker calls for a real revival of this truly American tradition of universal ownership. “Property, the more common it is, the more holy it is,” according to St. Gertrude.
Equality of all men; a response to justice brings a person to the very nerve center of all injustice. True justice is never a one issue problem. One may start at a particular issue but as they pursue their particular issue in hopes for justice, they begin to experience the innate connection of the one reality of injustice with all realities of injustice. The Catholic Worker stands against racism and sexism in what ever forms it may take.
Man comes to God freely; The Catholic Worker stands against any form of persecution of individuals and peoples under any circumstances. Truthful encounters between persons on any level (socially, economically, politically and spiritually) can never be forced or coerced. True freedom allows us to fail as well as succeed.
Christ went beyond natural ethics; we Christians, we catholics claim Christ as our truth. We claim Christ as our way to truth. Our response to right and wrong, to justice and injustice in light of our faith is different from any natural ethics that have been produced by man and his state. The Catholic Worker’s positions are honest responses in light of the Christ, to obvious injustices recognized by all. This response is not passive but active. It is active as all truthful activity must be in a non-violent way.
Spiritual weapons; weapons that give a person the strength to do what is right because it is right and not compromise means for the sake of goal.
Non-cooperation; action that stems not from a want to be antagonistic, but from the desire to be true to self.
Success; Dorothy Day has many times repeated the words of Fr. Zossima of The Brothers Karamazov: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking and applauding, as though on the stage. But active love is labour and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting further from your goal instead of closer to it – at that very moment you will reach and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.”
Success for the Catholic Worker movement is not the success worshiped in our “City of Man”: our GNP or our highest body count. Success such as this is a sham held onto because of fear. The success of the Catholic Worker is one that starts inside an individual. This individual is never totally certain of any idea or thing, but attempts to respond to the Christ in all others, the least in all others from the very brokenness that they, the individuals share from within themselves. It is the type of activity that can’t be judged by our time, but rather by God’s time.