The Catholic Worker Movement was created in 1933 by a journalist named Dorothy Day and a philosopher named Peter Maurin. It initially began as a radical newspaper, but after time it grew to be a lifestyle that communities around the world still identify with. The main pillars that the Catholic Worker Movement are founded on are voluntary poverty, recognizing the human dignity of every person, a commitment to nonviolence, and following the Works of Mercy. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Works of Mercy are defined as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, taking care of the sick, visiting those imprisoned, and burying the dead.
My experience with the Catholic Worker Movement only started my freshman year of college, so don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it before – neither did I! However, after reading about Dorothy Day for the Catholic Traditions class I was taking, I really didn’t see what the big deal was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sticking it to “The Man” by protesting against injustice, and I thought Day was cool for an old lady, but I definitely thought that protest was more radical than voluntary poverty or following the Works of Mercy. In short, I was naïve and kind of dumb because, until I actually met Catholic Workers, I was never going to grasp the reality of the movement. You see, it’s one thing to read about what this one amazingly radical woman did 80 years ago, but it’s completely different to experience her legacy in this century.
I attended a Catholic Worker Farm gathering a few weekends ago, which basically was a three-day retreat for people in the movement who live on farms instead of the more typical Houses of Hospitality. Houses of Hospitality are usually located in more urban areas and provide needed resources for these places. They also have more locations than Catholic Worker Farms, which were Maurin’s vision for the Movement. Anyway, it was through this gathering that I was able to actually see the Movement in action, and I have never before experienced a community of such intentionality as when I was with them.
Background: I come from the suburbs of Chicago, and the most radically sustainable thing I thought one could do was recycle – I was wrong. The people that I met that weekend opened up a whole new world I never imagined existed. Whether it be the way that they farm, how they dispose of waste, or how they interact with others, these Catholic Workers are living the most intentional and aware lives I have ever encountered. For many of the people gathered, their lifestyle is directly tied to their relationship with God. Before experiencing the Catholic Worker Farm Movement, I never understood why it was so important have a strong relationship with the land, (i.e. by taking care of it and not exploiting it), but now I’m starting to realize two important aspects about the Movement. Voluntary poverty, or to put more simply, saying no to extravagant material things every once and awhile, is just as important as protest or civil disobedience. Also, everyone is called to be radical in their own way. Are we all called to sell everything we have to join the Catholic Worker Movement? Probably not, but I believe that we all are called to be aware of the life we are living. For many of us we go throughout life just doing our best to survive and thrive, pretty much unaware of how the decisions we make impact our greater community. If you want to learn more about the Catholic Worker Movement, just type it into a search engine and enjoy.