The best treasures in the world are forgotten bookmarks in old books.
I was reading an old (read, 100-year-old) book, a book on the spiritual life. I had just finished the 287th page, but when I turned to the 288th, what should I find but a folded up, ancient, yellowed piece of fragile paper stuck there in between the pages. Knowing the quality of these finds, being a keen lover of both ancient books and bookmarks, I folded it gently open on my desk, under the glare of my desk lamp.
I began to read the words:
“Dear Fellow Workers:
This is our first letter from St. Joseph’s House….”
At those words, I almost fall over – I know what’s coming – I scan down to the bottom of the page:
“Gratefully in Christ,
There, on my desk, is a letter from Dorothy Day herself – specifically, an appeal letter for donations for the Catholic Worker house.
For those who are not familiar, Dorothy Day started the Catholic Worker Movement with her long-time friend Peter Maurin in 1932/33. It’s aims were simple: to advocate a radical Catholic response to the poverty and war of the 1930s. They did so by espousing personalism and pacificism, with their means being voluntary poverty, manual labor, works of mercy, and nonviolence. Their movement attracted numerous followers and its hallmark publication, the Catholic Worker newspaper, boasted hordes of subscribers. They were particularly known, and still are, for their Houses of Hospitality and Farm Communes, which remain places for anyone to come, stay, and work.
The fundamental idea was that true revolution in society, in economics, could only come from a new philosophy – not merely from imposing new social structures of forced charity or any other policy solution alone. As Peter Maurin put it, they aimed to help create a society where it was “easier for people to be good.”
We might criticize the followers of the movement for naive economics, or failed policy options, or any number of other shortcomings (and I myself sympathize will all those). All the houses of the movement, even today, are autonomous – each stands and falls on its own merits. But what they espouse together and what we cannot criticize is their vision – their dream. A dream where society is transformed from within by God’s grace. A vision of a world where we take care of each other in Christian love and kindness.
In the midst of election season, it can be easy to be disillusioned with politics, with economics. It can be easy to become bitter with a flawed and imperfect world. What we can never, ever, ever lose sight of are the Catholic principles that inform our policy choices and voting. It’s why we continue to fight for the poor, for religious freedom, for an end to crimes against life, and for the family. We need to be truly revolutionary – having our sights fixed on that vision, that dream, that Christ and His Church continue to dream. A society of love, in one simple word.
I prefer to think of our Catholic vision as revolutionary not because we will destroy a government or overthrow any kings. It’s not revolutionary because we’ll burn buildings or effigies. It’s certainly not going to involve killing or death.
Rather, it’s revolutionary because it will not be any of those things.
It will be revolutionary because it is moved
“….by the Love impell’d,
That moves the sun in heav’n and all the stars”
(Dante’s Paradiso, Canto 33)
Servant of God Dorothy Day, pray for us and our nation.