There was a great segment on VPR’s Vermont Edition yesterday, November 18, about hunger in our state and what is being done to address it. Listen here: http://digital.vpr.net/post/checking-hunger-state
In the words of Dorothy Day, originally published in February, 1940.
For the sake of new readers, for the sake of men on our breadlines, for the sake of the employed and unemployed, the organized and unorganized workers, and also for the sake of ourselves, we must reiterate again and again what are our aims and purposes.
Together with the Works of Mercy, feeding, clothing and sheltering our brothers, we must indoctrinate. We must “give reason for the faith that is in us.” Otherwise we are scattered members of the Body of Christ, we are not “all members one of another.” Otherwise, our religion is an opiate, for ourselves alone, for our comfort or for our individual safety or indifferent custom.
We cannot live alone. We cannot go to Heaven alone. Otherwise, as Péguy said, God will say to us, “Where are the others?” (This is in one sense only as, of course, we believe that we must be what we would have the other fellow be. We must look to ourselves, our own lives first.)
If we do not keep indoctrinating, we lose the vision. And if we lose the vision, we become merely philanthropists, doling out palliatives.
The vision is this. We are working for “a new heaven and a new earth, wherein justice dwelleth.” We are trying to say with action, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are working for a Christian social order.
We believe in the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God. This teaching, the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, involves today the issue of unions (where men call each other brothers); it involves the racial question; it involves cooperatives, credit unions, crafts; it involves Houses of Hospitality and Farming Communes. It is with all these means that we can live as though we believed indeed that we are all members one of another, knowing that when “the health of one member suffers, the health of the whole body is lowered.”
This work of ours toward a new heaven and a new earth shows a correlation between the material and the spiritual, and, of course, recognizes the primacy of the spiritual. Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul. Hence the leaders of the work, and as many as we can induce to join us, must go daily to Mass, to receive food for the soul. And as our perceptions are quickened, and as we pray that our faith be increased, we will see Christ in each other, and we will not lose faith in those around us, no matter how stumbling their progress is. It is easier to have faith that God will support each House of Hospitality and Farming Commune and supply our needs in the way of food and money to pay bills, than it is to keep a strong, hearty, living faith in each individual around us – to see Christ in him. If we lose faith, if we stop the work of indoctrinating, we are in a way denying Christ again.
We must practice the presence of God. He said that when two or three are gathered together, there He is in the midst of them. He is with us in our kitchens, at our tables, on our breadlines, with our visitors, on our farms. When we pray for our material needs, it brings us close to His humanity. He, too, needed food and shelter. He, too, warmed His hands at a fire and lay down in a boat to sleep.
When we have spiritual reading at meals, when we have the rosary at night, when we have study groups, forums, when we go out to distribute literature at meetings, or sell it on the street corners, Christ is there with us. What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did He fail. He met with apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the seed fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest.
And why must we see results? Our work is to sow. Another generation will be reaping the harvest.
When we write in these terms, we are writing not only for our fellow workers in thirty other Houses, to other groups of Catholic Workers who are meeting for discussion, but to every reader of the paper. We hold with the motto of the National Maritime Union, that every member is an organizer. We are upholding the ideal of personal responsibility. You can work as you are bumming around the country on freights, if you are working in a factory or a field or a shipyard or a filling station. You do not depend on any organization which means only paper figures, which means only the labor of the few. We are not speaking of mass action, pressure groups (fearful potential for evil as well as good). We are addressing each individual reader of The Catholic Worker.
The work grows with each month, the circulation increases, letters come in from all over the world, articles are written about the movement in many countries.
Statesmen watch the work, scholars study it, workers feel its attraction, those who are in need flock to us and stay to participate. It is a new way of life. But though we grow in numbers and reach far-off corners of the earth, essentially the work depends on each one of us, on our way of life, the little works we do.
“Where are the others?” God will say. Let us not deny Him in those about us. Even here, right now, we can have that new earth, wherein justice dwelleth!
In reflecting upon the readings for this past Sunday, October 25 — the story from Mark’s gospel about the blind beggar Bartimaeus — America Magazine’s John W. Martens poses the question, “Who do we tell today to shut up, to stop bothering the Messiah?”
It is, in fact, one of the most common themes in the Gospels. If the religious authorities, the other disciples, society at large, has deemed a person inappropriate for Jesus’s attention, it’s a good bet that’s exactly the person He’s going to seek out.
We live in an entitled society. Those of us with the dumb luck to have been born into the wealthiest nation in the history of the world are too often blind to just how much privilege comes from the random chance of birthright. Like the crowds surrounding Jesus, it can be all too easy for us to look down on the blind beggar in our midst, to assume his misfortune is due to some sin or character flaw. And when he cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” we might, like the disciples, be tempted to rebuke him for being too outspoken or for seeking special privileges that he doesn’t deserve.
But if we allow ourselves to think that way, we are judging by worldly standards, not by God’s. Jesus gave to all who asked, and especially to those who refused to be silenced. To quote a popular sentiment that Dorothy Day certainly believed, even if she never actually said the words as attributed to her, “The Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”
Today’s Gospel reading reminded me of another blog post I’d written some years ago. First published March 27, 2013, it is presented below.
My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. ~James 2:1
“The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” ~Dorothy Day
The first quote, taken from today’s second reading, reminded me of the second. I’ve posted before some thoughts on giving as generously as possible, and without judgement. “Freely you have received; as freely you should give” (Matthew 10:8). We should all strive to be more God-like in our dealings with one another.
As Pope Francis’s recent encyclical Laudato Si points out, we continue to squander one of God’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. This world we live on, entrusted to us as a gift to all humanity, is being plundered and squandered for the short-term selfish gain of a few at the expense of millions of others. God entreats us to share our world’s bounty among the global community. We of the First World generally ignore the call, but God still graces us with enough wealth for all His people around the world, hoping in love that we will share while knowing that ultimately we will not.
As Catholics we understand that God has given us not only a wealth of gifts and blessings, but also the free will to use them (or misuse them) as we see fit. God does not withhold His gifts in the fear (or even the foreknowledge) that we might misuse them. Rather, He gives His gifts freely in love, in the hope that we will use them appropriately. And this — this free, optimistic, and loving generosity should be our guide as we deal with our brothers and sisters in this life.
Which brings me around to recent events in the news. It occurs to me that a county clerk who refuses to grant marriage licenses because she feels they go against her own morals is perhaps not giving as freely as she has received. We are told to “give to everyone who asks” — not to judge them, not to decide for ourselves what they may want or need. Just give; pray for them if you feel the need, let them make their decisions for good or for ill, and hope for the best. It’s how God treats each of us, after all. And unless we claim to be wiser than God, it’s how we should treat each other.
Catholic social teaching tells us that what we have in this life is not ours alone, but is entrusted to us for the good of all. Basically, to withhold something from someone who has greater need of it is as good (or as bad, as the case may be) as stealing.
I don’t always give to those who beg on the street, though I do always feel that I should. Having done a fair share of volunteer work with agencies that support the poor, I know the good they can do — and I know they can’t do everything. People do fall through the cracks, and there will always be more need than resources to meet them. Sometimes just giving a dollar to the guy who’s asking for it is the best, most efficient form of charity.
So I try, in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, to “give to all who ask.” My faith, my conscience, my sense of basic human decency all agree that it’s just the right thing to do. But I’m human — I’m flawed, and as much as I try sometimes I don’t do what I know is right.
But those signs — signs like the one pictured above — they are both a curse and a blessing. A curse, because they oversimplify the issue. They play into the natural prejudices we like to tell ourselves, making it easier to deny our fellow man the basic human dignities that are his birthright. They are dehumanizing, demoralizing, and wrong. And every time I see one of these signs, I’m prompted to give to the next beggar I see just out of spite. So there is, I suppose, some good to come out of it.