The other day I received an email through the National Catholic Worker email list that announced the celebration of ten years of ministry for the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City. Robert Waldrop began the email with this: "On July 29, 1999, I made a sign -- 'Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House' and put it on our front door, and the very next morning, a homeless person knocked on the door and asked for breakfast. As I fixed us breakfast, I found myself thinking, 'I guess this is what this is all about.'" That IS the way of the Catholic Worker - going out with humility and with a servant's heart, working to heal a bruised world.
In my peacemaking travels I have had the good fortune to become familiar with people directly involved with the Catholic Worker Movement. Born out of a collaboration between Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1932, the first issue of the Catholic Worker paper was sold at a Communist Party May Day rally in New York City's Union Square. Although the paper's circulation took a dive as the far off Spanish Civil War (thanks for the correction) and WWII gripped the United States, it never wavered from its firm base in Christian pacifism (Catholic Workers have never been known for pandering). The movement has stood rock steady in its witness, resisting Cold War hysteria and opposing the war on Vietnam, and most recently the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also opposed nuclear weapons, the ultimate violence of all.
But in the midst of its witness and resistance to war and every other form of injustice, the Catholic Worker has served people in need, showing boundless mercy. And therein lies the model that the church (as a whole) has only partially embraced, the model of the Biblical scripture from Micah (6:8) that asks, "...what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?" For those of us trying so hard to walk the road of peacemakers, this pretty well sums things up for me; it is the ultimate balance of justice, mercy and humility.
The Catholic Worker Movement is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every person and has opposed every possible injustice you might imagine, including racism, anti-Semitism and the vast disparities of societal wealth. Tom Cornell summarized the goal of the movement quite well when he referred to it as creating, "a society..." that has "...no place for economic exploitation or war, for racial, gender or religious discrimination, but would be marked by a cooperative social order without extremes of wealth and poverty and a nonviolent approach to legitimate defense and conflict resolution."
Both Dorothy and Peter would be aghast at the state of the world today, and the church's complicity in it, but I am sure that they would be pleased with the Catholic Worker's continued, faithful commitment "to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken" in our midst. There are many lessons to be learned from this most humble, hard-working group of people. They are worthy of our support, and yet they ask for little.
Click here to find a Catholic Worker community near you. You can help financially, or volunteer your time, as well as donate needed supplies. They are present in 38 states in the U.S., and 8 other countries.
And so I give thanks for a community of peacemakers that has been a model for all of us for over 76 years (since 1933). Here's hoping that we can someday create that "cooperative social order without extremes of wealth and poverty and a nonviolent approach to legitimate defense and conflict resolution" (Tom Cornell's quote) so that the Catholic Worker can take a well-deserved rest.
Click here to check out the Catholic Worker Web site.