Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Blowing the Dynamite



Writing about the Catholic Church,

a radical writer says:

"Rome will have to do more

than to play a waiting game;

she will have to use

some of the dynamite

inherent in her message.

"To blow the dynamite

of a message

is the only way

to make the message dynamic.

If the Catholic Church

is not today

the dominant social dynamic force,

it is because Catholic scholars

have failed to blow the dynamite of the Church.

Catholic scholars

have taken the dynamite

of the Church,

have wrapped it up

in nice phraseology,

placed it in an hermetic container

and sat on the lid.

It is about time to blow the lid off

so the Catholic Church

may again become

the dominant social dynamic force.

Peter Maurin

"Blowing the Dynamite" is one of Peter Maurin's Easy Essays on Catholic Radicalism. How these essays, and several books on Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker, came to be on my library shelves I have no idea. But I suspect it came about in the following way.

About ten years ago I was part of a small group of parishioners at the local St. Anne's Parish RC Church in in the centre of Keighley, Yorkshire. We took over the near-derelict premises of the old Catholic Club and, for a few years, ran the two-storey, double-fronted premises as a community centre. Donations to the bric-a-brac stall included many wonderful books on church history, arts, lives of saints, social history, prayer, devotion, philosophy and so on. We bought bookshelves and formed an ever-expanding library. Two of our number took charge of the library, which became quite naturally a place to linger and chat over coffee. When a change of regime took the premises out of our hands - we were quite literally locked out of the premises - we managed to rescue some of the books. Those about the Catholic Worker movement may well have come from there. What happened to the rest of the books, I have no idea.

Over its time as a community centre, the building as a whole was a good place to be. The upper floor, with its bar and catering facilities, provided for a range of low-cost social gatherings, including musical events, parties, weddings and funeral teas, and it could be booked by outside organisations. In addition to the library, the ground floor provided light refreshments for all manner of small groups, from mother and toddlers to afternoon teas with entertainment for the elderly, coffee mornings, prayer groups, study groups, meditation, ecumenical and inter-faith discussions, groups of disabled (wheelchair access) and so on. The whole place was enthused by Catholic social teaching. Its weakness and vulnerability was due to our insistence upon an all-volunteer management team.

For a place like that to survive, in pre-Covid days, it was necessary to find funding to pay a manager a salary to maintain the premises, whilst constantly seeking out sources of funds to continue to pay the employee. Our merry band of total volunteers was doomed to failure in the long run.

Things are very different now. In these days of Lockdowns, masks and covid passports, we may now fruitfully explore the literature of the Catholic Worker movement. Founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the USA during the Depression years of the 1930s, the movement enabled thousands of young people to share voluntary poverty in the cause of a just, loving and peaceful society.

Over the course of its existence, the Keighley Catholic Community Centre provided support for so many people, support that was never quantified, measured or recorded. It just happened quietly, behind the scenes, as people came in to book funeral teas or sit with others over coffee. One group of 'craft and chats' were mothers of ex-military sons who had been traumatised by their experiences. They provided mutual support to each other. I would suggest that every locality in the UK could provide some form of community centre, self-organised by volunteers, based in a range of premises such as municipal libraries, faith centres and community halls. Indeed, much work is already being done along those lines. It just needs to be transformed from stop-gap to mainstream. At the heart of the Catholic Worker movement is the full commitment of the young to a life of voluntary poverty. Voluntary poverty can be shared by all, scholars, workers and carers alike. It does not mean destitution.


Dorothy Day The Long Loneliness

Fritz Eichenberg Works of Mercy

Peter Maurin Catholic Radicalism (text on SOCIAL ART page of

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