Thursday, 18 November 2021

Voluntary Poverty

NOTE: Murray McGrath's poem (see last Blog) portrays Money as a useful tool, but nothing more. The following passage is taken from Kate Hennessy's biography of her grandmother. Dorothy Day worked in collaboration with Peter Maurin to promote Catholic Radicalism through the Catholic Worker. (See previous blogs) Peter took is cue from the Irish seanachie, the story teller:

"He ... liked to speak in verse with a cadence. Dorothy's brother John came to call his verses Easy Essays, and the title stuck. He liked to shout out one-liners: "Everyone take less so that others can have more! Freedom is a duty more than a right! Workers should be scholars and scholars should be workers! Fire the bosses!" He said we need to get away from thinking solely in terms of a job or a wage. Everyone has a vocation, and we must find the work we are best suited for, what we are called to do, and then do it single-mindedly. Artists and musicians do this. They are willing to risk poverty in order to do what they must do, what they love. Not only did Peter believe in a philosophy of work that spoke of love of work rather than work ethic, he also believed that we must have a philosophy of poverty. True reform begins with oneself, he would say, and voluntary poverty and manual labor are where we begin. Proud of being a peasant, Peter worked as a day laborer on the railroads and in mills or smashing rock to build roads. He had no home and owned nothing but the clothes on his back and the books in his pockets. When Dorothy met him he was a laborer at a Catholic boys' camp in upstate New York earning five dollars a week.

"Dorothy liked to refer to Peter as the leader of the Catholic Worker, but he was not a man to tell anyone what to do. He offered his vision and ideas to provoke people into thinking for themselves, but it was up to them to take it or leave it. He did not offer practical ways to achieve things, and when people asked him what they should do, he answered, "I am not a question box; I am a chatterbox." But he spoke of a philosophy of action that Dorothy could understand, and he had one ambition—to change the hearts and minds of men and give them a vision of a world where it was easier to be good.

"Peter's program, which was simple, direct, and Catholic, and therefore caught Dorothy's attention, began with roundtable discussions where people could contribute their ideas and where there would be 'clarification of thought'. He wanted people to be well-read and articulate, and he believed this was within everyone's grasp no matter the level of education or state of mind. All who asked deserved to be taught the best and to be treated as equal scholars, as everyone could and should have a philosophy to live by. He included even the mentally ill who, through their illnesses, could sometimes wring out every bit of his own vitality in his effort to give them his full attention and respect.

"Second in his program was the establishment of houses of hospitality with priests at their head, based on the bishops' hospices for wayfarers in the middle ages. Then those at the houses of hospitality would form farming communes, or "agronomic universities," as he liked to call them, where workers and scholars together would rebuild society in the shell of the old, and where people could find their vocations and no longer would need to work in factories or for corporations.

"There's no unemployment on the land," he'd say, and to lessen the need for money we needed "to grow what you eat and eat what you grow."

Extract from Kate Hennessy, (2017) Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved By Beauty. An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother, Scribner, pp70-71)

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