What's the Point
In her article (March 1994), Ann O’Connor contends, with sadness, that much of the Catholic Worker movement has become un-Catholic or anti-Catholic.
The whole point — and uniqueness — of the Catholic Worker was to be radically committed to both the poor and the Catholic Church. If Catholic Worker houses are no longer thus committed, they have no point — they have lost their meaning. They might just as well merge with some generic United Way agency.
Peter Maurin Catholic Worker Farm
Dorothy Day: Good Works Suffice
Ann O’Connor (see her article on Dorothy Day’s “crumbling legacy,” March 1994) needs to lighten up and give her priorities some thought.
All the faults she finds with today’s Catholic Worker movement were around while Dorothy Day was alive. In the old place on Christie Street, nasty remarks about the hierarchy, in the person of Francis Cardinal Spellman, were common, notions of prayer and liturgy were decidedly irregular, and dissent from Church teachings (birth control and divorce being the big issues then) was at least as well represented there as in the larger Church. Miss Day never seriously tried to enforce her own version of Catholic regularity, in part because it would have violated her anarcho-syndicalist principles, in part because she didn’t have that kind of authority, and in part because she understood that your basic sheepishly obedient son and daughter of the Church — e.g., the kind of person found on the editorial board of First Things — are not about to live in a bug-infested hospitality house, devoting their lives to serving the poor and the addicted.
Dorothy Day did believe in admonishing the sinner and did so frequently. The sinners she admonished were usually heads of governments, corporations, and armies. When it came to the sexual activities of the workers who chopped the celery fine, she would sometimes note in her Catholic Worker column that she was sorry certain things went on because these people were doing themselves harm. But she was quite clear — and said so several times in the case of Ammon Hennacy — in her belief that God is willing to overlook quite a lot of unbelief and misconduct in the case of a person who devotes his life to serving Christ’s poor.
Thomas J. McGrew
Blame Dorothy Day
Regarding Ann O’Connor’s article and James G. Hanink’s review on the crumbling of the Catholic Worker movement (March 1994): It seems to me that the source of the problem is probably the late founder herself. For all her personal orthodoxy, Dorothy Day was in some ways a nominal Catholic, unwilling to insist on Catholic values in her sphere of influence. While she may have been “personally opposed” to lesbianism, Dorothy was unwilling to do anything to keep it out of her community. Thus the deciding factor was not her Catholicism, but her pacifism and anarchism: “Live and let live” was the guiding principle of the Catholic Worker.
At the risk of being iconoclastic, I must also point out that there was a real lack of sanctity in the woman. Put her next to Mother Teresa, and Dorothy comes out looking like the peevish intellectual she mostly was. Dorothy had a streak of nastiness that her hagiographers have chosen to ignore. And given her incurable utopianism, it is painfully clear why the Catholic Worker movement is one of the most dismal failures in the history of Catholic communal ventures.
The Catholic Worker: Healthier Than Ever
I was saddened to read Ann O’Connor’s article on the Catholic Worker movement (March 1994). I visited her and her husband on March 18. They are faithful, kind, and charming people.
My experience of the Catholic Worker movement over more than 40 years tells me that our movement has never been healthier or more faithful than it is today. That is not to say that we don’t have problems. We have always had problems. That is not to say that some of the houses and some of the papers don’t slip off the track sometimes. Nothing new there! It is not to say that our movement is exempt from the problems besetting theologates, religious orders, and the Church at large. How could it? There was no “Golden Age.” Our movement has always been tenuous, but “it’s still going on,” as Dorothy Day wrote in the “Dark Age” of the early 1950s. It rides on faith. The Catholic faith!
We don’t have a franchising system in our movement. We can’t excommunicate anyone or any group. There is one Holy Office, and it is in Rome. Some people seem to think that is one too many. I think one is just right.
We don’t need another one at “the flagship” CW house in New York. If groups drift away from their Catholic foundation, we trust them to acknowledge that and cease calling themselves Catholic Workers. If they don’t, we can chide them and love them anyway.
Personal contact with several houses and with individuals from many more leads me to the kind of hope that Dorothy had, a confident expectation that God will take our small gifts and multiply them. If you despair of the current generation of American Catholics, visit a CW house and see what Catholic young people who are intelligent, motivated, and authentically Christian look like these days. You will rejoice.
Marlborough, New York
The Catholic Worker Is Dead
Ann O’Connor’s article, “The Catholic Worker: Is It Still Catholic?” (March 1994), is, sadly, an accurate picture of the Catholic Worker today. Indeed, as she states, today’s Catholic Worker reflects “the confusion, dissent, and schismatic trends” found among some Catholics in North America. But Dorothy Day would not have tolerated such dissent from Church teaching and practice. One wonders why those who have chosen to make such a point of contradicting the Church would want to claim the name Catholic. Intellectual honesty would demand that those who so disagree leave the Church.
Intellectual honesty and integrity were central themes in the lives of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. The Catholic Church was the heart of their lives. They were traditional, orthodox Catholics whose faith came first, before any social vision, for it was the Catholic faith which was the seed of that vision.
The life of the Catholic Worker movement was ensouled by the faith of its founders. To be for peace and to feed the poor is fine, but to do so in the name of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker without being faithful to the Church is to claim to be that which one isn’t, and that is a lie.
Movements come and go throughout history. The Catholic Worker movement is dead. But the legacy of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin — their deep faith and loving commitment to the Body of Christ — will remain for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Geoffrey B. Gneuhs
New York, New York
Ed. Note: The above writer notes that he was a chaplain at the New York Catholic Worker during the last few years of Dorothy Day’s life, that he was an associate editor of its paper for several years, and that he is an artist whose portrait of Dorothy is in the Memorial Library at Marquette University.
Bringing 'Kit' to Life
I want to comment on your memorial editorial on Christopher “Kit” Lasch in the April 1994 issue. It’s ironic that it took his death for me to find out who he really was. Thank you for bringing Kit to life! Today I shed a tear for your loss, but I smile for my gain.
If I can be a portion of the man Kit was, I will be doing God’s will. Of this I have no doubt.
Seamus G. Alexander
Estes Park, Colorado
Listen Boys & Girls
Steve Betley would like to respond to certain letters criticizing his letter (Jan.-Feb. 1994) — and hopes Donald Whidden replies to the critics of his Jan.-Feb. 1994 letter. (Gee, Don, lucky for us, witch-burning was banned in the late 1700s!)
Michael Evans (April 1994) says I’m a junk-food Catholic. And to think of the hours I’ve pored over Kaufman, Küng, many encyclicals, etc.! Not lite fare, Mike. And Mike, if you think I’m smug, remember that I’m the angst-filled modern, you’re the one with all the questions answered.
Like George Wignall (April 1994), I like Newman; he believed in the notion of the “organic” growth of Catholic doctrine (as opposed to fundamentalism). Trouble is, until the great Vatican II, there wasn’t a seedling of growth in the most reactionary institution in the free world.
Steve Betley’s favorite biblical quote is John 1:4: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us.” Our faith is a mystery, boys and girls. But speak to a traditional Catholic for five minutes and he/she will tell you that he/she had lunch with God last Tuesday. Of course they ordered meat and potatoes. Certainly not Chinese.
Looking forward to Vatican III.
I'm Close Enough
Thank you for giving me so much publicity in the form of the critical letters in the April 1994 issue responding to my letter (Jan.-Feb. 1994). I should like to reply.
By far the most confusing letter was from Anglo-Catholic Thomas Raines. But then, Anglo”Catholics” are confused people. Anglo-“Catholics” try to be both Protestant and Romanist, and succeed at being neither. They really are just Protestants who don’t have the honesty to admit it.
Like Linda Morrison in her letter, my Adventist relatives used the pregnancy analogy on me. But they said that since I was a little bit Catholic, maybe I ought to be fully Catholic. I decided they were right. Okay, so I’m not a fully sectarian Romanist, but so what? I’m close enough, in my opinion. Also, Morrison should show me where Christ taught the most controversial sectarian doctrines of the papacy. I think she’ll find their only support comes mostly from the post-Nicene Fathers.
K.I. Trefft is correct in pointing out my factual error on Thomas Aquinas. After I mailed my now-infamous letter, I remembered that I should have said that it was St. Bernard of Clairvaux, not Aquinas, who doubted Transubstantiation. In my opinion, he’s greater than Aquinas. At any rate, we live in an age when matters such as Transubstantiation can be settled in the science lab. All we have to do is have a consecrated wafer tested to see if its biochemical makeup is any different from an unconsecrated wafer.
Gregory DiPippo asks why I didn’t give doctrinal considerations serious attention when I was deciding to become a Catholic. I did. I concluded that the argumentative edge of Romanism over Protestantism and Byzantine Orthodoxy was too slight for making a decision. I decided to join the denomination that did the best job of bringing heaven to earth. I found Rome’s teachings on social issues the most correct.
As for Carmelite Brother Louis Rogge, I think he needs to be concerned about the many moral reprobates and unstable people who are unforgiving, child molesters, fornicators, smokers, and consultors of astrology and mediums, not to mention the bad tempered who take the “real presence” every Sunday.
Donald A. Whidden
Ed. Note: Reading your reply and rereading your original letter, we must say that we are dazzled by your ability to reject Papal Infallibility and Transubstantiation, and to say, as you did in your original letter, that you “deeply suspect” that Marian devotion and doctrine are “all a charming cult based on baptized Mother Goddess worship,” and then to turn around and denounce Anglo-Catholics for really being “Protestants who don’t have the honesty to admit it.”
Bishops: Get With the Program
Let me commend Fr. Bernard Green for his excellent article critiquing the syncretistic mentality that is widespread in the Catholic Church today (April 1994).
Just by coincidence, I am currently rereading G.K. Chesterton’s remarks, on the same subject, in The Everlasting Man. But his remarks were first published in 1925.
Today, “theologians,” inter alia, who claim to be “Catholic,” are teaching the same heretical, syncretistic rubbish that has already been demolished by Chesterton. And, this situation is worsening the confusion and identity crisis seen among the Catholic laity, day by day.
Pope John Paul II has now published Veritatis Splendor. In it he charged the bishops (in so many words) with the responsibility of pointing out the intellectual dishonesty involved in attaching the label “Catholic” to retreaded modernistic doctrines, which have already been declared heretical by the Church, not just once, but many, many times, in previous eras.
I have yet to see a bishop exercising this responsibility, in any specific situation, since Veritatis Splendor was published. And, as I read Green’s article, I realized that many, many opportunities to exercise that responsibility continue to present themselves to our bishops.
James H. Ford, M.D.
I am grateful for your early (March 1994) review of my book, Reading Luke-Acts. But, in an otherwise fair review, I am disappointed in what appears to me to be a rash judgment of my intent. Why does reviewer Brian Kennedy presume that I do not believe in the historicity of evil spirits, just because I refer to Luke’s giving “the audience a sense of being privy to inside, even supernatural, information…”? Why does he presume that I do not agree (when I do) with his reference to Lukan arrangement in narrating what truly happened, or that I “forget that Luke’s Gospel operates under its self-stated purpose to write a truthful account?” As a scholar I have suffered significant professional damage because I dared in a review to object to an influential scholar’s negative treatment of the Gerasene demoniac account and to insist on the reality of evil spirits. It is painful to be mistrusted and misread on one of the very issues on which I have labored all my career to provide an articulate explanation and defense of the Gospel accounts and the Church’s beliefs.
The Rev. William S. Kurz, S.J.
A Padded Cross
In his letter (April 1994), the Rev. Thomas Raines of the minuscule Anglican Catholic Church commented rather disdainfully on the “Vatican II Church” — presumably he meant the Catholic Church of the ages. What high irony!
Raines, who is obviously an ex-Catholic, says much that is wise and on target. Yes, Catholics need a greater sense of reverence in church. To achieve his general goal, he says, he prays daily for five changes in the Catholic Church — and also for the “patience” to understand those who oppose his five changes. He is wise to pray for patience, but if he were truly a man of patience, wouldn’t he be praying inside Holy Mother Church instead of outside her in a splinter group?
Raines tells us that the Anglican Mass he says is beautiful. No doubt it is, and no doubt we Catholics could learn (re-learn, actually) much from the way Mass is said in his church. But Raines has overlooked something, and it needs saying, even in this ecumenical era: The Cardinal Ratzinger he admires and the Church the Cardinal represents (a Church constituting by far the largest chunk of the “undivided church,” which Raines appeals to for authority but which long ago vanished into the Gnostic mists) reject the notion that the Holy Orders Raines chose for himself are valid and that the Mass Raines says is a real Mass. Beauty is fine — in its place — but does not a Mass make.
Raines castigates Donald Whidden for being a pick-and-choose Catholic. Bravo! But Raines is also a pick-and-choose Catholic, having picked beauty at the expense of Catholic substance and Catholic unity. He puts down Whidden for having a “padded cross.” Yes, pick-and-choosers always opt for a padded cross. And so did Raines — and in spades. His cross is heavily padded with the finery and ornaments of Anglican aestheticism.
If Raines wants the old rugged cross, he should come home to Mother Church, and get in the trenches with the rest of us. We’d love to have him back. Instead of being part of the problem of pick and choose, he could, with Cardinal Ratzinger, be part of the solution.