“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, August 17, 2009

Works of mercy

I have been reading a wonderful book that is called "Dorothy Day: Selected Writings" (edited by Robert Ellsberg, Orbis press, 1983) which chronicles the writings of Dorothy Day over her life. She was a Catholic, started The Catholic Worker newspaper, a radical, and pretty much an unapologetic communist, in the purest form of the word. She mostly wrote about poverty, and societal ills, and I have grown to love her ideas. She was greatly influenced by Peter Maurin (who I have discussed elsewhere in this blog).

Here is a quote from Day
Its time there was a Catholic paper printed for the unemployed. The fundamental aim of most radical sheeds is the conversion of its readers to Radicalism and Atheism.

Is it not possible to be radical and not atheist?

Is it not possible to protest, to expose, to complain, to point out abuses and demand reforms without desiring the overthrow of religion?

In an attempt to popularize and make known the encylicals of the Popes in regard to social justice and the program put forth by the Church for the "reconstruction of the social order," this news sheet, The Catholic Worker, is started. (p. 51)

"Is it not possible to be radical and not atheist?" I love that! We need a generation of Christian radicals. People so radical in their love for Jesus, and their working on behalf of social justice, that they become the object of attention by the FBI as Dorothy Day was.

I could easily quote 75% of the book here, it is wonderful, but let me put one more extended quote from a section called "The Scandal of the Works of Mercy" (p, 98-100)
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead.

The Corporeal Works are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.

When Peter Maurin talked about the necessity of practicing the Works of Mercy, he meant all of them. He envisioned Houses of Hospitality in poor parishes in every city of the country, where these precepts of Our Lord could be put into effect. He pointed out that we have turned to state responsibility through home relief, social legislation, and social security, that we no longer practice personal responsibility, but are repeating the words of the first murderer, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The Works of Mercy are a wonderful stimulus to our growth in faith as well as love. Our faith is taxed to the utmost and so grows through this strain put upon it. It is pruned again and again, and springs up bearing much fruit. For anyone starting to live literally the words of the Fathers of the Church - "The bread you retain belongs to the hungry, the dress you lock up is the property of the naked"; "What is superfluous for one's need is to be regarded as plunder if one retains it for one's self" - there is always a trial ahead. "Our faith, more precious than gold, must be tried as through fire."

Here is a letter I received today: "I took a gentleman seemingly in need of spiritual and temporal guidance into my home on a Sunday afternoon. Let him have a nap on my bed, went through the want ads with him, made coffee and sandwiches for him, and when he left, I found my wallet had gone also."

I can only say that the saints would only bow their heads and not try to understand or judge. They received no thanks - well, then, God had to repay them. They forbore to judge, and it was as though they took of their cloak besides their coat to give away. This is expecting heroic charity, of course. But these things happen for our discouragement, for our testing. We are sowing the seed of love, and we are not living in the harvest time. We must love to the point of folly, and we are indeed fools, as Our Lord Himself was who died for such a one as this. We lay down our lives too, when we have performed so painfully thankless an act, for our correspondent is poor in this world's goods. It is agony to go through such bitter experiences, because we all want to love, we desire with great longing to love our fellows, and our hearts are often crushed as such rejections. But as a Carmelite nun said to me last week, "It is a crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart."

...Well, our friend has suffered from his experience and it is part of the bitterness of the poor, who cheat each other, who exploit each other even as they are exploited, who despise each other even as they are despised.

And it is to be expected that virtue and destitution should go together. No, as John Cogley has written, they are the destitute in every way, destitute of the world's goods, destitute of honor, of gratitude, of love, they need so much that we cannot take the Works of Mercy apart and say I will do this one or that one Work of Mercy. We find they all go together...

Do I need to make the connection between these words and the experience of persons with various disabilities? "it is to be expected that virtue and destitution should go together." Might I ask whether there is virtue in my life if there is no person experiencing destitution in my life? I am confronted by my lack of personal responsiblity for others as being reflective of the words of the first murderer. I am confronted by my wealth, I probably have 10 pairs of jeans in my closet, and think about how I contribute to plundering the naked. It is not just about "downsizing" the things we own, it is thinking about how there are people in your community who cannot afford a pair of jeans, let alone the rest of the world.

SO it must imply that I must deny myself the things I can afford for myself and conscientiously take money and make other people's lives better. How many guitars, how many computers, how many (fill in the blank for you) do you need, when there are whose who live in poverty, because of their disability in your own community. After I read this section of Day's book, I looked at my closet in shock and immediately began to think about how I could live differently.

It is the Godly sorrow that I mentioned a couple of blogs back that begins with repentence. That is where I am at the moment, repentence. But I must move forward to an eagerness to examine myself, to clear myself so I can look at my closet with some degree of confidence that I have repented. Read this passage from Day above again, then revisit the 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 section. It will make you feel guilty but it might also do you, and a lot of poor people, many of whom are disabled, in your community and around the world, some good.

James 2:14 is a challenge to us... What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?



Jason said...

Under what circumstances would one's radicalness rightly get the FBI's attention?

"I am confronted by my lack of personal responsiblity for others as being reflective of the words of the first murderer."

Good point!

What are effective ways of giving? My concern is that my giving might be ineffective. I am more prone to give to someone who will take care of and make effective use of what I give them for God's glory.

Anonymous said...

"We must love to the point of folly"

My fav sentence from Day's quotes. Thank you, McNair.

Inasmuch as I think the Catholic Church gets a lot of bad press, I smile at your wonderment over the works of mercy - early training stuff for cradle Catholics.

Where I would part with Day is on government implementation of these concepts. Works of mercy that are mandated are not works of mercy.

Ryan said...

I love the part about being radical! So many followers of Christ today choose to remain complacent in their faith and are not willing to step up... this could mean many different things but as followers of Jesus Christ we must be radical and dangerous not hidden. It should be our goal to take the Good News to anyone we meet anywhere and at anytime; we need to be prepared at all times. We should be noticed throughout the ends of the earth as a population that does not conform and stands out to the point of being radically different from society. One of the areas in which this is highly applicable is the loving of the "unloveable".