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Where on planet earth are you most likely to find the revolutionary principles of Jesus of Nazareth being put into practice in their raw, naked urgency? While the Youngstown Catholic Worker is definitely the new kid on the block, we are part of a movement that works stubbornly and tirelessly for peace and social justice. The Catholic Worker is an initiative with a track record of proven dedication to the counter-cultural principles of Jesus; principles that set the norms of society upside down. In a world that has excluded two thirds of humanity from a place at the table, the Worker by its tireless activism and willingness to challenge unjust laws and social custom (even when it has meant jail time for some or other social repercussions), insists that the last be first.
The body of writings referred to as Catholic Social teaching are mind boggling in their sheer volume, their ramifications for Americans and our culture and the hope they offer to all those who have been persecuted and marginalized by man’s inhumanity to man. Those who are Catholic can enjoy a sense of pride that our Bishop’s Conferences and Papal Pronouncements through the years have been so very true in applying the Gospel to contemporary social injustices, even if they have failed to translate vision into practice. There is no compromise here to big business, to powerful multi-national interests, to dictators, foreign heads of state; to the office of the American Presidency, nor to populist values or the status quo of any stripe.
Yet with such a powerful, potentially transformative body of literature at the fingertips of the Catholic laity, Catholic Social Teaching remains arguably the best-kept secret in the Catholic Church today. Enter: Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and what has become the Catholic Worker movement. Call Catholic Workers hopeless idealists, but if you are looking to be part of a community that is dead on dedicated to walking with the poor; respecting those who society has maligned and marginalized, and working for peace even at the expense of wealth or popularity, then you want to read on.
Since the 1930’s the Catholic Worker has walked with and championed the cause of the poor, the disenfranchised and the persecuted. Whether an individual worker is living in a House of Hospitality anchored by an avowed life of poverty, or is living in the world with an avowed dedication to the principles of the Gospel, the worker combines a passion for the works of mercy (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, shelter the homeless), with a stalwart hunger for calling attention to and undermining the economic and social practices that degrade so much of humanity.
Catholic Workers have practiced resistance from the beginning realizing that the vast majority of what ails humanity is systemic in nature. As already mentioned workers take a cue from Catholic Social teaching then proceed to use every nonviolent strategy imaginable; marches, protests, sit-ins, letter writing campaigns, peace vigils and summits, and all other manner of direct action to advocate on behalf of peace and social justice. Catholic Workers take a stand for peace and against war; advocating always for the human rights of the unborn, those on death row, undocumented immigrants, the working poor and those caught in generational poverty, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, the infirmed and disabled, the victims of human trafficking, sweat shops, child labor, abject poverty and malnutrition, and the list goes on and on. In our resistance we get direction concerning modern day and age-old injustices not only from Catholic Social Teaching, but dialogue with other social justice traditions as well, while our inspiration and vision flow straight from the life, words and death of Jesus Himself.
Over and over again in the Gospel Jesus is shown to be challenging the religious and cultural values that were in vogue in His day. Jesus dined with prostitutes and stayed at the home of the hated tax collector insulting religious and cultural sensibilities right and left; stood in the midst of a vengeful mob of men and challenged those without sin to cast the first stone; told the story of the good “Samaritan” to an audience of Jews who hated Samaritans; dared to heal the blind, deaf and lame (People considered the sinners of their day), embraced the leper and listened to and walked with the mentally ill (the latter referred to as being possessed by demons). He cleared the temple of money changers who were extorting money from the poorest of the poor, collaborated with women who were considered property and to be treated as such, and spoke truth to power regarding the religious leaders who conspired to silence Him and the civil authorities who executed His death sentence, and in general lived in such a way that provoked the dominant powers that be, and resisted a status quo that marginalized the poor and powerless.
While polite society in collusion with a sometimes overly docile Church has through the centuries domesticated Jesus and His message, we of Catholic Worker invoke Jesus the revolutionary whose creed was no doubt: “As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” (Matthew 25:34). So if you want to embrace the raw, naked Gospel with all of its radical implications for daily living and its uncompromising allegiance to a God of justice and mercy; if you’re willing to consider the common good ahead of or as part of your own, then you definitely want to join us on this journey. We are especially anxious to welcome young adults who are willing to give a summer or a year or more of your time to the Catholic Worker.