I just finished The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day. Along with the bohemian activist and thinker Peter Maurin, Day founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933 in the middle of the Great Depression. The Catholic Worker began as a newspaper sold at a penny apiece (which is still the price today) which detailed the plight of the poor in the tenements, the workers in the factories, and the day-laborers in the fields, and laid bare the corruption, inhumanity, injustice, and spiritual poverty of the economic system of the time. Before long the movement was not simply reporting injustice and poverty, but relieving it,organizing breadlines, homeless shelters, community farms and whole communities “committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken.” Today there are some 213 such communities all over the world.
In the book’s postscript Day lyrically describes the birth of the movement:
We were just sitting there talking when Peter Maurin came in.
We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, “We need bread.” We could not say, “Go, be thou filled.” If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread.
We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded.
We were just sitting there talking and someone said, “Let’s all go live on a farm.”
It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about. It just happened….
The Graduate Christian Fellowship here in Raleigh has started it’s weekly and monthly meetings for Bible study, prayer, discussion. On Tuesdays we gather to study the Gospel According to Matthew and pray for one another. It’s nothing too fancy. A visitor to the group would see us, for the most part, just sitting there talking.
Once a month we gather to share a meal and to have a conversation around a lecture or an essay or a chapter from a book on what it means to let our faith shape our work, our scholarship, our institutions, our whole lives. They are potluck dinners. There is coleslaw and tea and baked beans. It’s nothing too fancy. A visitor to the group would see us, for the most part, just sitting there talking.
But more is happening than just conversation. As we pore over the words of the Gospel; as we break bread and pray together, we learn to care for one another, to bear with and be with one another, to love one another and to love others—whether family, friends, neighbors or enemies—with the fierce compassion of Jesus. We become a place where Jesus is, a place “where two or three are gathered….” We become a community, and it is only in community that compassion, that love—real love—is possible. Neither love of God nor love of neighbor can happen in the abstract or in isolation. It always happens in the formation of community.
We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know him in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.
We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.
But this sort of love—the love born out of this sort of community, love of God and neighbor, the love with which God loved the world, the love for which Jesus shouldered His cross, indeed, the Love which God just is—is like a wildfire. It will not be satisfied with warming a “holy huddle” like a little bed of coals. It is unquenchable. Love will not be satisfied so long as children go hungry, so long as work conditions are inhumane, so long as our homelands are despoiled, so long as there is such a demographic as “the working poor.” It is ever feeding, ever clothing, ever listening, ever comforting, ever suffering, ever praying, ever advocating, ever prophesying, ever crying in the wilderness. It would engulf the whole world if given half a chance.
Conversation leads to community. Community gives birth to love. Love foments revolution. That’s how it has gone with the Catholic Worker movement and, indeed, that seems to be how God works generally. And so we at the GCF gather week by week and month by month to eat and pray and talk with one another. And we gather regularly to serve our local community, too, working with Habitat for Humanity and things like that. Nothing fancy. But God only knows what might happen if love breaks out. May we, too, seventy years hence look back on these beginnings awestruck and humbled and saying with Dorothy Day:
It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritūs Sancti. Amen.