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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 168

The full title of the book is Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement. This is a book by Dorothy Day, who is a famous memoirist. The book is actually a continuation of her first book, called The Last Loneliness.

Both books are concerned...

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The full title of the book is Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement. This is a book by Dorothy Day, who is a famous memoirist. The book is actually a continuation of her first book, called The Last Loneliness.

Both books are concerned with The Catholic Worker Movement. This movement focused on helping poor people through the teachings of Jesus. Day was one of the original voices behind the movement.

This book in particular outlines some of the problems the movement had. Initially, it became highly influential at a significant speed, as the magazine that became associated with the movement went up to over a hundred thousand subscribers.

However, when Day and others in the movement supported poor workers but didn’t fight with them in wars like what became known as the Spanish-American war, many people abandoned the movement and the subscribers fell by 80 percent. This same kind of problem repeated itself whenever any war came up, including the Second World War.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 706

Dorothy Day’s Loaves and Fishes tells the story of the movement that she cofounded in 1933, the Catholic Worker. She intended the book to be a sequel to The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (1952), which focused on her conversion from secular radicalism to Catholicism grounded in Jesus’ radical message of love. It also updates Day’s House of Hospitality (1939), an account of the movement’s first five years.

The book is divided into nineteen chapters and five thematic parts, each relating the values of her radical gospel Catholicism through her experiences and observations. A journalist rather than a philosopher, Day presents her radical gospel Catholic beliefs as an integral part of the movement’s history, not as abstractions.

In part 1, Day recounts Catholic Worker history, emphasizing the role of Peter Maurin, originally a French peasant, whose ideas helped her live her Catholic faith while finding a vocation that allowed her to blend her radical activist past with a gospel faith nourished by Catholic worship, sacraments, and teaching. What begins as a journalist’s attempt during the Depression to promote the radical implications of Catholic social teaching through the Catholic Worker (the paper where she was founder, publisher, editor, and often contributor), evolves into an urban movement that houses, feeds, and clothes the poor; an agrarian communal alternative to industrial capitalism; and a movement uncompromising in its pacifism and nonviolent resistance, an approach previously unfamiliar to Catholicism in the United States. Day believed that by living Christianity, she and others could start building a new society.

In part 2, chapters such as “Poverty and Precarity” offer reflections on such topics as the working poor, the racial and ethnic discrimination underlying poverty, the conditions of poverty, and Christian voluntary poverty. Many Americans were enjoying postwar economic prosperity, but Day exposes the poverty so easily hidden from the experience of large numbers of suburbanized Americans. Part 3 features the ideas of especially influential Catholic Workers. Maurin’s personalism advocates individual responsibility for social ills. Ammon Hennacy, a lifelong opponent of war, uses voluntary poverty, manual labor, nonpayment of taxes, picketing, leafleting, and fasting as spiritual tools to resist nuclear weapons and war. The unadulterated gospel lived and preached by courageous priest advisors involves their personal challenges to luxury and social conservatism in the Church hierarchy. Although Day did not deliberately intend to bend gender roles, the work of the Catholic Worker required male and female volunteers to meet the responsibilities of Christian love. Women might write, edit, publish, and mail the paper. Men might tend to household tasks and meet the basic needs of guests in the hospices or on the food line.

In part 4 Day writes of some defining events among those whose paths cross hers at the Catholic Worker. She explains how it was possible to find dignity in guests even as they battled poverty, addiction, homelessness, and mental disorders. Day, who had committed civil disobedience against mandatory air raid drills and therefore had experienced incarceration, criticizes its degrading conditions.

Day’s honest yet affectionate portrayal of guests and volunteers provides convincing examples of her spiritual practices in living the gospel of love. Without resorting to didacticism, Day promotes her message of radical transformation of self by example. She models continuing personal conversion and shows how society could be transformed through nonviolent direct action rooted in love and nourished by prayer and reception of the Eucharist.

In a powerful concluding section, “Love in Practice,” Day explains the radical Christian spirituality underpinning the movement’s sometimes controversial positions. She once rejected interest paid on money owed the movement as unearned by work and therefore unjust, and she returned an interest payment to puzzled city authorities. To public health officials who regarded the farming commune as a slum awaiting improvement or eradication, Day spoke of the freedom to invite a guest in need into one’s home. Dedicated to living a communal life of voluntary poverty with the poor and working for a nonviolent revolution of the heart to challenge the social, economic, and political status quo, Day agrees with Teresa of Ávila’s wry observation that life is like a night spent at an uncomfortable inn. Reliance on direct action, prayer, and the sacraments help meet every need.

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