Loaves and Fishes

by Dorothy Day

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602

One major influence on Dorothy Day was Peter Maurin. He helped her combine her faith with her desire to do good in the world. She'd lived as an activist before she turned to working with the teachings of the Catholic Church to improve the lives of others. She wrote:

I had a secular education, he said, and he would give me a Catholic outline of history. One way to study history was to read the lives of the saints down the centuries. Perhaps he chose this method because he had noticed my library, which contained a life of St. Teresa of Avila and her writings, especially about her spiritual foundations, and a life of St. Catherine of Siena.

Maurin's ideas helped her grow the "Catholic Worker" into something that was able to do concrete good. For example, the organization helped house and feed poor people. Rather than just writing about change, they helped create it. Part of this was because they were surrounded by poor people.

They created a lifestyle in which they understood the needs of the poor. She stated, "We were to do this by being poor ourselves, giving everything we had; then others would give too." She believed that by living that way and giving of themselves, they were able to make a positive change. Day didn't believe that they created enough change, but she did see the positive impact that her actions and those of the people around her had on the world and the lives of others.

When asked what the "Catholic Worker" is, Day said:

What kind of an organization do we have? It's hard to answer that. We don't have any, in the usual sense of the word. Certainly we are not a cooperative, not a settlement house, not a mission. We cannot be said to operate on a democratic basis.

Ultimately, it was group that provided services to people in need. It was guided by the principles of the Catholic church. One of the cornerstones of its philosophy is nonviolence, which Day advocated for throughout Loaves and Fishes. She also argued on behalf of voluntary poverty. She said:

The act and spirit of giving are the best counter to the evil forces in the world today, and giving liberates the individual not only spiritually but materially. For, in a world enslaved through installment buying and mortgages, the only way to live in any true security is to live so close to the bottom that when you fall you do not have far to drop, you do not have much to lose.

One distinction Day made is that there are two kinds of poverty. There is the kind that people like monks experience, which is voluntary and good. However, there is also involuntary poverty—which is bad. That involuntary poverty is one thing the Catholic Worker movement wanted to address. Day wrote:

Over and over again in the history of the Church the saints have emphasized voluntary poverty. Every religious community, begun in poverty and incredible hardship, but with a joyful acceptance of hardship by the rank-and-file priests, brothers, monks, or nuns who gave their youth and energy to good works, soon began to "thrive." Property was extended until holdings and buildings accumulated; and, although there is still individual poverty in the community, there is corporate wealth. It is hard to remain poor.

She went on to say that "at least we can avoid being comfortable through the exploitation of others." She argued that the war economy and the way it enriches certain people is immoral. This also ties into the Catholic Worker's nonviolent principles.

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