Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

God provides: A recurrent theme of the book is that God provides for the material needs of the faithful, as in indicated in the title Loaves and Fishes . This title refers to the biblical story in which the disciples of Jesus despair that they do not have more than...

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God provides: A recurrent theme of the book is that God provides for the material needs of the faithful, as in indicated in the title Loaves and Fishes. This title refers to the biblical story in which the disciples of Jesus despair that they do not have more than a few loaves of bread and small fish to feed 5,000 people who have gathered to hear Jesus. Through a miracle, God provides all the food they need and more. The Catholic Worker movement is likewise financially precarious and generally on the brink of financial disaster, but Day shows that God comes through. For example, having rashly turned down the offer of a badly needed bigger Catholic Worker House in New York, Day decides to pray. She writes to Gertrude Burke and a house comes to the group. In another case, when the group had overdrawn their bank account by $200, Day came home to find a woman who, not knowing the group's situation, had left a check for $200.00. This is not "prosperity gospel," as Day and her movement embrace poverty and live in often uncomfortable situations, but a life of vulnerability and trust.

Faith must be lived in action: Day's book illustrates an almost dizzying world of action. Day admires people who get out into the world, get their hands dirty, and live out their faith, especially when it involves sacrifice. She herself models this type of Christian behavior. While she prays and attends Mass daily, she doesn't stop there. She feeds the poor, houses the poor, advocates for the poor, and works tirelessly to build a better society. Her example and that of the people around her is meant to inspire not just faith, but action.

The poor are important: Day never despises the poor or blames them for their problems. Instead, she treats them with dignity and respect as brothers and sisters. She does not romanticize the difficulties that this can cause, but she never wavers in her belief that the poor deserve our compassion and are more sinned against the sinning.

Love is the glue that holds the universe together: This may be the most important theme of all. Day believes unwaveringly in the power of love to heal a broken world. What saves the book from becoming simply an account of a "movement" is Day's simple, loving voice and the honesty and attention with which she treats even the least of those around her. She tells the stories of those she encounters in ways that depict their humanity and never fails to show compassion for their struggles.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513

Central to the development of Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement was her reading of the Bible, youthful radical activism, conversion to Catholicism in 1927, and the gradual realization of her vocation in living and publicizing Catholic gospel radicalism after meeting Maurin in 1932. Her synthesis of renewed Catholicism involved a life that was nourished by Catholic sacraments and worship and the social encyclicals of modern popes, orthodox in the essentials of the faith, and allowed her to practice corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which originated in Christ’s teaching to love one another. Day created a movement of lay initiative long before the reforms of Vatican II (1962-1965) legitimated lay leadership. She explained that no permission was needed to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry and visiting prisoners. Taught to every Catholic in the catechism, these works of mercy embodied specific ways to live the Beatitudes and Christ’s teaching of love.

Day’s earlier radicalism, aimed at a social, political, and economic revolution by whatever means necessary, contributed to her conversion to Catholicism and the establishment of the Catholic Worker. The young radical had experienced community and sacrifice on behalf of workers and the poor, something lacking in the mainstream Christianity she once discarded as hypocritical. Experience as a radical taught her to prefer uncompromising individual direct action to either indifference or overdependence on bureaucracies of church or state to address social problems. With Maurin’s guidance and her own common sense, she synthesized ideas from a variety of sources into the beliefs of the Catholic Worker movement: Christ’s gospel of love, Catholic social teachings, and countercultural views of American society influenced by mainstream Catholicism (critique of materialism) and secular radicalism (critique of capitalism and imperialism). Day grafted Gandhian nonviolent direct action to Christ’s commandment to love one’s neighbor not only as a path to revolutionary change but also as a means of resistance to all wars. In so doing, she created the Catholic Worker during the Depression, a movement unlike any other American Catholic movement of the time.

Thirty years after the founding of the movement, when Day published Loaves and Fishes, she and her movement continued to define what it meant to be a disciple of Christ in a modern urban industrial era. Her espousal of a life of voluntary poverty shared with the poor provided her most convincing critique of industrial capitalism. Although Day’s uncompromising pacifism divided the movement during World War II, during the Cold War it attracted followers morally troubled by the development and use of weapons of mass destruction. Not only had she pointed out the incompatibility of war with Christian love and Catholic teachings on respect for God’s creation, but also she underscored the futility of surviving nuclear war with her open defiance of a civil defense law, which resulted in a jail sentence. As a tribute to her profound and consistent example of living Christianity, in 2000 Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York initiated the cause of Dorothy Day for sainthood.

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