Magazine article U.S. Catholic

An A-Peeling Life

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

An A-Peeling Life

Article excerpt

At a Catholic Worker House, the gospel is put into practice during spuds detail.

I'd been hanging around the Catholic Worker House off and on for more than four years before being entrusted with a potato peeler, evidence of the success of my apprenticeship. In all that time, nary a dish had been broken among the thousands I had washed; I never tracked in too much dirt after policing the grounds or emptying the trash; nor had I dropped even one sack of groceries among the hundreds I carried up from the basement pantry for distribution.

Talk about your ironic--no, pathetic--contradictions. In an age of unprecedented prosperity, in the most abundant, wealthy, powerful country in the world, there are many hungry, desperate people. This becomes all too apparent at the Des Moines Catholic Worker House while one peels potatoes, in a house where images of hunger, want, deprivation, need, insecurity, uncertainty, weariness, and fear are reflected in the eyes of those we serve.

The good news is that because there is this house, many of these downtrodden faces who come for help do find relief. Some even leave the house reflecting a measure of hope in their eyes that was not there before. So, peeling potatoes at the Catholic Worker House is one concrete way to experience the "Good News"--put in spiritual terms, the "gospel."

After nearly 35 years as a union representative--a lifetime of labor organizing, negotiating, and picketing in support of economic and social justice for workers--I find myself actually writing about the gospel! The Good News comes in many different forms be it according to Matthew and Mark, Eugene Debs and John Sweeney, or Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Each, in their own inimitable style, refer to a common concept and an ideal: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do unto me."

The goal of all Catholic Worker houses is simply to fulfill that ideal. Across the country and around the world, on the wrong side of the tracks and in the worst parts of town, Catholic Workers bring life to the Beatitudes by living the Good News among the least. That includes peeling potatoes, even on a part-time basis. An intimate view is thus afforded into a few moments of the lives of the least among us, a view that is constantly changing, a hectic hodgepodge of race and culture. Men and women, infants and elderly, legals and illegals, immigrants and indigenous are all present on any given day.

The most disheartening for me are the women--mothers mostly, usually single, sometimes pregnant, often with several toddlers. They are usually the victims of domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. They and their children are constantly exposed and vulnerable to whatever viruses are in season and are faced with zero health care and extremely limited access to competent medical resources.

I read somewhere that the wealth of a country, its greatness and character, is truly measured by the manner in which its poorest, its weakest, and its disabled are treated. By this standard, a standard set by the gospel, we are one of the weakest and poorest countries in the world.

Dingman House is open for off-the-street hospitality five days a week, between noon and 7 p.m. The works of hospitality are among the most basic: toilet facilities, the luxury of a hot shower with necessary toiletries and freshly laundered towels, and a change of clothes. …

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