The Bread of the Strong: Lacouturisme and the Folly of the Cross, 1910-1985

By Jack Lee Downey | Go to book overview

Epilogue: To Afflict the Comfortable
and Comfort the Afflicted
Catholic Worker Pacifism as a Form-of-Life

I was thinking this morning about our neighbor’s attitudes toward us,
their respect for the ideas of the paper. I do not think however that they
have respect for us personally for trying to live these ideals. They re-
spect our “success” …. They respect us because “important” people
come to see us. But if we should be suppressed, and could not pay our
bills, they would be just as contemptuous, or rather much more con-
temptuous than they are to the poor around us. They would despise us
for our failure.

We have yet to learn what voluntary poverty really means.

—Dorothy Day, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day

On August 10, 1940, Dorothy Day penned a circular letter from the Worker’s root hub in Lower Manhattan to its constellation of affiliated communities, as the United States teetered on the brink of entry into World War II. Subsequently dubbed “Dorothy’s Encyclical,” the letter was a rare occasion for Day to directly assert her charismatic authority, in contrast to the Worker’s conventional decentralized mode of operation.1 From its inception in 1933, the Catholic Worker hit the streets with a distinctive amalgamation of radical politics and maximalist Christian spirituality, maintaining a dogged opposition to all forms of militarism as an evangelical sign of contradiction against the prevailing “just war” traditions that dominated Catholic moral theology and international policy. Indeed, pacifism would not even be sanctioned as a legitimate conscientious option for Catholics until the publication of Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) in 1965, during the Second Vatican Council.2 At issue in Day’s address was the question of dissent within the Worker on fundamental questions—triggered by the revelation that certain communities that challenged Day’s platform of

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