The concept of community was central to Dorothy Day’s life, work, and faith, as it is to the Catholic Worker movement which she co-founded. In her memoir The Long Loneliness, Day asserts that human beings were not made to live alone, and that “community” is “the social answer to the long loneliness”—that is, the inevitable emptiness expressed in our hunger for God. Day closes the same book with the assertion that “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” Today, as from the very beginning, many members of the Catholic Worker movement live in community in the Houses of Hospitality, cooking, cleaning, teaching, and sharing responsibility for the hospitality of their guests. And, as from the beginning, many of those guests are the marginalized persons of the world—immigrants; the poor; the socially, economically, or politically disenfranchised; and those in need of family, friends, and community. (Students and teachers may note that the focus on community relates to courses on the Marks of the Church taught in Roman Catholic schools.)
Questions to Consider
- Much of Day’s work in New York City involved providing food, shelter, and hospitality to the immigrant poor newly arrived in America. There is much debate today about federal policies toward immigrants and immigration and what sort of welcome immigrants legal or illegal do or do not deserve. What do you think Dorothy Day’s stance would be on this debate? For instance, would she support the “Sanctuary Cities” movement? Do you imagine that she would be actively engaged in the federal immigration debate? What can we learn from her concern for and call to engage with the immigrant poor?
- Many studies have shown that the sense of belonging, of seeing oneself as part of a larger community of persons, is central to good health and wellbeing. When a sense of community is lacking, institutions often fail and people feel isolated and alienated from the larger culture. What can we learn from Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movements’ emphasis on community? What, according to Day’s example, would be the fundamental requirements for being in community with others? What responsibilities does it entail?
- Do you agree with Day’s assertion that “[w]e cannot love God unless we love each other”? What does this say about the role of community in regard to one’s relationship to God? How might the two be connected? (You may wish to consider the Holiness Code and the Shema from the Hebrew scriptures which are taught in Roman Catholic religion courses.)
- How did Dorothy Day understand the word hospitality? What did it mean to her? Does it mean the same for you, or perhaps something different?
- Studies over the last two decades by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) and others have suggested that America is suffering from a decline in the sense of community, as fewer people participate in social and civic organizations, recreational leagues, PTAs, houses of worship, and other local institutions that support community feeling. Is this something that you or persons you know have experienced? How do you think this can be addressed (or can it)? Do Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker model offer any insights as to how to build community, or what principles it can and should be founded on?
- For several decades, the United States has experienced growing social and economic inequality. Do you think this is a significant factor in the decline of community in our country? What other factors do you think contribute to this feeling? Can you identify patterns or places where community feeling is stronger or weaker? Do you have a strong sense of community where you live and/or study?
Related Day Quotes
We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of the bread, and we know each other in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone any more. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship. (The Long Loneliness, 285)
I thought . . . ‘The only answer in this life, to the loneliness we are all bound to feel, is community. The living together, working together, sharing together, loving God and loving our brother, and living close to him in community so we can show our love for Him.’ (The Long Loneliness, 243)
[Peter Maurin] always reminded me that we are our brother’s keeper… that we must have a sense of personal responsibility to take care of our neighbor at a personal sacrifice. It is not the function of the state to enter into these realms.” (The Long Loneliness, 171) He stressed the need for building a new society within the shell of the old – a society in which it was easier for people to be good. (The Long Loneliness, 179)
And I must say I first became Catholic because I felt the Catholic Church was the church of the poor, and still think it is the church of the poor. I think it is the church of the immigrant populations that came over…. (from Bill Moyers film)
Going around and seeing such sights [of those in poverty] is not enough. . . . [T]o give what you have for relief, to pledge yourself to voluntary poverty for life so that you can share with your brothers is not enough. One must live with them, share with them their suffering too. Give up one’s privacy, and mental and spiritual comforts as well as physical. (The Long Loneliness, 214)
I think we are happy people… You can live in a slum, with a family of poverty-stricken people around you, and there is still joy. The joy of companionship, the joy of children. There is natural joy, and then there is the feeling that you are doing what you are called to do… your vocation is being fulfilled. (audio clip from Mike Wallace radio interview)
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