Educational Materials

Study Guide

Community

 

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.” Catholic Social Teaching emphasizes this call to community through the themes of the common good (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1905-1912) and a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable (Catechism, Nos. 2443-2449). 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.

Questions to Consider

  1. Why was Heschel’s vocal and very visible opposition to the Vietnam War so controversial in some quarters of American Judaism? What did American Jews have to lose by opposing the war? What might they gain by supporting it?

 

  1. What was the basis for Heschel’s opposition to the Vietnam War? How did he relate the teachings of the prophets to what was happening in Vietnam? Why did Heschel view the fight against Hitler in World War II as necessary, while the Vietnam War was a tragic and deeply unjust event?

 

  1. Why did Heschel, King, and other members of CALCAV hold a prayer vigil in Arlington Cemetery in February 1968? What was the significance of bringing the Torah scrolls to that protest? Do you think Heschel, King, and the others were taking a great risk?

 

  1. Benjamin Sax suggests that, by opposing the Vietnam War, Heschel was “putting at risk his life’s work to do the right thing,” and that Heschel was aware of what his actions might cost him. Do you agree with this assessment?

 

  1. Several commentators suggest that, by taking controversial public stands, such as opposition to the Vietnam War, King and Heschel sometimes found themselves socially or politically isolated. Nonetheless, they had each other to lean on, support, and take inspiration from. How do you envision their relationship? What do you imagine were its primary attributes?

 

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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