Sunday, September 13, 2009


The Catholic Worker movement has been a witness to the world in many ways since its founding way back in the depths of the Great Depression, over 80 years ago. One major way it has done this is by showing how to turn your lifestyle into an act of service.

Most good-intentioned Americans find themselves busy and their money spent. Just keeping a roof over their head and feeding their family takes most of their resources. They are lucky to spare a few hours or a few extra dollars at the end of the month towards a charitable cause.

But wouldn't it be amazing if all the time, talent and treasure spent doing these basic life necessities could somehow also be an expression of the Christian vocation to service?

Let's look at it financially. People who live with us in community pay a small rent. For example, a single person who works a full-time job may pay a monthly rent of $300 (we have different rates for single people, married couples and those with children, and we also negotiate based on how much someone works outside of the house). Anyone who has ever had to rent their own apartment, furnish it and pay utilities would know this is a really good deal. We wanted to set the amount high enough so that our bills would be paid and that members would take this commitment seriously, but also low enough to consider the extra hours spent doing ministry work by living here.

Still, even though this is for all practical purposes a very low rent, it adds up to a whopping $3,600 a year! Now, I am not one to begrudge the contributions of anyone, and God knows how much each nickels counts, but only the most generous and wealthy people could imagine handing over that much money to us in a single year. I couldn't have imagined donating that much with my expenses and salary, either, back when I maintained my own apartment just a few short months ago.

By no means am I trying to minimize the contributions of others, as we would not be in operation if it weren't for the dozens of folks who contribute who don't live with us in community. There is always that "invisible" person who also lives here--the combined contributions of outside folks who help us out. Your presence is truly felt and we would have to fold up shop without you.

I'm not suggesting that everyone out there should live in a Catholic Worker house. I do support Dorothy Day's original vision that each parish should have one, which means we need a whole lot more communities like this, but that is neither here nor there. What I am asking is this: Are there ways that you can turn your most basic living tasks and expenses into acts of service?

By living in a center of Christian outreach, we have more resources available to contribute because we simply live here. We'd have to mop and vacuum the floors anyway, why not do it at a center of Christian outreach rather than a private apartment? We'd have to write a check to a landlord or mortgage company anyway, why not write a check to a center of Christian outreach instead? But by no means are these the only ways to turn your lifestyle into service. You all are creative, hard-working people. What are some other options?

Many folks have gardens and fruit trees in your yard. You know how it gets toward the end of the summer when you have more than you can use and there is produce literally rotting on the vines. You already take the time and energy to grow it. One option is to pick it and give it to your local food pantry--or call someone like me who would be happy to do it for you! All the unpicked produce in backyard gardens in this town would probably exceed the storage capacity at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank!

You walk your dog anyway... it probably wouldn't be that much harder to also walk the dog of the little old lady who lives next door to you, and the dogs might love the extra companionship.

You drive your kids to school anyway. Would it be possible to carpool with the struggling single mom whose house you drive by everyday on the way to school?

Most of us have attics and basements full of junk--but your junk could be a treasure to a poor family who could use it.

The possibilities are endless! I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't go out of their way to help others--please do! But we all know how tired and busy we are and what the limitations are. The better strategy would be to find a way to integrate service into what you normally do anyway. Perhaps with a nickel's worth of extra effort you can double your service.

You can set up your lifestyle so that service is easy to do because it falls within the normal infrastructure of your day. This is one of the things that has most impressed me about the Catholic Worker movement. It makes ya think . . .

Some people choose a more dramatic adjustment by changing their occupation or living situation. I would never tell someone not to do that, but keep in mind it is the job of the laity to be a witness to the secular world, according to Vatican II--at work, in your neighborhoods and recreation activities.

Anyone who has ever held a secular job can tell you that the Holy Spirit needs willing hands, feet and hearts in those places more than anywhere! Be a peacemaker among all the petty squabbles and serious backstabbing that you see every day. If you are really passionate about recycling, for example, you might have a bigger impact starting a recycling program at your current job than quitting and working for a small environmental non-profit that is already doing a lot of recycling.

Suggest, coach and teach your business to be mindful of humanitarian causes and the impact of your business on the world and others. Sometimes a quiet voice on the inside of a business can do more than a screaming protest in the streets.

These are all important acts of service, and they can be done within the flow of your current lifestyle!

Pictured above are Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, respectively.


Erin said...

Great post, Frank!

Erin said...

...that's Erin K. =)

Kilburn Family said...

I really enjoyed this post. It has inspired me to do more to help folks in my daily life. Thanks for the pep talk :)!

Anonymous said...

My offers to help others have been oppressed.
Would you like this extra food?
Would you like me to walk with you to the door?
Do you need any help?

Anonymous said...

People have their reasons for not accepting food or whatever, but the act of kindness is never in vain in God's point of view.