We Have Not Truly Arrived
A reflection on the future of the Catholic Worker: ” The climate catastrophe’s quickening pace and capitalism’s unbridled consumption will bring us close to that shell again, and the Catholic Worker’s experiences with living differently may become reality for more and more people.”
This essay first appeared in the April 2023 issue of The Catholic Agitator, the newspaper of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker community.
In my experience, limited to these last thirty years, the Catholic Worker has often functioned as a penitential movement. Not quite like the Middle Ages, but still, a movement for its members to express their penance through good deeds. For most Catholic Workers, it is not our personal sins for which we do penance (though maybe a little) so much as structural and societal sins. We come to the work to atone for the wars and racism and oppression of our governments and churches. This has been an important part of our lives together, standing up to denounce what is happening, a voice crying out in the desert.
But of course, we also seek to announce the good news, to build a new society in the shell of the old, a place where it is indeed easier to be good. So far, it would seem that we have not truly arrived at the shell of the old. Though, if the years during and after the Second World War were not the shell of the old then perhaps I do not know what is! Maybe we have seen the husk of society a few times and it has been rebuilt along the same bad blueprint over and over. The climate catastrophe’s quickening pace and capitalism’s unbridled consumption will bring us close to that shell again, and the Catholic Worker’s experiences with living differently may become reality for more and more people.
The model of being penitential might not persist. After all, people who have suffered most under oppression might not feel called to repent and have perhaps not been as drawn to our movement. But maybe the motivation to build the new society through mutual aid and decentralization will attract a more diverse group of laborers in this proverbial vineyard. So let’s double down on the duty of delight and lean in to the idea that we truly do want to put ourselves out of business—to try each day anew to realize the new heaven and the new earth and make mistakes, attempt things that might not work or even seem certain to fail.
Thankfully, we can rest in the knowledge that all the plans we make matter little compared to the will of God and that God has stuck it out with us these past ninety years, so far so good.