Written during the height of World War II, Dorothy Day wrote in The Catholic Worker about her views on Christian nonviolence and poverty. I think that insight still speaks prophetically today. Here are a few excerpts…

“We are still pacifists. Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers. Speaking for many of our conscientious objectors, we will not participate in armed warfare or in making munitions, or by buying government bonds to prosecute the war, or in urging others to these efforts. But neither will we be carping in our criticism. We love our country and we love our president. We have been the only country in the world where men and women of all nations have taken refuge from oppression. We recognize that while in the order of intention we have tried to stand for peace, for love of our brothers and sisters, in the order of execution we have failed as Americans in living up to our principles.” — January 1942

“As we have often quoted Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima, ‘Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.’ Our Catholic Worker groups are perhaps too hardened to the sufferings in the class way, living as they do in refugee camps, the refugees being, as they are, victims of the class war we live in always. We have lived in the midst of this war now these many years. It is a war not recognized by the majority of our comfortable people. They are pacifists themselves when it comes to the class war. They even pretend it is not there…But we cannot keep silent. We have not kept silence in the face of the monstrous injustice of the class war, or the race war that goes on side by side with this world war.” — February 1942

Photo: Robert Lentz, OFM


  1. What Dorothy Day’s wrote about “class war” is right to the point.

    “Class war’ is not an invention of Marxists or liberation theologians. It is part of the lives of so many people throughout the world where economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of a few and many – sometimes the majority, as here in Honduras – live on the scraps, if that.

    Even as she responded to the needs of the person at the door, Dorothy Day realized that poverty is a systemic problem and needs to be addressed.

  2. “We have been the only country in the world where men and women of all nations have taken refuge from oppression”

    And, too bad this will no longer be the case, as the oppressive USG is forcing its will upon religious institutions. I am curious as to why the good friar is still silent about the HHS ruling?

    As a Catholic and American, I find it troubling that many reflections, seem to support letters admonishing the SOH Boehner speaking at the CUA commencement; lashing out against the USCCB for its criticism of Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ; and critiquing the March for Life as a bunch of self-serving educated white folks with an anti-abortion agenda (those were not one’s exact words, but the context summary is about correct IMHO).

    Now, a certain administration, whom shall remain nameless, (and going back on its word regarding the conscience clause for healthcare workers, which was what got the USSCB to endorse the socialized medicalcare plan), is forcing its “secular” beliefs (or “religion”) upon the religious institutions, all in the name of “healthcare”. Seriously?!?!?!

    Everyone knows exactly where I stand on the abortion issue, and I am starting to soften on the just war and capital punishment (and that is directly attributed to your blog); however, we are now facing a serious Constitutional issue. Can the government impose a law that boldly goes against the religious tenets of one’s Faith? Even the Holy Father recognizes an attack on religion in the U.S.

    I will concede that legalized abortion will probably never be overturned; although I would like to see limitation, but I am realistic. As for the other “social justice” issues, we all agree something must be done, but disagree on the means. But, for the government to completely disregard its boundary and dismiss an institution’s religious affiliation or doctrine is unthinkable. It is not as if these institutions are prohibiting their employees to purchase contraceptives, etc., but they are just not going to pay for it via their HMO plan, nor should they. That is a personal choice. (So much for the right-to-choose thing, eh?) What is next, forcing a Catholic priest or Orthodox Rabbi to “marry” a same-gendered couple? (BTW, that’s what “civil unions” are for, so leave the term “marriage” out of it!)

    Personally, I do not believe we would be having this conversation if Muslims were forced to eat pork, or Sikhs forced to shave for employment, Orthodox Jew forced to cut his curls.

    1. The good friar might indeed speak about the HHS controversy, but has not had the time in recent weeks (it’s obviously very complicated and, unlike the March and other issues you named, it has been receiving excellent and thoughtful analysis from a variety of sound theological commentators)… but stay tuned just in case. A short response to your last paragraph — no one is forcing a Catholic to use birth control. The parallel, drawing on your analogy, would be to guarantee the right of a Jewish person to have access to affordable pork should that person want it. Be careful about the details of a very complicated matter. Thanks!

      1. Glad to see you were amused.

        BTW, Jared, hope you particularly enjoyed this line from the opening ‘graph of the HNP Today piece:

        They came from towns in Maryland, Virginia, Upstate New York and New Jersey to advocate for life. Many, carrying signs, they came to voice their opposition to abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, war, poverty and racism.

      2. Br. Dan, I would not expect anything different from a March for Life–especially from those representing a Catholic college or university. I am troubled to think “what if” the people holding those beliefs did not bring their message and proudly preach it. .

      3. Matthew M., as some have noted, the first precedent the courts would have cited in upholding the constitutionality of the contraception rule in its pre-compromise form (prior to the change that ruled that Catholic institutions don’t have to pay for it) is Justice Scalia’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith. The”very Catholic” Scalia, the favorite conservative justice for some, the upholder of the so-called original constitutional intent, held that a law that denied unemployment benefits to those determined to have used drugs was not unconstitutional as applied to Native Americans who utilized peyote as part of their sacramental rites. Scalia said is not unconstitutional for a law to disadvantage religion so long as it applies generally to all and has a valid purpose. I find it ironic that the opinion was issued by Scalia, the darling of conservative Catholics. So a very devout Catholic supplied the precedential ammunition to uphold a rule decried by the bishops. By the way, one of the dissenters in Smith, not a Catholic, said: “What if a law was passed that banned minors receiving communion at Catholic Mass in the name of banning alcohol to minors, or banning Jewish youths from partaking of wine at the Passover seder?” to which Scalia responded cynically that no legislative majority would ever pass such a law so Catholics and Jews need not be concerned. Finally, I don’t know why the bishops have chosen to take their last stand on contraception, as opposed to poverty, harboring the strangers and outcasts, and the other things Jesus was actually concerned about. When this is juxtaposed with the sex abuse scandal, most of the public has written off the bishops as moral leaders, which is a shame but not a surprise. Jack K.

      4. Two points. What I find amazing is the case which is cited by Jack K, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0494_0872_ZO.html,
        supports exactly why the HHS decision is UNCONSTITUTIONAL. If individuals are allowed to smoke peyote ceremonially for religious purposes, then an institution upon which its religious tenents are so against abortion and artificial contraception, should also be respected. Now, the employees of any Catholic institution know the doctrine with relation to this fact. If those people are so opposed to that doctrine, then perhaps they should find another employer. And, if they choose to stay, I am certain there is a nearby drugstore, or PP clinic (which is still unfortunately being supported by tax dollars). Additionally, the last time I checked, many insurance companies do not pay for “elective” medical procedures, correct? So, why should any corporation, much less a private, religious organization? These institutions are in no way, prohibiting the individual from obtaining an abortion or artifical contraceptions: those individuals are still free to choose. The institutions are just boldly stating that they are not going to pay for them directly or indirectly through the HMO/PPOs. (And, I am certain that at the time, the right honable Justice Scalia could not have predicted such an abuse and trambling of the Constitution by an administration, some twenty years later!)

        Lasly, I also find it amazing, that EVERY time, anyone attempts to admonish those in contradiction of the Magistrium, someone has to throw the abuse scandal back at them, failing to recognize ALL the other institutions, including public schools and other faith “traditions”, that have also had their fair share of abuses. But of course, because the MSM does not cover that, and because the Holy Mother Church has been the bastion for so many — withstanding the test of time for over two millenia — surviving the Borgias, the Reformation, and even Vatican II — let’s us bring out another wound. I am of course, in no way, making light of or dismissing the tradegies of the victims, but it is time to let the wound heal.

        My appologies to the good friar for hijacking the conversation away from the non-violent message of Dorothy Day: it was not my intent.

      1. I know Jared. No worries here. My quip was in regards to the fact that some “cafeteria catholics” have not stood up (for decades now), for the Faith — the Holy Mother Church — and have espoused or been so duly influenced by the secular humanism. If I am to endure the title of “cafeteria” because of my support of the pro-life (anti-abortion) movement, and my leaning towards the Church’s position on just-war and capital punishment, and moreover traditional marriage between a man and women, then those who have chosen to take the absolute extreme of the “social justice” precepts to exclusion of that the beginning of a life is at the moment of conception (ergo abortion is also killing), and that contraception negates our most precious gift and responsibility to co-create with God our Father, then they too should be considered “cafeteria” as well.

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