Peter Maurin

First of all, it was Peter who came into our lives and called us to work in the vineyard. He convinced us by his own talking that there was work to be done, that we each had vocations, callings. We were called upon, as St. Peter said, ‘to give reason for the faith that was in us.’

When people ask me how the Catholic Worker movement started and what it is, I tell them about Peter, and the way he lives, and the ideas he expresses. I talk about his personalist and communitarian philosophy.

Peter’s little essays on personalism can be summed up by considering, “What makes people human?,” and “To be what you want the other fellow to be.”

What are we here for? We are here to know God, to love God and to serve God, and how can we love and serve God unless we love others and serve them. So it follows, that each of us, instead of being self-centered, must try more and more to be God centered…loving God above all things, with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

We are called, we have a vocation. It is up to us to develop that. Mine is writing, and it is only because of the paper, the CATHOLIC WORKER, that houses of hospitality and farming communes, or even the suggestion of them came into being. That’s how the communitarian end of the movement started. People read about our way of life and want to join us. They come to visit and remain.

Things just happen. Jesus said if your neighbor is hungry, or if your enemy is hungry, feed them. So we took to feeding those who came. We didn’t intend breadlines. They just happened. The same with sheltering people. The same with starting farms.

People come to join us in “our wonderful work.” It all sounds very wonderful, but life itself is a haphazard, untidy messy affair. Unless we can live simply, unquestioningly and solitarily, one might say, in the midst of a mob, then we cease to be a personalist. The more we live with people in a community the more we must look to ourselves and regard the beam in our own eye. The more we live with a babbling crowd, the more we must practice silence. “For every idle word we speak we will be judged.”

Peter is one of those who speaks to the point and not idly. He speaks in season and out of season, of course.

Idle talk, the judging of others, the lack of charity, this certainly is not the kind of talk to be indulging in.  Peter’s vocation is most certainly to think and talk and write. He has done every kind of manual labor so he is indeed a worker as well as a scholar. He is not a manager of a house of hospitality, nor of a farming commune. Whether our farms will ever be more than groups of people living together it is hard to tell. We simply have not the people with skills to work, or to follow, or to lead. We have many rugged individualists, each one doing the best they can. But we have lost our knowledge of crafts, we have not yet achieved the unjudging self-discipline, the asceticism, the voluntary poverty necessary for even the beginnings of a farming commune. We are still little more than refugee camps on the soil, and we are still no more than refugees from the industrial revolution, the class war, a race war, and international war that is engulfing us.

This past month while I have been away from the work I have been reading the Fathers of the Desert. You can get a paper-covered dollar edition from Sheed and Ward, 63 Fifth Avenue. I had read that and am now reading two complete volumes, edited by Ernest A. Wallis Budge, keeper of the Assyrian and Egyptian antiquities of the British Museum and published 1907.

It’s a good time to be reading about the desert fathers. A lot of those desert fathers, according to Dr. Budge, fled from the cities to the wilderness to escape military service. Thousands of monasteries began then, for people began to live together as well as to seek solitary places. By reading about the desert fathers I have learned more about personalism and comnunitarianism.

The Catholic Worker, February 1943, Dorothy Day (Sel./Ed.)


Desert Fathers, Budge, V. 1

Desert Fathers, Budge, V. 2