The ABC of Catholic Economics

Some food for thought and with thanks to Regina Magazine –


        is for Agrarianism, which is at the heart of Catholic economics. The idea that families and small towns or villages can solve most problems without interference from national governments is integral to all Catholic social doctrine.


is for Belloc, Hillaire, the co-creator, with G.K Chesterton, of the formal term for Catholic economics, Distributism. As a working term, Distributism was considered more descriptive than anything else, and the two were essentially unsatisfied with it. Lacking any suitable alternative, however, they spent the better part of two decades explaining its practical application, and updating its doctrines as new papal teachings were introduced.


is for Chesterton, G.K. Belloc’s dear friend and one of the most brilliant English-language authors of all time.  Chesterton was a journalist, a poet, a novelist, and a fierce debater, challenging the enemies of Christianity wherever he found them; his most famous debates were against American atheist Clarence Darrow, Anglo-Irish socialist George Bernard Shaw, and English science fiction great Herbert George Wells.


 is for Day, Dorothy, the most famous American champion of Distributism. Day, a faithfully orthodox Catholic despite her reputation as a maverick, founded the Catholic Worker movement and newspaper to spread the ideals of blessed Franciscan poverty, the dignity of labor, and charity.


 is for Economics, Catholic. The Popes, seeing the need to address the dangers of modernism and its attendant pathologies liberalism and socialism, formalized the Church’s teachings on economics and the relations between workers and employers in a series of encyclicals beginning in 1891 and continuing through to the present day.


 is for Family, the basic social unit of the Catholic economic system. The traditional family living self-sufficiently on the land is the ideal promoted by Distributism; it is based on the example of the Holy Family.


is for Guild, the traditional way of organizing workers and employers in an harmonious, mutually supportive system. The Medieval guilds worked to care for their members, create self-sustaining economic systems, and give even the poorest members a voice in municipal government.


is for Home, the well-kept, safe, and holy environment for the educating and nurturing of children. If Distributism is the economic system of saints, then the home is where those saints are made.


is for Idolatry, the worship of that other than God. The idols of liberalism are false freedom and the omnipotent invisible hand of the market. The idols of socialism are the State and false progress. Both worship the great evil of untruth that the Church stands against.


 is for Justice, Social, the phrase coined by Pope Leo XIII in the Nineteenth century. True social justice lies in peaceful class relations, natural law, and hierarchy.


 is for Maurin, Peter, who was Dorothy Day’s mentor and the co-founder of the Catholic Worker.  Maurin was a living example of blessed Franciscan poverty, having once slept in an abandoned coke oven while preaching and working as a miner. Maurin’s radical street preaching constantly stressed the need to live simpler, self-sufficient lives on the land.


 is for New Deal, the massive expansion of the State ushered in by President Franklin Roosevelt and emblematic of the Welfare-Warfare State of the Modern Age. Distributists, including Dorothy Day, fiercely opposed this unprecedented government expansion. Peter Maurin criticized State-based welfare (as opposed to personal charity) as merely “passing the buck,” and most un-Christian.


 is for Obedience. The Church teaches us that there are two forms of law, divine and man-made. We, as Catholics, are obliged to obey the laws of God as we know them (natural law). As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us, “An unjust law (one not in accord with natural law) is no law at all.”


 is for Pius XI, the pope of the Inter-War years (1922 – 1939). A great and gifted champion of the Church and humanity, Pius condemned racism and nationalism (Mit brennender Sorge), created the Feast of Christ the King to remind Christians that their first loyalty is to Christ not any earthly sovereign, and expanded Leo XIII’s teachings on politics and economics.


 is for Quadragesimo Anno, Pius XI’s encyclical issue in 1931 confirming the teachings of Rerum Novarum and expanding them in great detail, praising workers’ co-operatives and family businesses, while condemning socialism and unrestrained capitalism.


 is for Rerum Novarum, the encyclical issued on May 15, 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. Rerum sought to address the shocking injustices of modernity by condemning usury, finance capitalism, and socialism. Rerum emphasized the dignity of labor and the rights and responsibilities of workers.


 is for Sheen, Fulton, the man known to so many as “America’s Bishop.” Archbishop Sheen inspired many to convert to the Catholic faith, and provided decades of books and lectures on the evils of atheism, socialism, and usury.


 is for Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R. Tolkien), the famed author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Although Tolkien never understood his works to be allegories of the Gospels, nevertheless his close friendship with C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and other Distributist authors inspired Tolkien’s vision of the ideal Distributist community: the Shire.


 is for Unity, a key teaching of the Church. For there to be peace, there must exist a state of harmony and shared purpose between clans, classes, and communities. The family (the clan) is the first and most important of these, then the economic groups (the classes), and then the political organization (the communities).


is for Violence, condemned by the Church and the Distributists under all but the most exacting circumstances (Just War). Violence is endemic to the State, especially the modern total war State, which is, in part, why many of the Distributists preferred monarchy or anarchy as the best form of government.


 is for Worker, Catholic, the movement and newspaper founded on Distributist principles by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933.


is for Xavier, Francis. Although known more as a gifted missionary, Saint Francis Xavier was also a brilliant organizer of fledgling Christian communities, and a missionary who understood the importance of local clergy and leaders providing for both the physical and spiritual needs of their flock.


is for Young Men’s Institute, an example of the kind of fraternal benefit organizations that were once common amongst Catholic communities. Distributism views such organizations as key to community stability and family security.


 is for Zita’s Home for Friendless Women, a shelter for women rejected by society. Mother Zita (Emily O’Keefe, an Irish immigrant to New York) founded the home and insisted that a Sister sleep by the door so that women seeking shelter could be admitted at any hour of the day or night.  The last of their nuns and some former residents now live in St. Zita’s Villa, a home for elderly women, in Monsey, N.Y


Mark Zwick R I P

We were sorry to hear the sad news of the death of Mark Zwick of the Casa Juan Diego in Houston, Texas. In the early days of the CVM when we were getting attacked on various fronts, he wrote in our favour for which we were very grateful.



Here are some excerpts of his obituary from the Casa Juan Diego website —

Mark Zwick, who 36 years ago turned a tumble-down building on Washington Avenue into a thriving international refuge for immigrants and refugees, died Friday at his home in Houston after battling Parkinson’s Disease. He was 88.

In 1980, Mark and his wife Louise founded Casa Juan Diego, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality where thousands of refugees escaping to Houston during the civil wars in Central America found safe harbour.

In later years, Casa Juan Diego would expand to include ten buildings and become a beacon for immigrants fleeing violence and poverty everywhere. Its name became famous along the foot-beaten corridors that lead to the Texas-Mexico border.

Inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, the methods of the Catholic saints, and Catholic Worker founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Casa Juan Diego offered food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and uncommon kindness to migrants with no place to go and few places to get help.

Over the years, more than 100,000 undocumented men, women, and children spent at least one night at Casa Juan Diego. The centre continues to offer hospitality and medical care, and provides free food to around 500 families each week.

After discovering the lack of resources for sick and injured immigrants, Mark also began offering financial support and coordinating personal care services for incapacitated men and women ineligible for social security disability benefits or worker’s comp. Today hospitals, schools, and police departments routinely refer immigrants to Casa Juan Diego for life-saving care.

Mark spent the last 35 years of his life practising the daily works of mercy at Casa Juan Diego. He welcomed immigrant guests and distributed food and clothing to the poor. He listened to the needs, joys, and tragedies of the sick and injured, the paralyzed, the battered, the pregnant, and the homeless in a strange land and found ways to help each one.

His gentle demeanour, wisdom, sense of humour, and generosity endeared him to the immigrant community. By many he was affectionately known as “Don Marcos.”




Can anyone help urgently in Brighton

We saw this message about a homeless man in Brighton. Can anyone help –

Just met a man in Brighton who lives on the streets. Living with terminal cancer – on the streets. He’s been given 12-18 months to live by his specialist. On the streets.

The local authority won’t provide any accommodation assistance to him in terms of accommodation because he doesn’t have a ‘local connection’.

He can no longer swallow food properly, it comes back up, so he’s on vitamin drinks he gets from the doctor. He’s having great difficulty even getting words out of his mouth when people ask him if he wants anything to eat. He’s a Catholic, pray for him. If you’re making the St Jude Novena, include his cause and his plight in your prayers.

His response to the question: ‘What is a man living with terminal cancer doing on the streets in Brighton?’ was “That’s Brighton and Hove City Council for you.”

Pray for a miracle, even if that miracle turns out to be shelter and proper assistance as it gets colder.

Victorian Britain has returned, but then, did it ever really leave?


Dorothy Day on Doing the Works of Mercy


 The spiritual works of mercy are to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead.

The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbour the harbourless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.

When Peter Maurin talked about the necessity of practising the works of mercy, he meant all of them. He envisioned houses of hospitality in poor parishes in every city of the country, where these precepts of our Lord could be put into effect. He pointed out that we have turned to the state through home relief, social legislation, and social security, that we no longer practice personal responsibility, but are repeating the words of the first murderer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The works of mercy are a wonderful stimulus to our growth in faith as well as love. Our faith is taxed to the utmost and so grows through this strain put upon it. It is pruned again and again, and springs up bearing much fruit. For anyone starting to live literally the words of the fathers of the church – “The bread you retain belongs to the hungry, the dress you lock up is the property of the naked”; “What is superfluous for one’s need is to be regarded as plunder if one retains it for one’s self” – there is always a trial ahead. “Our faith, more precious than gold, must be tried as though by fire.”

We must love to the point of folly, and we are indeed fools, as our Lord himself was who died for such a one as this.

Here is a letter we received today: “I took a gentleman seemingly in need of spiritual and temporal guidance into my home on a Sunday afternoon. I let him have a nap on my bed, went through the want ads with him, made coffee and sandwiches for him, and when he left, I found my wallet had gone also.”

I can only say that the saints would only bow their heads, and not try to understand or judge. … These things happened for our testing. We are sowing the seed of love, and we are not living in the harvest time. We must love to the point of folly, and we are indeed fools, as our Lord himself was who died for such a one as this. We lay down our lives, too, when we have performed so painfully thankless acts, for our correspondent is poor in this world’s goods. It is agony to go through such bitter experiences, because we all want to love, we desire with a great longing to love our fellow human beings, and our hearts are often crushed at such rejections. But, as a Carmelite nun said to me last week, “It is the crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart.”

St. Francis was “the little poor man” and none was more joyful than he; yet Francis began with tears, with fear and trembling, hiding in a cave from his irate father. He had expropriated some of his father’s goods (which he considered his rightful inheritance) in order to repair a church and rectory where he meant to live. It was only later that he came to love Lady Poverty. He took it little by little; it seemed to grow on him. Perhaps kissing the leper was the great step that freed him not only from fastidiousness and a fear of disease but from attachment to worldly goods as well.

Sometimes it takes but one step. We would like to think it is always so. And yet the older I get, the more I see that life is made up of many steps, and they are very small affairs, not giant strides. I have “kissed a leper,” not once but twice – consciously – and I cannot say I am much the better for it.

The first time was early one morning on the steps of Precious Blood Church. A woman with cancer of the face was begging (beggars are allowed only in the slums) and when I gave her money (no sacrifice on my part but merely passing on alms which someone had given me) she tried to kiss my hand. The only thing I could do was kiss her dirty old face with the gaping hole in it where an eye and a nose had been. It sounds like a heroic deed but it was not. One gets used to ugliness so quickly. What we avert our eyes from one day is easily borne the next when we have learned a little more about love. Nurses know this, and so do mothers.

Another time I was refusing a bed to a drunken prostitute with a huge, toothless, rouged mouth, a nightmare of a mouth. She had been raising a disturbance in the [community] house. I kept remembering how Saint Therese said that when you had to refuse anyone anything, you could at least do it so that the person went away a bit happier. I had to deny her a bed but when that woman asked me to kiss her, I did, and it was a loathsome thing, the way she did it. It was scarcely a mark of normal human affection.

Love must be tried and tested and proved. It must be tried as though by fire. And fire burns.

We suffer these things and they fade from memory. But daily, hourly, to give up our own possessions and especially to subordinate our own impulses and wishes to others – these are hard, hard things; and I don’t think they ever get any easier.

We have repeated so many times that those who have two coats should follow the early church fathers who said, “The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor.” And those who have a ten-room house can well share it with those who have none. How many large houses could be made into several apartments to take in others? Much hospitality could be given to relieve the grave suffering today. But people are afraid. They do not know where it will end. They have all gone far enough in generosity to know that an ordeal is ahead, that the person taken in will most likely turn into “the friend of the family.” No use starting something that you cannot finish, they say. Once bitten is twice shy. We have all had our experiences of ingratitude, of nursing a viper in our bosom, as the saying goes. So we forget about the necessity of pruning, in the natural order, to attain much fruit. We don’t want to pay the cost of love. We do not want to exercise our capacity to love.

There are many stories one could tell about Catholic Worker life, but it is always better to wait until years have passed so that they become more impersonal, less apt to be identified with this one or that.

There is a story, however, about a reader of the paper, and this happened long enough ago so that we can tell it. Our friend adopted a young girl and educated her, and the young girl proved to be a great joy and comfort. Now she has entered a contemplative order to spend her life in prayer and work. The same reader then took in another young woman, who brought home a fatherless baby, and when that was forgiven her, went out and brought in still another, and there was apt to be a third. Our friend wrote and begged us for advice and help as to what to do. Was she contributing to the delinquency of this girl by forgiving seventy times seven, and was she perhaps going to have seventy times seven children to take care of?

It is good to think of the prophet Hosea, whom I have mentioned before in writing on love. He was commanded by God to take a harlot to wife, and she had many children by other men. He was a dignified, respected teacher of his people, and he was shamed and humiliated by the wife of his bosom. Yet he was to go down in history as the type of the love of God for his adulterous people.

Love must be tried and tested and proved. It must be tried as though by fire. And fire burns.

We may be living in a desert when it comes to such perceptions now, and that desert may stretch out before us for years. But a thousand years are as one day in the sight of God, and soon we will know as we are known. Until then we will have glimpses of community in play, in suffering, in serving, and we will begin to train for that community.



Dorothy Day and Fr Zosima

I’m not sure what had given Dorothy such a warmth for Orthodox Christianity in general and the Russian Orthodox Church in particular, but one of the factors was certainly her love of the books of Dostoevsky, and most of all his novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Perhaps the most important chapter for Dorothy concerns a conversation between a wealthy woman and an elderly monk, Father Zosima. The woman asks him how she can really know that God exists. Fr. Zosima tells her that no explanation or argument can achieve this, only the practice of “active love.” He assures her that there is no other way to know the reality of God. The woman confesses that sometimes she dreams about a life of loving service to others—she thinks perhaps she will become a nun, live in holy poverty and serve the poor in the humblest way. It seems to her such a wonderful thought that it makes tears comes to her eyes. But then it crosses her mind how ungrateful some of the people she is serving will be. Some will complain that the soup she is serving isn’t hot enough, the bread isn’t fresh enough, the bed is too hard, the covers are too thin. She confesses she couldn’t bear such ingratitude—and so her dreams about serving others vanish, and once again she finds herself wondering if there really is a God. To this Fr. Zosima responds with the words, “Love in practice is a hard and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams,” words Dorothy often repeated. I think of the Orthodox monk Father Zosima as somehow a co-founder of all the Catholic Worker houses of hospitality.

By Jim Forrest