Tag Archives: Dorothy Day

Chris Hedges on the Works of Mercy

Hedges, Chris. “Fuelling the Fire of Real Change,” Truthdig.com (28 September 2008). [This article was reprinted in Hedges’s Death of the Liberal Class, chapter 5]

The coals of radical social change smolder here among the poor, the homeless and the destitute. As the numbers of disenfranchised dramatically increase, our hope, our only hope, is to connect intimately with the daily injustices visited upon them. Out of this contact we can resurrect, from the ground up, a social ethic, a new movement. Hand out bowls of soup. Coax the homeless into a shower. Make sure those who are mentally ill, cruelly cast out on city sidewalks, take their medications. Put your muscle behind organizing service workers. Go back into America’s resegregated schools. Protest. Live simply. It is in the tangible, mundane and difficult work of forming groups and communities to care for others and defy authority that we will kindle the outrage and the moral vision to fight back. It is not Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who will save us. It is Dorothy Day.


Hope will come only through direct contact with the destitute. The ethic born out of this contact will be grounded in the real and the possible. This ethic will, because it forces us to witness suffering and pain, be uncompromising in its commitment to the sanctity of life.

“There are several families with us, destitute families, destitute to an unbelievable extent, and there, too, is nothing to do but to love,” Day wrote of those she had taken into the Catholic Worker house. “What I mean is that there is no chance of rehabilitation, no chance, so far as we see, of changing them; certainly no chance of adjusting them to this abominable world about them—and who wants them adjusted, anyway?

“What we would like to do is change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute—the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words—we can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.”


The little way

“We all wish for recognition of one kind or another. But it is mass action people think of these days. They lose sight of the sacrament of the present moment — of the little way. [. . .] As St. Paul says, it is by little and by little that we are saved — or that we fall. We are living in this world and must make choices now, choices which may mean the sacrifice of our lives, in the future, but for now our goods, our reputations even. Our work is called futile, our stand of little worth or significance, having no influence, winning no converts, ineffective if not a form a treason. Or it is termed defeatism, appeasement, escapism.

“What a paradox it is, this natural life and this supernatural life. We must give up our lives to gain them; we must die to live; we must be pruned to bear fruit. Ah yes, when we are being called appeasers, defeatists, we are being deprived of our dearest goods — our reputation, honor, the esteem of men — and we are truly on the way to becoming the despised of the earth. We are beginning perhaps to be truly poor.

“We are trying to spread the gospel of peace, to persuade others to extend the peace movement, to build up a mighty army of conscientious objectors. And in doing this we are accounted fools, and it is the folly of the Cross in the eyes of an unbelieving world” (pp. 104-105).

— Dorothy Day, Selected Writings: By Little and By Little