Dorothy Day credited Peter Maurin as being the heart and soul of the Catholic Worker movement. She would be the first to proclaim him the saint of the movement.
Peter was filled with the history and tradition of Catholicism, as well as an extensive knowledge of papal encyclicals. This was Peter’s common ground. He was able to create a synthesis of these ideas that was simple, but profound. In this he was a genius.
Peter gave new meaning to the word radical, which he drew from the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints, who were so successful in giving witness to Gospel values.
It was Peter who brought the writings of the personalist Emmanuel Mounier to the Catholic Worker. Mounier rebelled against judging all aspects of life through the economic factor (money and profit) and refused to elevate comfort and consuming to the level of a transcendental value. Instead, he focused on the value of the human person as one having a special vocation besides that of accumulation. He told us, “One does not free a man by detaching him from the bonds that paralyze him; one frees a man by attaching him to his destiny.”
The goal of both Mounier and Peter Maurin was to reform the world. They preferred calling persons and the Church to the works of mercy and to a personalist transformation of the world in Christ to dissent from Church teaching.
Personalist radicalism found the idea of the Church no obstacle to its philosophy and methods; to the contrary, it was only through personalist radicalism that the dynamite of the Church could be ignited.
Peter quoted the prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church, who condemned the practice of usury. He may have forseen the horrendous inequalitites and injustices, the lack of care for the human person which exist today because of indebtedness of the Third World to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Peter didn’t judge people. He engaged them and called them to their vocation, to bring Christ’s redeeming love to the world.
Dorothy Day described Peter the Saint very well: “Though Peter went weekly to confession and daily to Communion and spend an hour a day in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, his study was of the material order around hm. He was dealing with this world, in which God has placed us to work for a new heaven and a new earth wherein justice dwelleth. Peter’s idea of justice was that of Saint Thomas-to give each person what is his due.”
Maybe Peter and Dorothy should be canonized together.
— written by MARK AND LOUISE ZWICK, Originally published in Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVIII, No. 7, December 1998.