catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 12 :: 2005.06.17 — 2005.06.30


Feeding the hungry

Though I cringe at the cutesy name, I think Rag Dolls 2 Love, Inc. is on to something. Our church sewing group recently participated in the project, which was established specifically to facilitate the making and sending of ethnically sensitive rag dolls to children in areas ravaged by war or disease.

The project started with the clipping of a magazine article and resulted in ten dolls which will be on display for the month of June before heading off to various parts of the world. Experiences sewers did most of the cutting and stitching, while others of all ages and skill levels helped stuff dolls on a designated Sunday. The dolls are very cute and will no doubt be loved by the children who receive them, but a skeptic might question whether our efforts could have been put toward a better project. After all, a doll will not stop a bullet or fill an empty stomach. What good is a doll when physical needs are not being met, when death is imminent?

Dorothy Day is one person I look to as a model for an expansive vision of meeting people?s needs. Jim Forest wrote about an experience with Day in Sojourner?s Magazine:

One of the people we had the hardest time listening to when I was part of St. Joseph’s House in Manhattan was a woman we knew as the Weasel. We paid the rent for the small apartment where she lived with her mentally handicapped son. She had a terrible temper, never said thank you, always felt we weren’t doing all that we should for her. She had an irritating voice and a hawk eye. I doubt anyone missed her when she wasn’t around. I won’t go so far as to say Dorothy was an exception, but certainly she was very attentive to the Weasel, and astonishingly patient.

We got all sorts of gifts at the Catholic Worker?clothing, food, money, books. As it happened, a well-dressed woman visited the Worker house one day and gave Dorothy a diamond ring. Dorothy thanked the visitor matter-of-factly and slipped the ring in her pocket. Later in the day the Weasel happened to drop by. Dorothy took the diamond ring from her pocket and gave it to the Weasel, who put it on her finger in a matter-of-fact sort of way and left. I had the impression the Weasel thought it should have been a bigger diamond. One of the staff protested to Dorothy that the ring could better have been sold at the Diamond Exchange on West 47th Street and the money used to pay the woman’s rent for a year. Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity and could do as she liked with the ring. She could sell it for rent money or take a trip to the Bahamas. Or she could enjoy having a diamond ring on her hand just like the woman who had brought it to the Catholic Worker. “Do you suppose,” Dorothy asked, “that God created diamonds only for the rich?”

We are blessed to have the wisdom of such saints as Day from which to benefit. Even while she fed the hungry, clothed the naked and housed the homeless, Day did not lose sight of the Kingdom reality in which all share in the good gifts of God. She did not betray her belief in eternity with an anxiety about the present.

At our most practical, we tend to confine social justice to the Big 3 Necessities: food, clothing and shelter. Many people do wonderful work to meet these three needs for the world?s marginalized people. But we were created for more than the bare minimum and we miss out on a part of our responsibility toward one another when we limit our mission in the world to practical necessities. Even within the big three, we benefit from an attentiveness to beauty, to quality and to story.

And so the challenge for all of us as we think about how we can serve a local and global community is to think extravagantly as well as practically and to exercise our imaginations in the discipline of whimsy. What can we send along with the food baskets that would symbolize the surprise of mercy to someone too familiar with judgment? What can we create for the needy that will convey the mystery of God?s perfect beauty?

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