I live right down the street from one of the Catholic Worker Houses here in Chicago. I pass it often on my way to lunch with the Golden Diners at the local Presbyterian Church.
I’ll never forget my first visit to that house. I was in the insurance business at the time and at the suggestion of John Carney who was directing the Passionist Volunteer program, I went there for dinner. He invited me and said I should be there at 6:00 pm. I warned him that I had a busy schedule that day and asked him to please not wait for me if I was late. He said that’d be fine.
Just before 6:00 pm I drove up in my new Cadillac Seville, parking it right in front of the house. There were lots of people mulling around on the front porch and lawn of the house. I asked the first person I met, for John and he directed me in the house where I would be able to find him. I did find him, not getting ready to sit down for dinner as I suspected, but chatting away with a group gathered in the living room. I joined the group and about a half hour later was beginning to think I misunderstood John—he didn’t mean dinner—he just meant for me to come and get to know the people at the Catholic Worker House. About 7:00 pm someone came into the living room and announced that dinner was ready and directed us not to the dining room, but to a line that was forming on the porch outside. We got in line and eventually did get to the dining room whose walls were lined with tables filled with food. Only then did I realize I was participating in a soup kitchen for the poor. I filled my plate and joined John back on the couch in the living room. I asked John where they got all that food and he replied: “Dumpstering!” I wasn’t sure I heard correctly so I quizzed further, “Where?” John explained that a group from the house goes dumpster diving in the neighborhood and ends up with this cornucopia of food that is offered to the poor or anyone who shows up once a week.
At the suggestion of another good Passionist friend, Fr. Rian Clancy, I had read Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness—but experiencing the Catholic Worker House that evening, first hand involved me in her life like no book ever could. Here were people who were living the gospel. They were preaching without any words. Thanks Dorothy Day for your marvelous example of living the gospel.